The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

MC Seniors: You Have a Role to Play

By Mickey Jackson

My first foray into anti-genocide activism took place when I was a 14 year-old high school freshman. At some point early in the school year, I remember seeing Hotel Rwanda and perceiving a connection between the all-too-recent history portrayed in the film and the Nick Kristof columns I was reading about a new genocide in Darfur. After doing a little more research, I stumbled across this quote by the late Senator Paul Simon, one of the few U.S. leaders who had consistently called for a more robust international effort to protect Rwandan civilians in 1994: “If every member of the House of Representatives and Senate had received 100 letters from people back home saying we have to do something about Rwanda, when the crisis was first developing, then I think the response would have been different.”

My immediate reaction upon reading that was essentially to say, “Well, then, let’s get a hundred letters sent to every member of Congress about Darfur!” My chosen tactic: a chain email. I wrote a message to everyone in my (and my parents’) contact list, asking them to write their representatives and senators about Darfur and then forward the email to friends in ten other states. I figured that the resulting email chain would quickly reach every state, and before long the House and Senate office buildings would be drowning in letters calling for civilian protection in Darfur. Needless to say, that effort didn’t quite pan out, although I did get some local media coverage and a nice letter from Senator Simon’s son.

Thankfully, I soon discovered a more productive outlet for my activist impulses. Through a friend, I learned that a senior at my high school had recently formed a chapter of STAND, which at the time still stood for “Students Taking Action Now in Darfur.” I worked with this small but dedicated group to plan Tucson’s first Darfur awareness rally in April 2006, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now, as I prepare to graduate college, it’s hard to believe that my time in STAND is nearly over. Over the past eight years, I’ve watched STAND transition from a solely Darfur-focused organization to a robust multi-conflict movement that advocates against mass atrocities whenever and wherever they occur. I’ve watched successive generations of student leaders, at both the national and the local levels, make their mark in different ways. And I’ve interacted with countless anti-genocide activists who continue to impress me with their dedication and creativity.

While I’ll be sad to leave at the end of this year, I’m incredibly excited to watch the next generation of student leaders take the helm. Our movement’s been around since 2004, but we’re still just getting started, and next year’s leadership team will have a unique opportunity to shape the future of student anti-genocide advocacy. If you’re the kind of person who likes to dream big–for instance, who thinks, “Well, why can’t we get a hundred letters sent to every member of Congress?”–and is willing to put in the work to make it happen, STAND needs you. Specifically, we need you to apply for the 2013-2014 leadership team. If the thought sounds intimidating, remember that STAND was founded not by experts, not by professionals with years of experience, but by students like you.

Building a sustainable anti-genocide constituency is difficult, but it is not impossible. It is a challenge, but it is an eminently worthy one. Regardless of your skill set or your experience level, you have a role to play in making that happen. So: how will you lead?

NOW OPEN: Applications for the 2013-2014 Managing Committee

Want to interact with inspiring anti-genocide activists from across the country? Want to learn more about campaign development, policy, grassroots organizing, and Google Docs than you ever thought possible? And want to have a lot of fun while doing it?

If so, you should fill out an application for a position on our national leadership team. Remember, STAND is not just the student component of the atrocities prevention movement – we’re the student-led component. All of our national campaigns this year – from Syriasly to the presidential debate action to Genocide Prevention Month – have been planned and implemented by high school and college students just like you.

There are two ways to become involved with STAND on a national level. The first is by serving on the Managing Committee; and the second is by joining one of our national Task Forces. Members of both teams serve for yearlong terms that coincide with the academic year, and play a key role in making sure that STAND functions as an active, cohesive, and united movement.

As of today, applications are open for Managing Committee positions for the 2013-2014 school year. They’re due on April 5 (for the National Student Director position) or May 1 (for all other positions). Applications for 2013-2014 Task Force positions will open next week, and will be accepted on a rolling basis into the summer.

