Sept. 22, 2006
Darfur still needs aid
Global day of action highlights ongoing trauma.
As roughly 200 participants huddled for warmth in the rain outside
the Vancouver Art Gallery last Sunday, a speaker at the Global Day
of Action for Darfur noted that Darfuri refugees in Chad and displaced
people across Sudan endure much worse conditions on a regular basis,
without the possibility of heading home to get warm at the end of
Framed most often as a humanitarian crisis, the situation in Darfur,
Sudan, has warranted only an occasional blip on the media screen
over the past three years. Since 2003, Janjaweed forces (armed fighters
claiming Arab descent) supported by the Sudanese government, have
exerted brutal control over the Darfuri people and tortured them
Although statistics vary, a 2005 report by the Coalition for International
Justice estimates that 400,000 people have died in the conflict.
In addition, thousands more have died from starvation, disease and
fighting within refugee camps and thousands of women and girls have
been systematically raped. The numbers increase daily.
The Global Day for Darfur was a gathering of people around the world
to show support for the Darfuri people and encourage governments
to take action. In Vancouver, participants were encouraged to put
pressure on the Canadian government by sending letters and postcards
to Prime Minister Stephen Harper calling for Canada to uphold
its promise that human slaughter would never again be allowed to
take place in today's world. At Toronto's gathering, which attracted
thousands of people, Sen. Roméo Dallaire (force commander
of the United Nations mission to Rwanda, made famous by the film
Hotel Rwanda and the 2004 documentary Shake Hands with
the Devil) said the crisis in Darfur is indeed shaping up to
become a case of history repeating itself.
As Stephen Schachter of Canadian Jewish Congress, Pacific Region,
noted, "Today is not about remembering the horrors of Darfur.
Today is about political leadership and the will to end this suffering."
"Canadian Jewish Congress has been lobbying for action in Darfur
for close to three years," said CJCPR chair Mark Weintraub
after the event. "The genocide is not over. The numbers are
increasing. As a community, we have a responsibility to ensure that
Canadians do not ignore this issue. On Sunday, organizations and
individuals across the country gathered to call on the government
of Canada to not only recognize what is happening in Darfur, but
to lead the international community with a sense of urgency to stop
the killing, rape and displacement."
Representatives from Canadian Students for Darfur, who played a
key role in organizing Vancouver's rally, noted that we are witnessing
just the kind of tragedy that never should have happened again after
close to a million people were slaughtered during the 1994 ethnic
conflict in Rwanda.
"Activists and social justice organizations have been calling
for an end to this crisis for far too long now," said Shamus
Reid of the Canadian Federation of Students, "and so it is
somewhat frustrated and with a heavy heart that I stand before you
again today, urging the Canadian government to heed the call of
the global community and of victims of violence, rape and murder
Don Wright, regional development co-ordinator of Amnesty International
Canada's B.C./Yukon chapter, reported on Sunday that the government
of Sudan refuses the deployment of UN peacekeepers into the region,
while eyewitnesses claim that Janjaweed militia continues to dominate
the region. "The Sudanese government has persistently failed
in its duty to protect civilians in Darfur from gross and systematic
human rights violations," claimed Wright. "That responsibility
has now devolved to the international community."
Vancouver rapper Babaluku, who performed at the event, asked people
to also think of the many positive things happening in Africa. People
tend to think of Africa as a place of poverty and suffering, he
said, when there are also millions of bright, healthy, motivated
and talented individuals working toward change on the continent.
Babaluku, who was born in Uganda and immigrated to Canada at the
age of 12, performed "I'm from Africa," an upbeat piece
that had everyone's head bobbing. The message was one of hope, pride
and encouragement for other African immigrants to stay proud of
their heritage, acknowledge the good in what's happening on the
African continent and use whatever talents they have to make a difference
Cassandra Savage is an MA candidate in the School of Communication
at Simon Fraser University.