From Beijing to Darfur

The 2008 Olympic Games May Hold The Key to Ending the Crisis in the Sudan

Rape, starvation, displacement and mass murder. Not since the Rwandan genocide, has the world seen such a calculated campaign of brutality as in western Sudan. Darfur is “the largest and most complex humanitarian problem on the globe,” according to the United Nations and considered to be “this century’s first genocide” by the United States.

In face of this reality, students feel overwhelmed and helpless. Three students decided otherwise.

Suddenly, there were posters all over the university: “Don’t think that you can’t do anything!” A two day conference Apr. 24-25 at Webster Vienna was pulled together to see what was possible to “Save Darfur.” Organizers Josipa Saric, Janina Mank and Anna Lepingwell, their project was to raise student awareness about what is going on in Darfur and what ordinary people could do to help

The United Nations estimated in March that 200,000 people have been killed in since the conflict flared in Darfur in 2003, some 3.5 million are now reliant on international aid for survival and another 2.5 million displaced

Why aren´t we hearing about this in the news?” asked Dr. Gregory Weeks, chairman of the International Relations Department.

According to IR professor Karin Kneissl,  “Africa is a forgotten continent.”

The Darfur crisis began when Sudanese rebels attacked government property, accusing the government of neglecting Darfur in favor of the country’s Arab population in northern Sudan. The government struck back by supporting the Janjaweed, a militia formed by President al-Bashir. Janjaweed continues to destroy rural villages today, killing thousands of people and raping women and girls with the aid of the Sudanese government.

“The Olympics might be the lever to stop the killing in Darfur,” said Dr. Gregory Weeks, the head of International Relations at Webster University Vienna, in a panel discussion on campus. The 2008 summer Olympics are to be held in Beijing, China. Weeks suggested that pressure through the Olympics might help stop the killing. For the last six years, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) bought nearly 70 percent of Sudanese oil exports and supplied the Khartoum government with most of its weapons. China has even established three arms factories in Sudan.

Two previous United Nations resolutions to end the violence in Darfur failed to sanction the oil exports by the Sudanese government. In the last year alone, the PRC’s oil imports increased nearly 40 percent and any attempt to place sanctions on the Sudanese government would severely affect China’s economic growth and political stability.

Organizer Janina Mank wondered if boycotting the Olympics altogether would help the issue receive more media attention. Mank it turns out was not the only one to think so. Actress Mia Farrow, a U.N. goodwill ambassador, is leading a media campaign labeling the Beijing games the “Genocide Olympics,” and is asking corporate sponsors of the games to publicly pressure China to do something about Darfur.

In an article in the Wall Street Journal on Mar. 28, Farrow warned Steven Spielberg, who is an artistic adviser to Olympics, that he could “go down in history as the Leni Riefenstahl of the Beijing games,” referring to the filmmaker most known for her Nazi propaganda films.

Spielberg, also a friend of Farrow, got the message and acted. Four days later, he sent a letter to President Hu Jintao of China, condemning the killings in Darfur and asking China to use its influence in the region “to bring an end to the human suffering there.” China quickly sent Zhai Jun, a senior Chinese official, to Sudan, pushing the Sudanese government to accept a United Nations peacekeeping force. Zhai went to Darfur and toured three refugee camps.

Beijing then announced in early May that they would send 275 military engineers for a U.N. force to strengthen the African Union peacekeepers already in Darfur. China has, until now, used its veto power as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council to resist calls to send international peacekeepers without Sudan’s consent.

On July 30, 2004 the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1556 demanding the government of Sudan to disarm the Janjaweed. That demand was an important part of the Darfur Peace Agreement signed in May 2006.

Later, on Aug. 31, they took a further step by passing Resolution 1706, which authorized a strong UN peacekeeping force for Darfur. But as Weeks said in the panel discussion: “Even if U.N. does get involved, will it be able to stop the killing in Darfur?”

Last month, the International Criminal Court in Hague, Netherlands issued arrest warrants for a Sudanese government minister and a Janjaweed militia leader suspected of committing war crimes in Darfur.

A lot has happened in just a year but mostly because of people’s awareness. The former Sudanese ambassador to Austria came to the conclusion after the panel discussion that it’s a case of genocide.

“Awareness is key to stopping genocide,” Mank said. “People push government to act.”

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