What do we look for in applicants for Managing Committee and Task Force positions? More than anything else, we look for commitment – that is, for the willingness to work hard, to try new things, and to learn by doing. Although a few positions do have minimal experience requirements, we are not looking for experts in the field. We are looking for students who are passionate about the anti-genocide movement and interested in developing advocacy, organizing, and leadership skills that will last a lifetime. If that describes you, head over to our application page to learn more about the available positions. We look forward to receiving your application!

Announcing the Winners of STAND’s 2012 Human Rights Essay Contest

Last semester, high school and college students from across the country submitted entries to STAND’s Fall 2012 Human Rights Essay Contest. The prompt for the contest was as follows:

Select an ongoing mass atrocity event anywhere in the world, discuss its relevance to U.S. foreign policy priorities, and identify potential approaches that the U.S. government might take to address the mass atrocity event.

We received essays that focused on a wide range of conflict areas and identified numerous potential policy solutions. Today, we are happy to announce the winning essays in the high school and college categories, which were chosen by a selection committee drawn from STAND’s national leadership team. You can check them out below. Sincere congratulations to the winners!

College category: “Alleviating the Humanitarian Crisis in the Congo,” by Emma Smith and Christine Garcia, Dartmouth College

High school category: “Salutary for Both: Darfur and the United States,” by Won Chung, Harriton High School (Haverford, PA)

Note: the winning essays were chosen primarily on the basis of clarity of writing and analysis, to showcase examples of thought leadership by high school and college students on STAND’s issues of focus. The policy proposals contained in the essays reflect the views of the individual authors, and not necessarily of STAND national.


By Mickey Jackson, Student Director

If you’ve been following our Facebook and Twitter feeds for the past few days, you may have noticed that we’ve been talking a lot about Syria. We’ve shared facts about the extent of the Assad regime’s atrocities, the staggering humanitarian crisis that has resulted, the progression of the conflict over the past two years, and the international community’s various efforts to resolve the crisis. Today, we’re taking the next step with the launch of, which will be the online hub for our Syria education and advocacy efforts over the next few months. I encourage you to visit the site and sign the petition addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry, which outlines several specific steps the United States should take to mitigate the effects of mass atrocities in Syria. I also encourage you to spread the word on Facebook and Twitter, and, if you have the ability, to bring the movement to your community by holding an event.

In case you didn’t catch on, the campaign name, #Syriasly, is a riff on the word “seriously”…as in, “SERIOUSLY?!?” Why do we think that’s an appropriate question to ask at this point? Well, you don’t need to be an expert on the situation in Syria to know that every international effort to address it has failed. Two successive United Nations envoys–first Kofi Annan and now Lakhdar Brahimi–have been unable to negotiate a diplomatic solution. Russia and China have blocked attempts by the UN Security Council to impose further sanctions on the Assad regime. Those sanctions that have been imposed by the United States, European Union, and Arab League are being undermined by the the Russian and Iranian governments’ continued financial support of the Assad regime. Syria’s neighbors are struggling to absorb overwhelming inflows of displaced persons, leading to dire conditions in refugee camps and increasing the risk of a regionalized civilian protection crisis. Although donor governments are providing humanitarian aid, it is not nearly enough, and very little is reaching the areas of greatest need within Syria.

Of course, no conflict has an easy solution, and U.S. leverage is limited in any mass atrocity situation. But at the minimum, one would think that the reality of 70,000 deaths with no end in sight, coupled with the failure of all preceding efforts to mitigate the situation, would lead to a renewed sense of urgency on the part of U.S. policymakers as the conflict enters its third year. Unfortunately, there are few public indications that this is the case. The Obama administration has been very candid about the steps that it is not willing to take–military intervention and arming opposition forces, both of which do raise very legitimate concerns from a civilian protection perspective–but has not articulated a clear strategy for either ending the current atrocities or ensuring that a post-Assad transition does not entail even more violence and instability.

