Faculty panel discusses Darfur genocide, students urge action

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

An enormous crowd packed the smaller Science Center lecture hall last night for a faculty panel discussion on genocide, particularly recent events in the Darfur region of the Sudan. Swarthmore professors Pieter Judson (history), James Kurth, Raymond Hopkins, and Jeffrey Murer (all political science) discussed general issues surrounding genocide and Professor Eric Reeves, a professor of English at Smith College, spoke about Darfur in particular. Professor Lee Smithey moderated. Amnesty International members implored Swatties to take action against genocide by writing letters, raising awareness and raising money.

Professor Judson began, describing the history of genocide. “Contrary to popular belief,” he said, “mass killing of specific population groups is a product of the last 150 years and usually not a result of ancient enmities.” Genocide is possible when groups of people see each other as fundamentally different, even when their identities have been constructed relatively recently.

Professor Kurth spoke next. “Stopping genocide requires an outside force,” he argued, “and that force must have both political and military authority.” Unfortunately, groups with strong political authority are usually fairly ineffective (such as the UN), and groups with the power to stop genocide are usually seen as illegitimate (such as NATO). He proposed a special branch of the military to stop genocide quickly, but noted after failures in Iraq the US will probably be hesitant to intervene for a while.

Professor Hopkins spoke on the African Union, a group with the potential to stop the genocide. Unfortunately, they lack the resources to get much done and have no military power. He argued that the AU can in a way confer its legitimacy on NGOs or negotiate between heads of state and organize national forces. “They may not be capable,” he said, “but they are the best there is.”

Professor Murer spoke on reconciliation after genocide and the shaping of narrative and history of the genocide. He described steps in a process: acknowledging the genocide’s existence, blaming elements outside mainstream society, recognition of the perpetrator’s humanity and finally acknowledgment of collective guilt.

Professor Reeves spoke specifically on Darfur. He stated flatly that we have already failed to prevent genocide and can now only hope to mitigate it. Hundreds of thousands may die during the next few months, and the total could reach 1 million. Reeves challenged the numbers of authorities as much too low (70,000 versus his calculations of as many as 300,000). “Congress has agreed that the situation in Darfur is genocide,” he noted, “but has not yet taken action.”

Reeves described the horrible conditions in Darfur. The government supports the Janjawid militias to kill African tribes suspected of housing insurgents. Practically, this means mass murder. Over 2 million people have been displaced into refugee camps, often without food and the threat of murder or rape for all who leave. Disease is rampant and humanitarian assistance systematically denied. Reeves called on students to take action against the horrible crimes. Students wishing to join Amnesty International should talk to Mark Hanis (mhanis1).

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