The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

From Commemoration to Action

Our Student Director, Mickey Jackson, spoke at yesterday’s Vigil for Sudan at Lafayette Park in Washington, DC. Below is the text of his remarks. The Vigil was hosted by Voices for Sudan, a network of Sudanese organizations throughout the United States. Click here to learn more about STAND’s new partnership with Voices for Sudan.   

We have come here today to commemorate the millions of Sudanese men, women, and children who are no longer with us as the result of atrocities committed over the past two decades. You know, when we talk about such large numbers, it is easy to forget but important to remember that every one of those individuals had a name. Every one of those individuals had a mother and a father, had sisters and brothers, had friends, had a future. Each individual death was, in other words, a tragedy of unfathomable magnitude in its own right, and when multiplied by the millions the scale is simply mind-numbing. With this in mind, it is my hope that our commemoration today will inspire us to re-dedicate ourselves to helping, in any way that we can, to ensure that the tragedies of the past are no longer repeated.

In 2001, President George W. Bush was given a memo outlining the ways in which the international community had failed to prevent and stop the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. In the margins of that memo, he scribbled four short words: “Not on my watch.” Three years later, when Secretary of State Colin Powell declared that genocide was taking place in Darfur, a small group of students at Georgetown University decided that were going to do whatever they could to ensure that that promise was kept. And so they formed an organization called STAND, an acronym that stood for “Students Taking Action Now in Darfur.” But those Georgetown students weren’t the only young people who decided that apathy in the face of genocide was unacceptable. Across the country, in cities and in small towns, high school and college students made the decision to speak up. Working alongside faith groups, service organizations, and members of the Sudanese diaspora, they held rallies and vigils, wrote op-eds and letters to the editor, made phone calls to the White House, and met with their Congressional representatives. Today, STAND chapters at approximately 100 high schools and colleges continue to advocate for measures to end mass atrocities in Sudan and elsewhere.

Today, in 2012, we can look back and acknowledge that the movement that arose in response to the genocide in Darfur has made somewhat of a difference. Students and non-students alike helped persuade 22 state governments and dozens of universities to stop investing in companies whose activities in Sudan were supporting the Bashir regime. We pressed Congress to support funding for peacekeeping in Darfur and humanitarian relief to those affected by the violence. In late 2010, as the South Sudanese independence referendum approached and concerns grew that large-scale violence would break out, activist pressure pushed the Obama administration to launch a “diplomatic surge” that helped facilitate a peaceful and credible referendum. It is important to recognize these successes.

But it is even more important to acknowledge that our presence here today is a reflection of the fact that our work is not and cannot be done, not even close. Our work cannot be done so long as the Sudanese military continues to bomb villages in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Our work cannot be done so long as hundreds of thousands of people face famine as the result of the Bashir regime’s deliberate decision to deny them access to humanitarian aid. Our work cannot be done so long as, after nine years and multiple peace agreements, nearly two million Darfuri civilians remain in refugee camps and continue to face periodic attacks. Our work is not and cannot be done, and the stories we have heard and will hear today remind us why it is so important that that work continue.

Over the past few months, we’ve seen ordinary people around Sudan rising in protest against the Bashir regime. In the face of tear gas, arrests, and torture, these brave individuals have stood up to demand an end to one-party rule and human rights abuses. This should give us hope for the future of Sudan—all of Sudan. For, in the end, it will be the people of Sudan who bring about that future, and who own it. But for our part, we in the United States can and must take action in support of those who are calling for change in Sudan. In particular, we must continue to pressure our government to ensure true accountability for the perpetrators of atrocities, particularly the most recent atrocities in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. We must continue to push for an end to the humanitarian blockade. We must continue to support comprehensive measures to facilitate peace, civilian protection, and respect for human rights throughout all of Sudan, rather than piecemeal, region-specific efforts. And, perhaps most importantly, we must work ever harder to amplify the voices of those who have been personally affected by the violence, which is why the work of organizations like Voices for Sudan is so important.

Across America, students are ready to do their part in advocating for a peaceful future in Sudan. Since 2004, when images of genocide in Darfur began to flash across our TV screens, students have helped to keep this movement alive and strong in their communities, and we will not stop now. Samantha Power, whose book about the history of genocide in the modern world helped inspire a generation of activists, once observed that “silence in the face of atrocity is not neutrality; silence in the face of atrocity is acquiescence.” It is often very difficult to determine what we, as individuals, can do to help bring an end to atrocities half a world away. But at the very least, at the absolute least, it should be very clear to us that silence is not an option. Millions of past deaths, and the prospect of future deaths, allow for neither silence nor acquiescence. So may our remembrance today of those who have suffered and died spur a continued commitment to action in the days to come. Thank you.

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