That’s why, starting today, STAND students across the country are joining together to ask: Syriasly? Our petition calls on the administration to help improve conditions for Syrian refugees by dramatically increasing humanitarian assistance, be proactive about ensuring that a post-Assad transitional government is committed to the rule of law and the inclusion of women and minorities, and provide direct assistance to Syrian civil society. Beyond these specific asks, however, we’re sending a broader message to our leaders that inertia is not an option. Through this petition, through the events that you hold in your community, and through future actions (including an national call-in event on March 15, the second anniversary of the beginning of the conflict), we will continue to call attention to the ongoing atrocities in Syria, and demand that civilian protection remain a top priority for this administration, until a solution is found.

Since STAND’s founding in 2004, students have rallied around a simple but profound motto: “Don’t stand by, STAND up!” There is no more appropriate response to the current situation in Syria. Visit today and join us.

Life After STAND: Hearing from Our Alumni

By Mickey Jackson, STAND Student Director

Almost nine years ago, a small group of students at Georgetown University formed the first STAND chapter (fun fact: back then, STAND was an acronym for “Students Taking Action Now in Darfur). Since then, thousands of students from across the country have built and led constituencies for atrocities prevention in their communities. As a result, the “STAND Fam” does not just include our current crop of student organizers; it also includes several generations’ worth of “STAND alumni,” those who worked with STAND in high school and/or college and have since graduated.

Where can STAND alumni be found? Simply put, they’re all over the place! Some have gone to work as professional human rights organizers, others work in government, and many have played leading roles in political and issue-based campaigns. But one thing they have in common is this: if you ask them, chances are they’ll identify their time with STAND as an important formative experience, one that not only helped them decide what to do after graduation but also equipped them with skills that helped them to excel in their chosen career paths.

For many of these individuals, even those whose work no longer relates to atrocities prevention, their attachment to and involvement with this movement did not end with graduation. As anyone who has been to STAND Camp can attest, our alumni continue to play a key role in training and inspiring the next generation of STAND students. Over the next few months, our blog will feature intermittent posts by some of our most accomplished alumni, all addressing some variant of the following question: “What have you been doing since you left STAND, and how did your work with STAND affect your post-graduation life?” It is my hope that all of our readers, especially those who (like me!) are trying to answer the age-old “What the heck am I going to do with my life, anyway?!?” question, will find this series interesting, informative, and (just maybe!) inspiring.

Students to Obama: You Can Help Get Peace in Congo Back on Track

This piece, written by Raise Hope for Congo Assistant Campaign Manager Alex Hellmuth and STAND National Student Director Mickey Jackson, originally appeared on the Enough Project blog.

Yesterday, hundreds of students across the country, and around the world, took time out of their day to call the White House. The students raised their voices to ask for greater U.S. involvement in Congo’s peace process, and specifically, for the appointment of a presidential envoy to coordinate the U.S. government’s response to the conflict in eastern Congo. Since April, the M23 rebellion has wreaked havoc on the eastern Congolese population and displaced over 600,000 people. Recent reports note there is a rise in sexual violence in North Kivu due to the heavy movements and presence of militias.

The action was co-sponsored by the Conflict-free Campus Initiative and STAND. This call-in day builds off of the Vote4Congo campaign in November when students sent in photos holding signs that read “I’m voting for Congo” to show that no matter who was elected as President, the conflict in Congo had to be made a priority. Over 400 photos were collected and made into an Instagram petition that was delivered to the White House earlier this January.

By appointing an envoy, President Obama can help ensure that the peace talks, which lack transparency and the involvement of the international community, include all the appropriate actors and address the short-term needs for peace and long-term systemic drivers of conflict in the region. Additionally, a presidential envoy would ideally be a high-level individual with experience and relationships in the region, and could push for the inclusion of traditionally marginalized communities in eastern Congo, including women, civil society, and youth.

Yesterday’s call-in came after World Pulse and the Enough Project delivered a petition, authored by a group of Congolese women, with over 100,000 signatures to National Security Council officials at the White House that also asked for the appointment of a presidential envoy. In addition, Katy Johnson and Mark Bennett, students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison,not only called the White House but also, wrote into their student newspaper about the opportunity for students to take action for human rights in Congo and demand an inclusive peace process for Congo.

