N.Y Times’s Kristof urges action on Darfur


Nicholas D. Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times and twice a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and who has visited the Darfur region of Sudan 11 times, encouraged 500 concerned St. Louisans not to give up on their efforts to help stop what has been called “The First Genocide of the 21st Century,” in remarks as the Lee Institute Speaker last week at the Ladue Chapel. People of all faiths, including many within the Jewish community and numerous members of the St. Louis Save Darfur Coalition attended the program at the Ladue Chapel Presbyterian Church.

Kristof has perhaps done more direct reporting from Darfur than any other print journalist, and he was preparing to return to the region again when he addressed the large audience in St. Louis. “I am very pleased to see such a large turnout on the issue of genocide; it is important that we keep focus on this issue. Governments, including our own will take action when they perceive it to be in their national interests to do so. When it comes to intervening on the basis of American values, generally the government will not act.”

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As examples, Kristof recalled the failure of several past presidents to intervene to stop previous acts of genocide. “Back in 1915, President Woodrow Wilson, despite his idealism did not intervene to stop the genocide in Armenia. In the 1930s and 1940s, Franklin D. Roosevelt did not bomb the rail lines into Auschwitz, and in the 1990s, President Bill Clinton did not want to use the word ‘genocide’ to describe what was going on in the former Yugoslavia, though he did act later.”

Kristof stressed that while he valued his role as a journalist to inform the audience on the scope of the genocide in Darfur, “I want this not only to be informative, but to be a call for action.” He added that while it is frustrating to seek action to stop the genocide in Darfur because of international politics, economic pressures and the slowness of the United Nations to act decisively, “it is still not too late to help stop the mass murders in Darfur, and it is important that we resist what could be called ‘Darfur fatigue.'”

Kristof illustrated his talk with slides and videos from his various trips to the Darfur region in Sudan, recalling “in early 2004, I went to the Sudan border with Chad, where I saw an oasis of 30,000 refugees from Darfur. I went from tree to tree and literally each person, each young woman, each family had its own tragic story to share.”

The Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter recalled, “At the very first tree, I met a man who had been shot and left for dead by the Janjaweed, the militias used by the Sudan government to carry out the genocide. “This same man carried his brother for 49 days to get to this oasis of relative safety,” Kristof said.

“At the very next tree, I met a young woman, whose mouth had been shot, and who had been thrown into a wall. All the men in her village had been murdered. Under the third tree were two little girls whose parents had been killed. Another woman, named Zakara, told me that her children had been pulled out of her arms, that her two sisters had been gang raped by the Janjaweed. The rape victims’ legs were scarred to ‘mark’ them as dishonored,” Kristof continued.

“These people, horribly brutalized, were only those under the first four trees I visited,” Kristof said. It was at that moment that I realized the enormity of the atrocities being committed in Darfur. I am planning my eleventh trip to the region, but each previous trip produced more and more horrible images and stories that are pretty tough to look at.” Kristof showed on the screen graphic photos of the bloodied and partly-burned bodies of the Darfurian victims of the genocide. “I show these pictures so that you can get just a glimpse of how horrible the situation is in Darfur and in the refugee camps,” Kristof said.

Kristof said that one of the ongoing dilemmas for reporters covering the Darfur tragedy is “that we want to do interviews of those who have been brutalized, but we also don’t want to expose them to revenge on the part of the killers.” He added, “Some of those we interviewed were brave enough to use their real names in order to provide direct witness to what was happening in Darfur.”

Kristof expressed appreciation to the St. Louis Save Darfur Coalition, a consortium of 74 local organizations, of which the Jewish Community Relations Council was among the organizing founders, and which coordinates many of its local activities. Several members of the Coalition were present for Kristof’s talk and commended him for his comprehensive coverage of the ongoing crisis, which has been officially labeled a “genocide” by both Houses of Congress, the White House and State Department, and which has been called “a grave humanitarian crisis” by the United Nations.

The New York Times columnist encourged the Darfur activists “not to fall into despair or fatigue; your efforts do make a difference.” He added that the United States government has been generally strong on the issue, and has provided food and medicine and other relief supplies as well as political and diplomatic pressure on Sudan at the United Nations. He added that the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing, China have provided an opportunity for public figures to demand that China put pressure on the government of Sudan which it has supported financially and diplomatically to persuade Sudan to allow the international peacekeeping force to stop the violence against the civilians of Darfur.