The worst humanitarian crisis on the globe

Bringing attention to the plight of the refugees displaced by the genocide and unrest in Darfur.

The weathered khaki tent looked decidedly out of place: soiled sides, frayed holes, and staked onto the manicured lawn of the Santa Clara Mall. But the stark disparity served a purpose: bringing attention to the plight of the refugees displaced by the genocide and unrest in Darfur, Sudan—which the United Nations has called the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

Catholic Relief Services provided the tent, which stood on the mall Oct. 16-20 as part of Refugee Awareness Week. Members of Santa Clarans for Social Justice and other groups organized the event. Students lived and slept in the tent, held an all-night vigil, and kept to a 1,000-calorie-a-day fast—the same ration to which the U.N. cut refugee sustenance. They also hosted talks by speakers including Sudan expert Michael Kevane; Environmental Studies Institute Associate Professor Leslie Gray; religious studies Associate Professor Teresia Hinga; and Lynette Parker, a staff attorney with the Katharine and George Alexander Community Law Center.

The United States labeled the atrocities in Darfur “genocide” more than two years ago. But the government of Sudan has resisted deployment of peacekeepers and implementation of a no-fly zone. So, does the fact that SCU students are educating themselves about the crisis and gaining press coverage make any difference?

Absolutely, says Kevane. He credits student organizers across the United States with helping keep Darfur in the press. He also stresses that keeping attention focused on Darfur is crucial in the next several years, since the south faces a referendum in 2010 on independence—that, in the optimistic scenario, might lead to a relatively peaceful consolidation of power. Or all-out civil war.

Is the president responsible?

It was a mock trial, but on Nov. 13 in a proceeding at the U.N. Church Center in New York, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir was found guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. SCU Assistant Professor of Law Beth Van Schaack led the prosecution before the International Citizens’ Tribunal of Sudan.

Previously Van Schaack served as prosecutor at the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, and she has written on the genocide in Darfur. “There’s no question that the crimes were committed,” Van Schaack said. “The question really was: Could the president be held responsible for them?”

At issue are the atrocities committed by the roving bands of militia known as the Janjaweed. The Sudanese government denies that it controls them, but Van Schaack’s team argued that Khartoum is liable on the basis of complicity. Her team included Eric Ortner ’06 and third-year law student Kevin Osborne. All materials will be sent to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, which is investigating crimes in Darfur. KCS & AF

post-image Santa Clara students stand vigil outside a tent on the lawn of the Santa Clara Mall. Erected as part of Refugee Awareness week, the tent drew attention to the plight of refugees displaced by fighting in Darfur. Photo: Charles Barry
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