Hundreds rally against genocide

Hundreds rally against genocide

BY ROBERT A. COHN , EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS

More than 300 people, including representatives of 40 community organizations associated with the St. Louis Save Darfur Coalition and other cooperating groups, gathered at the Missouri History Museum for a candlelight vigil and a speech by Jerry Fowler of the U.S Holocaust Memorial Museum Thursday to demand immediate action to stop the ongoing genocide in the Darfur region of western Sudan.

“These faith-based and other groups from all segments of our community are united in their determination to bring an end to the horrific genocide in Darfur, Sudan,” said Terry Bloomberg, president of the Jewish Community Relations Council, which organized the coalition.

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In the ongoing violence in Sudan’s western region of Darfur, government-backed militias called the Junjaweed have engaged in a genocidal campaign which has resulted in as many as 450,000 deaths, 2 million people displaced from their homes.

Some 7,000 troops from the African Union are the only forces present attempting, without success, to stop the violence. Activists have pushed for additional African Union troops, along with United Nations and possible NATO troops, to stop the slaughter. It was pointed out that the African Union forces have not been effective, and that United Nations forces had failed to stop the genocide in Rwanda in l994, but that NATO forces had been effective in stopping the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo. NATO troops can be sent to Darfur only if a United Nations force precedes them, and these efforts have been stalled.

There were actually two separate Darfur-related events scheduled for the History Museum that evening. The St. Louis Save Darfur Coalition, coordinated by the Jewish Community Relations Council, scheduled a “Call to Action — Vigil for Darfur,” which was to have taken place on the north steps of the History Museum, starting with a candle lighting ceremony on the steps of the facility, which was formerly known as the Jefferson Memorial. A driving rain forced the ceremony indoors, but did not dampen the interest of the 300 people who filled the foyer of the museum. Following the vigil, Jerry Fowler, staff director of the Committee on Conscience, which guides the genocide prevention efforts of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, provided a detailed update on Darfur and how to effectively respond.

At the vigil ceremony, local clergy representing Judaism, Christianity and Islam offered remarks to “call to action” not only the local community but also leaders in Jefferson City, Washington and at the United Nations to immediately take urgent steps to stop the genocide in Darfur. The Rev. Douglas Parham, president of the St. Louis Metropolitan Clergy Coalition, said, “I am here to say ‘I care!’ I am here to say that I am willing to do something to stop the killings in Darfur.”

Rabbi Joshua Taub, president of the Association of Reform Rabbis and rabbi of Temple Emanuel, said, “Judaism’s teachings on justice and human rights relate to the crisis in Darfur. We know the feelings of the stranger for we were once strangers in the land of Egypt. The stranger, the vulnerable, the weak. We must not stand idle while your neighbor bleeds. Speak the truth to power; to evil, to injustice.”

Rabbi Taub urged those in attendance: “Get educated. Contact the Jewish Community Relations Council, and they will arrange for a speaker to come to your congregation, civic group or school. Fill out a post card or e-mail sign up sheet so that the coalition can send you action alerts. Educate others; many are not aware of what is going on in Darfur. Tell your friends and co-workers.”

Imam Muhamed Hasic of the Islamic Community Center of St. Louis, said: “God Almighty made all humans from the same male and female. We have to stand for justice. It is our duty to respond.”

Four candles were lit, representing not only the current genocide in Darfur, but the Nazi Holocaust against European Jewry and the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. Those lighting candles included Sara Moses, a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust; Adisa Kalken, a member of the St. Louis Bosnian community; Nhial Tutlam, who fled southern Sudan for the United States six years ago, and Megan McCoy, a student from the Visitation Academy, who lighted a candle for future generations committed to ending genocide.

Bloomberg praised “the large number of high school and college students who have joined our coalition and who support our efforts.” A number of those in attendance participated in the national Save Darfur Rally on April 30, in Washington.

The main speaker was Fowler, the first staff director of the Committee on Conscience, which guides the genocide prevention efforts of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. He previously was the legislative counsel for the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, where he worked on an array of human rights issues, including international justice and asylum policy.

Fowler, who has twice visited the war-torn Darfur region, showed vivid photographs of the catastrophe on a large screen. The photographs include many taken in refugee camps in Chad and others taken by a prize-winning photographer from within Darfur itself. The photos included refugees forced to sleep outside in blazing, unprotected heat at temperatures as high as l20 degrees; entire villages torched to the ground, a compound at a time, and wrenching pictures of children as well as men and women who were wounded in beatings or by gunshots, including some who merely sought permission to get drinking water from wells.

“There are some photos which are too graphic for me to share with you,” Fowler said, describing one of a small boy whose face had been crushed with a rifle butt.

“The Holocaust and the genocide’s in Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo are now history, and we can do nothing about them now but remember,” Fowler said. “But Darfur is not history. We are talking about something that is happening as I am speaking. What is going on in Darfur from here on out is not inevitable.”

Fowler said he was “deeply moved and impressed by the large turnout of people here in St. Louis, in Washington, in Chicago and San Francisco determined to stop the genocide in Darfur.” Fowler said that the large crowds, including the estimated l00,000 who took part in the Rally to Save Darfur in Washington, have produced a critical mass, which is getting attention in Washington and at the United Nations.”

Fowler took note of the peace agreement signed last week between the central government of Sudan and the largest rebel faction in Darfur, which he described as “an encouraging step,” but warned that Sudan in the past has entered treaties and agreements to buy time only to violate them. He said he and a group of other Darfur Coalition activists had met for over an hour in the White House with President George W. Bush. “President Bush impressed us with his concern, knowledge and determination to stop the genocide,” Fowler said.

Among actions which concerned citizens can take to be effective, Fowler listed, “keep informed; check Web sites such as www.committeeonconscience.org and your local Save Darfur Coalition; get engaged in your own community. Add to the list of 40 organizations in your coalition; if you have one page, make it two and then four, you can never have too many organizations.”

In a related development, the Missouri House of Representatives last week unanimously passed Resolution 2446, sponsored by Rep. Sam Page, D-Creve Coeur, which condemns the ongoing genocide in Darfur and calls upon the president and State Department to “unite the international community to end the genocide.”

Batya Abramson-Goldstein, executive director of the JCRC, praised the House action, stating, “The situation in Darfur is so grave. We as American must respond, and we as Missourians must respond.”

Rep. Page said, “Today we send a strong message to Washington to support humanitarian aid and peacekeeping efforts.”

Fowler’s appearance as co-sponsored by the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center, the JCRC, the Center for International Studies at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, the Whitney R. Harris Institute for Global Legal Studies, Washington University, and the History Museum.