The growing demand among constituents for greater U.S. involvement in Congo’s conflict can no longer be ignored by the White House. This is President Obama’s chance to show his commitment to the people of Congo and young activists throughout the U.S. Student activists for Congo will continue to push until peace is realized.

Sudan and South Sudan Continue Negotiations; Oil Production Remains Suspended

This piece by Annie Kucklick, a researcher for the Conflict Risk Network, originally appeared on United to End Genocide’s blog.

Last week, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and South Sudanese President Salva Kiir met in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to address implementing the terms of reconciliation signed last September.

The agreements call for a demilitarized zone along the border, authorize resumption of oil production, and open the border to future trade. Following the September resolutions, South Sudan intended to resume oil production last November so that the first oil exports would hit the market in January and begin improving the dire economic situation in both countries. However, oil production remains suspended. Sudan’s government, accusing the South Sudan government of supporting the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N), refuses to withdraw Sudanese troops from the border.

During the negotiations last week, some progress was made by the African Union mediation team on the establishment of an interim Abyei Area administration, Abyei Area Council and the Abyei Area Police Service. However, the Khartoum government stalled the talks by demanding a 50% membership in the interim administrative council, contrary to provisions in the Abyei Protocol. These provisions specify that 40% of the council seats would be allocated to Sudan and 60% to South Sudan.

On January 17th, South Sudan started withdrawing its army from the border with Sudan. This represents the first significant step that either country has taken towards establishing a demilitarized zone, and therein fulfilling the leading term of the September 2012 agreements. According to a statement by South Sudan officials, the withdrawal will be complete by February 4th, 2013 and they expect Sudan to do the same. Thus far, Sudan has not commented.

While the presidential summit marked a rhetorical stride towards reconciliation between the two nations, little substantive progress was actually made. The issue of humanitarian access to the crisis in South Kordofan and Blue Nile border states is still not on the agenda and little has been done to execute the oil deal signed on September 27. South Sudan’s withdrawal of troops along the border finally shows a commitment to the terms of reconciliation, but if Sudan does not reciprocate, tensions may rise and this small step of progress will be futile. The failure of any significant action on the part of the Sudanese government emphasizes the critical role of international stakeholders and advocacy groups to continue facilitating mediation so that Sudan and South Sudan avoid another war.

For more information on the oil agreement, see Conflict Risk Network’s October report,The Sudan-South Sudan Agreements: A Long Way To Go.

#FollowFriday: A Brief Guide to Essential Reading on Human Rights and U.S. Foreign Policy

You can find a lot in the blogosphere and the Twittersphere: cat memes, celebrity gossip, and, increasingly, informative and influential discourse on human rights and U.S. foreign policy. If you’re wondering who to follow in 2013 for the best news and analysis on issues related to atrocities prevention (which you probably are, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading our blog!), we’ve got you covered. Below, find our list of the best blogs and Twitter users in the business. Quick pro tip: if you’re wondering how to keep up to date with so many blogs, check out Google Reader, a wonderful helpful (and wonderfully free) tool.


Dart-Throwing Chimp: Jay Ulfelder (see the Twitter section), who the Twitter community unfairly refers to as the “Nate Silver of Political Instability,” is a democratization expert, whose forecasting capabilities lend helpful insight into trends in conflict, mass atrocities, and regime transitions.

Democracy Arsenal: A committed cabal of progressive foreign policy practitioners, Democracy Arsenal’s list of contributors spans key participants in foreign policy decision-making under the Clinton and Obama administrations, including Rosa Brooks (see the Twitter section), David Shorr, and Heather Hurlburt.

Abu Muqawama: Straight outta NW DC, Dan Trombly and Adam Elkus have proven among the more insightful commentators on military strategy, operations, and policy. For human rights advocates looking to understand the larger context for policy conversations on political violence and light-footprint interventions, the Trombly/Elkus duo’s perspective is indispensable.

Duck of Minerva: A grab-bag of political science-based commentary on contemporary affairs. Interested in a gendered analysis of comparative politics? Check. Science fiction-oriented perspectives on counterinsurgency? Check. Plus, their daily “linkage” posts are a valuable collection of popular insight into international relations.

