ME and Ophelia

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Against Annan's inaction

Today, Harvard students Hana Alberts and Timothy McGinn published a report on yesterday's rally for Sudan at Harvard in Boston, MA.

Placards, waved by dozens of protestors, read: “Kofi, go to Sudan, not to Harvard" - (my favourite). Two other placards read: “Kofi’s choice: silence or genocide” and “400,000 will die unless the U.N. acts now.”
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Video and audio webcast after 9:00 PM GMT

Details of today's post at Passion of the Present on tonight's webcasts of Kofi Annan's speech. [sorry the site's permalinks are not working right now]:

"Kofi Annan will speak today to the Harvard audience at sometime after 4:00 PM US Eastern Standard Time. There are two sources of webcasts. A video webcast can be found at which requires a RealOne player, and an audiocast can be found at which requires a (iTunes-compatible) player. Kofi Annan will speak after Harvard President Larry Summers. Sorry about the lack of precision in the schedule, my sense is that Kofi Annan will start around 4:30 EST, but only time will tell :)

The Kofi Annan videocast will be almost immediately archived at
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By Ronaldo Rauseo-Ricupero

Wow. Read this. It's a masterpiece. Published today at the Harvard Crimson online. I am copying it here in full for future reference:

"This afternoon, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi A. Annan will address the Harvard community as part of the annual meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association. Moments after receiving an honorary degree from the University, Annan will step up to a podium that affords him international attention—a stage from which General George C. Marshall famously announced his plan for the reconstruction of Europe 57 years ago; a stage to which hundreds of Harvard alumni, leaders in society, industry and arts will be turned; a stage on which Annan will be silent.

Annan will be speaking many words, but what he doesn’t say will be more important than what he does. This afternoon, Harvard will witness a textbook example of the all too common rhetorical obfuscations that have allowed the 20th century to become one of the most bloody known to man: the twin policies of denial and appeasement.

Genocide is happening on a massive scale in the Darfur region of Sudan, and the world is pretending not to notice. By accounts updated last week, over 30,000 Darfurians, mainly from the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa ethnic groups, have been massacred by the Janjaweed Arab militias, which, thanks to the financial support of the central government in Khartoum, have been ravaging the western region of the country since November. Stirred by President Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir’s incitements of ethnic and racial hatred, Janjaweed fighters were given $100 each, supplied with heavy arms and told that whatever they pillaged would be theirs to keep. They have raped, massacred and destroyed at will. They have stolen international food aid and used it as horse feed, forced nearly 2 million Darfurians to flee their homes and farms (their only source of livelihoods) and caused a destabilizing refugee crisis—so far, nearly 170,000 Darfurians have poured into neighboring Chad.

The Janjaweed militias have also established concentration camps in places like Kialek. That torture camps are sprouting up on Sudanese soil is not surprising given President al-Bashir’s long-established record of inciting hate. This is the same man who oversaw the literal enslavement of Christian Sudanese in the southern part of his country. The progression from hate to slavery to genocide has been quite natural for this regime. In fact, as Suliman Giddo of the Darfur Peace and Development Organization reports, the Janjaweed have of late been surpassing their own record in cruelty: as of April, instead of simply raping and killing the women in Darfurian villages, the Janjaweed now slice the skin off the faces of the women’s corpses so that they are unrecognizable to their families.

And the work of the government-sponsored Janjaweed has been made even easier by the endless delays of the international community—because any kind of intervention has been so long in coming and so easily thwarted, aid organizations must now contend with a rainy season that started last week and has knocked out nearly all transportation access to the most desperate regions. Furthermore, because unchecked looting and ethnic violence prevented any real planting, this aid-hungry area will have no crops this year. This forced starvation will bring about the eradication of the Darfurians with remarkable speed. According to the projections by the United States Agency for International Development, the crude death rate in Sudan by December 2004 will be 6 times the rate considered “catastrophic” by Doctors Without Borders.

These projections can change, but only if we take action now to help the Darfurians. Last night’s rally and protest was the first step. More than a hundred students rallied on Cambridge Common with leaders from prominent human rights groups, Boston’s black churches, the Ten Point Coalition, the American Anti-Slavery Group and others to remind us that the Darfur genocide cannot be ignored. Many fellow graduates will join me in wearing green ribbons today as a visible symbol of our commitment to stopping the genocide.

However, with nearly 600 people dying per day, the person with the greatest opportunity to end the suffering is Kofi Annan. Today, Annan could unveil plans to increase aid to the Darfur region; to internationalize rail lines to Darfur’s main city and prevent the blockade of humanitarian relief by Janjaweed fighters, as Prof. Eric Reeves of Smith College has proposed; to use U.N. expertise to double or triple the anemically small monitoring team responsible for reporting on “human rights violations” in a region the size of France, as Kennedy School of Government Professor Samantha Power has advocated; even to remove Sudan from its seat on the United Nations Human Rights Commission, as common sense would dictate. But Annan will do none of these, nor will he recognize the genocide by its proper name: to do so would obligate him to take action. Indeed the fear of confronting “genocide” in Rwanda was so high in 1994 that we allowed 800,000 people to die before recognizing the situation for what it was. Apparently, the value of not offending the Khartoum government is greater than the moral obligation to stop the massacre of more innocent Darfurians.

This is not to say that the blame rests solely on the U.N. Even though the United States recognized the genocide in the 2002 Sudan Peace Act, aid that Congress promised to Sudan on condition of the resolution of its North-South conflict has not been forthcoming. And despite Bush’s strong statements on the issue during the anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide, two months have passed with no new U.S. action.

Absent committed leadership, we as citizens and as graduates must also take up the banner of preventing another genocide from escalating on our watch. Today, the excuse that we cannot act because we are “just students” melts away. Our challenge, sadly, is not unique—many classes of Harvard graduates have faced the spectre of mass killings. It is indeed ironic that in his Baccalaureate Address in the Memorial Church on Tuesday, University President Lawrence H. Summers cited the Vietnam War as an example of what can happen “when people fail to think things through.” In his watershed book The Best and the Brightest, David L. Halberstam ’55 showed that it was precisely a group of Harvard affiliates who were the cause of that folly, “a certain breed of men…in their minds they become responsible for the country, but not responsive to it.”

This kind of arrogance is not the only example we could follow. In attendance at this afternoon’s exercises will be the 25th Reunion Class of 1979, the class which displayed such mettle over the issue of South African Divestment. On April 23, 1979, a 700-person demonstration rocked Harvard Yard to protest the University’s investment policy, an action that captured attention around the world and gave hope to South Africans that the world was indeed listening to their plight.

The challenge for the Class of 1979 was apartheid. The challenge for the Class of 2004 is genocide. The body counts are higher, the need for action even more urgent, but the cause never more morally simple: genocide in Darfur must be stopped.

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who gave so much hope and support to the Class of 1979, wrote in an e-mail on Monday regarding Secretary-General Annan’s address today, “Let us not say we did not know. We know and we must do something. Let us speak up and speak out against the atrocities in Darfur. Those dying are God’s children. They are our sisters and brothers.”

Ronaldo Rauseo-Ricupero ’04, a Classics concentrator in Leverett House, was editorial chair of The Crimson in 2003.

# posted by Ingrid J. Jones @ 6/10/2004
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