Hundreds demand action in Darfur at SLU rally


Over 500 students, faculty, community volunteers and leaders and members of the entire community participated in a program and rally titled “Voices From Darfur: Personal Stories of a Genocide” in the Busch Student Center at Saint Louis University last week. The program and rally was organized by Gitana Productions in partnership with the American Friends Service Committee of St. Louis, and included participation by the Save Darfur Coaltion of St. Louis, chaired by Lesley Levin, an at-large member of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis.

Lori Reed, International Programs Coordinator of the AFSC, also spoke, urging support for debt relief for Africa.


Don Marsh, longtime KMOX Radio talk show host and anchorman on KDNL-TV, served as moderator of the program, which filled the large conference hall in the Busch Student Center to an overflow, standing-room capacity. Dr. Emmanuel Uwalaka, professor of political science at Saint Louis University, who teaches courses on African politics, welcomed those in attendance, and expressed appreciation to the sponsoring groups and to the large audience who gathered to express their concerns and to demand action to stop the mass murder of civilians taking place in the Darfur region of the Sudan, which has claimed at least 200,000 lives and driven more than 2.5 million Darfurians from their homes, with thousands of them living in squalid refugee camps in neighboring Chad.

The gathering heard dramatic personal testimony from two former residents of the Darfur region. Daoud Hari, a Darfuri refugee who escaped from his village after months of bombardment from his own government, told of how he had been forced from his home and his brother was murdered. Hari fled to neighboring Chad, where he served as an interpreter for The New York Times, the BBC and the Chicago Tribune, risking his own life to bring reporters into Darfur to record the devastation of his homeland, which included burning entire villages to the ground.

Motasim Adam, who was born and raised in Tawila, Darfur, before moving to the United States to escape the genocide, received a bachelor’s degree and was president of the Business Studies Society at Sudan University of Science and Technology. He arrived in the United States in 2003 and was a founding member and now president of the Darfur People’s Association of New York. He said one of his greatest goals is to “help establish and promote the value of tolerance, peaceful cohabitation and dispute resolution among all Sudanese people. All of Adam’s family members have had to flee to displaced refugee camps because of the violence.

Speakers explained the historic, political and ethnic underpinnings to the mass murders in Darfur, which have been officially described by the White House, State Department and U.S. Congress as a “genocide,” and as a “grave humanitarian crisis” by the United Nations. The mostly Arab northern portion of Sudan, which has been politically dominant over the black African south since Sudan gained its independence, has used Arab militias and marauders called Janjaweed to force Darfurians from their land.

Speaking on behalf of the St. Louis Save Darfur Coaliton, a group of over 70 St. Louis faith-based, humanitarian and human rights organizations, organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council, its chair, Lesley Levin issued a “Call for Action on Darfur.” Looking out over the large attendance, Levin said, “I am inspired to see such a wonderful audience tonight and I thank Gitana Productions and the American Friends Service Committee for producing tonight’s amazing program. This evening you have heard the heart rending testimony, seen the visuals and even tasted a bit of the life of Darfur’s refugees. Now we must address our attention to action.”

First, Levin urged “help in contacting our Congressmen and Senators. We know that if they don’t hear from the voters on the crisis in Sudan, their attention will turn elsewhere. It only takes a minute to make a call.” Printed post cards were distributed, addressed to Sen. Christopher (Kit) Bond and Sen. Claire McCaskill, urging them to continue their efforts on behalf of stopping the genocide in Darfur and to support debt forgiveness in Africa in order to free up funds for urgently needed food, medical and other humanitarian relief.

“We ask our Congressmen and Senators that money allocated for Sudan for peacekeeping and humantarian aid be protected and not cut from the 2008 federal budget. Congress is working on the budget right now, so please make a call this coming week,” Levin said.

Levin said that St. Louisans “can make a direct impact on the lives of the people living in the refugee camps. There are many fantastic humanitarian aid groups working on the ground in Sudan and neighboring Chad. The Solar Cooker Project, coordinated in St. Louis by the National Council of Jewish Women, provides Darfuri women a way to cook meals without having to leave the refugee camps to find firewood, where the risk of rape or murder is great. This project has already supplied 10,000 cookers to outfit an entire refugee camp, and they are working on outfitting a second camp.

“This evening we have heard the testimony of brave people,” Levin continued. “I know that we all feel outrage when we learn about the loss of life in Darfur, the systematic deportation, the killing of a people. How can anyone who remembers other genocides — Cambodia, Rwanda, the Holocaust, Bosnia — remain silent? This is the first time that the United States has identified genocide while it was ongoing, but we need to do more to stop it. All of the people of the world should be entitled to live with dignity and hope. All people of the world are entitled to live without fear and pain.”

For more information on the St. Louis Save Darfur Coalition call the JCRC at 314-442-3871, or email: [email protected]