Reinventing Peace: The official blog of the World Peace Foundation, Reinventing Peace features insightful and diverse case studies on peacebuilding, mass atrocity prevention, and human rights policy. The blog is curated–and often written–by Alex de Waal, a well-established Sudan expert, and Bridget Conley, the former research director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.


@zackbeauchamp and @HayesBrown: This tag-team of progressive bloggers packs a powerful punch for rights-minded advocates. Beauchamp is a fervent and nuanced blogosphere defender of global ethics and the “responsibility to protect” doctrine, while Brown knows more about the United Nations than is healthy for a twentysomething.

@jay_ulfelder: As mentioned above, Jay is a veritable wizard of political instability, and is widely known as “that guy who predicted the Mali coup before it was cool.”

@brooks_rosa: Rosa Brooks, a former policymaker at the Department of Defense’s human rights office, is a committed “responsibility to protect” advocate, and is among the most familiar with the policy challenges and opportunities presented by human rights norms. Plus, she’s been fighting the good fight on gender imbalances in foreign policy institutions, often to much controversy.

@charlie_simpson: As Ben Valentino has observed, most mass atrocities occur within a broad context of counterinsurgency. So, if you’re interested in preventing mass atrocities, you should beef up on your understanding of insurgent and counterinsurgent violence. Look no further than Erin Simpson, who’s played a decisive role in shaping the last decade of policy discourse on counterinsurgency operation. And with a dry wit, too.

@brainpicker: Because sometimes, all we need is a little inspiration.

Our Response to Recent Developments in Syria

Last night, NBC News, citing government officials, reported that the Syrian military had completed the process of loading sarin gas into aerial bombs. These reports, if true, mean that the military is ready to deploy chemical weapons if so ordered by President Bashar al-Assad. Accordingly, this morning STAND released an action calling upon the Obama administration to work with multilateral partners to ensure that civilians in Syria are protected from further mass atrocities. It’s a simple, three-part action (emailing the White House, calling the White House comment line, and sharing on social media), and I urge you to take a moment to visit the page and take the action.

High-ranking officials within the Obama administration, up to and including President Obama himself, have issued strong statements against the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government. Secretary of State Clinton said such actions would constitute a “red line” that would trigger a strong U.S. response. To date, the administration has not specified what such a “response” would entail.

As the student-led movement to end mass atrocities, STAND is concerned not about “red lines” but about the protection of civilians and the prevention of future atrocities. This is as much the case with regard to Syria as it is with regard to any of our other conflicts of concern. STAND’s action today reiterates that civilian protection must be the paramount consideration in the U.S. government’s approach to the situation in Syria, and particularly its response to any preparation for the use of chemical weapons.

As student advocates without access to the intelligence data that is seen by high-level policymakers, we often lack the information necessary to determine for certain which policy approach will best achieve the goals of civilian protection and atrocities prevention. This is especially true in a situation as complex and rapidly changing as that in Syria. Consequently, today’s action is a statement of principle, not policy: we are reminding the administration of the criteria by which we expect them to make their decisions, but we are not at this stage taking a position on what that decision should be. This is not out of timidity, but rather out of prudence, based on a due recognition of what we as U.S.-based student advocates know and do not know about a very volatile situation.

Many commentators have raised the possibility of U.S. or multilateral military intervention in Syria should chemical weapons be utilized against civilian populations. STAND urges the U.S. and all governments to act with due regard for the very severe consequences that could result from such an action. The Responsibility to Protect doctrine, which we endorse, does not automatically call for military intervention in every conflict, even a conflict with humanitarian consequences as severe as that in Syria. Indeed, explicitly acknowledging the risk to civilian populations posed by military action, R2P allows such action only as a last resort, and only when a strict set of criteria have been met. STAND’s position is that all governments, in choosing whether to intervene militarily in any conflict, should act on the basis of these criteria. Again, we are not concerned with “red lines,” nor do we support dramatic action for the sake of dramatic action; we are concerned solely with the protection of civilians from harm. We are not at this moment taking a position in favor of or against military intervention in Syria, but these are the principles upon which we expect our leaders to act.

