Georgetown & Duke Students Team Up for Darfur

Georgetown and Duke students Daniel Solomon and Amber Henderson have penned an op-ed about Darfur that highlights the initiative their two schools have undertaken to help fund schools in the Darfur refugee camps. Although major rivals on the court, Duke and Georgetown alumni and students are coming together to raise money for the Darfur Dream Team's Sister Schools Program, which I started with NBA star Tracy McGrady and the UN High Commission for Refugees. The goal of the program is to provide a quality education for every refugee child from Darfur. The initiative which Daniel and Amber from Duke and Georgetown are spearheading is going to help fulfill that goal for thousands of Darfuri kids. Hard to imagine a more noble partnership than that.

According to a recent report published by The New York Times, the turmoil of the Darfur region in Sudan has largely quieted. Gen. Patrick Nyamvumba, who commands UNAMID -- the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur -- has described the security situation in Darfur as "calm ... but it remains unpredictable."

The conflict in Darfur -- which, according to Amnesty International has left in its wake 300,000 deaths, 250,000 refugees, and 2.6 million internally displaced persons -- has been a flashpoint for violence since it began in February 2003. The conflict originated when two rebel groups -- the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement -- challenged the authority of the Sudanese government in Darfur. The Sudanese government replied with an aggressive counterinsurgency campaign. It used janjaweed -- or horse-riding militias -- to carry out scorched-earth operations against civilian population centers in Darfur.

It quickly became clear that the Sudanese government's efforts were escalating from a heavy counterinsurgency to what many international activists and the United States have labeled genocide, as defined by the 1948 Genocide Convention.

Nyamyumba's comment indicates that the game has recently changed in Darfur. While the classification of the Darfur situation as post-genocidal is arguably apt, that of post-conflict is not. As Sean Brooks of the Save Darfur Coalition recently wrote, "Darfur...remains a human rights and humanitarian crisis of the first order." Though major hostilities between Sudanese government and janjaweed forces and the rebel groups may have de-escalated, the security situation for the people of Darfur remains unstable. Sexual violence is widespread, the Sudanese government restricts crucial access to humanitarian aid organizations in Darfur, the peace process has stalled and the refugee crisis remains acute. Last March, the International Criminal Court indicted current Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity, but a culture of impunity still underlines the Darfur conflict.

Sudan is again approaching a tipping point in its stability. The Sudanese government has scheduled elections for April 2010, but has not committed to the proper reforms required to ensure the electoral processes' credibility. Sporadic violence and the Sudanese military's significant presence in Darfur could potentially intimidate the electorate, and thereby pollute the polling process and enshrine Bashir's regime with false legitimacy.

In addition, the Darfur region and its Chad border rest dominated by millions of internally displaced persons and hundreds of thousands of refugees who cannot return home. Security is a constant concern for refugee camp operations in eastern Chad. Clearly, the cautious optimism of The New York Times report does not mean that there is room for apathy.

Ending the crisis is the task of large players. Aggressive international action should not be focused exclusively on condemning Bashir, but rather on engaging with his regime enough to bring a stable settlement to the conflict in Darfur. The United States especially must continue to press the Sudanese government for security reform, the negotiation of a stable ceasefire and productive peace process between the Sudanese government and rebel groups, full access for humanitarian organizations and a free and fair electoral process. The Obama administration, government officials, activists and students must all do their part in actualizing this stability for the country of Darfur and peace for its people.

What, then, can we students possibly do? We can serve as active supporters of direct, on-the-ground humanitarian work on the Chad border. This semester, for example, Georgetown STAND and the Duke for Darfur coalition will collaborate with the Enough Project's Darfur Dream Team Sister Schools Program to support the construction and operation of a new school in a refugee camp. Participating in this, or similar initiatives, will not end the crisis in Darfur, but it will significantly improve the lives of many of those engulfed in it.

Daniel Solomon is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service and the communications director of Georgetown STAND. Amber Henderson is a senior at Duke University and the president of the Duke for Darfur Coalition.

John Prendergast is Co-Founder of Enough, the anti-genocide project at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.