Please take action right now.

Blogging Bootcamp: A Student Proposes Next Steps in Syria

By Carly Fabian

Carly Fabian is a participant in STAND’s Guide to Navigating the Blogosphere. Interested in getting lessons on best practices for blogging and writing on conflict and mass atrocities prevention issues? Join the program! The program is intended to train students to effectively express their own views on international human rights issues; consequently, the views expressed in Blogging Bootcamp posts are those of the participants and do not necessarily reflect official STAND policy stances.

Now that the campaign season is over in the US, attention should return to the ongoing violence in Syria. After two exhausting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the memory of the Black Hawk Down catastrophe in Somalia still looming on the mind of all US government officials, the US can hardly be expected to jump into military action in the Middle East. If the conflict in Syria is simply a civil war, the US can feel no serious obligation to be involved in the conflict with anything more than monetary aid and weapons arranged through foreign states. However, the conflict in Syria isn’t a fight for power or religion; the Syrian government is decimating its people, and the US needs to address it as the devastating humanitarian crisis that it has become. Since its founding, the US has liked to think that it has the role of protector of the people and democracy in the world, but that image has been lost in recent years in the Middle East. If the US wants to establish its legitimacy once again, now is the time to claim back that role back and Syria is the place to do it.

The Obama administration is trying its most aggressive strategy yet by attempting to form a new council of leadership for Syria, but it is only considered aggressive because it is being compared to the weak and ineffectual policies of the past. Secretary Clinton publicly denounced the Syrian National Council on the 31st saying, “There has to be representation of those who are on the front lines, fighting and dying today to obtain their freedom. This cannot be an opposition represented by people who have many good attributes, but have, in many instances, have not been inside Syria for 20, 30 or 40 years.” Hundreds of opposition leaders met in Qatar this past Wednesday to form a new council. While the first meeting and initial diplomatic actions by the council went over smoothly, there is always the easy possibility that the council will fail to gain support and lead effectually, and if this happens, the US cannot become discouraged from further involvement. The council diplomacy should be backed up, not just with strong words, but with strong actions. If the US wants to provide a pathway for a stable transitional government, then they must address the issues of refugees and Islamic extremism themselves.

Syria’s neighbors, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan, have taken in refugees, feeding and housing them at their own expense, but as the conflict drags on, the governments are finding it harder to come up with the money to feed and care for refugees who cannot work. The citizens of neighboring countries are protesting, and the refugees are growing restless. As the violence spills over the Syrian borders, both the governments and the people of the neighboring countries are becoming angry, and are turning away more and more refugees. The longer the war drags on, the worse the situation will be for the refugees.

The US fears an Islamic extremist state in Syria more than a Syria that remains permanently mired in civil war, yet it has provided no solution for fighting extremism. They have pretentiously told opposition leaders to abstain from extremism, but have offered few incentives, demands, or strategies to actually prevent extremism from dominating. Military leaders on the ground care nothing for high-level foreign politics, and while they don’t agree with extremism, they face the choice of whether the ends justify the means. If Islamic extremism brings guns and money, most military leaders will not turn them away because the US, which has largely, ignored the plight of the Syrians, asks them too. It should be noted that as the US and Israel have found with displaced Palestinians and the Intifada, refugee camps are the perfect breeding grounds for terrorism.

If the US is going to move forward and start taking a serious stance in Syria, they have to address Syria as a destructive humanitarian conflict, care for the refugees, and provide an attractive alternative to Islamic extremism. Making Syria out to be a highly complicated war in the Middle East allows the American public to think that it is an issue in which the U.S. government should not be involved. If the US begins to address the conflict in Syria more as a human rights crisis, then popular support will aid government efforts. The US likes to think it has the role of protector of people and democracy in the world, but that image has been lost in recent years in the Middle East. If the US wants to establish its legitimacy once again, now is the time to claim back that role back and Syria is the place to do it.