I recently spent a weekend with members of the Sudanese Diaspora, the Rwandan Ambassador to the US, the ICC Prosecutor Bensouda Fatuo, anti-genocide scholars Eric Reeves and Gregory Stanton, and the Ambassador-at-Large for the Global Office of Criminal Justice at the US State Department, Stephen Rapp. These esteemed speakers came together for a weekend of conversation and action as part of Darfur Women Action Group’s 3rd Annual Women & Genocide in the 21st Century National Symposium (check out their list of speakers!). The focus of the weekend was on reigniting the energy there once was to end the genocide in Darfur.
Many may remember the Save Darfur campaign which took advantage of the dawn of social media as its message spread across Facebook and other social platforms. As is the story with many social media campaigns the “movement” fizzled out; unfortunately, the violence in Darfur did not end with this diminished attention. The violence in Darfur continues to get worse. Day one of the National Symposium reminded us of this fact: in just the first quarter of 2014, more than 300,000 people fled Darfur and millions are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. The Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court but remains in power where he continues to perpetuate violence in areas such as the Nuba Mountains, South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Darfur.
The conference not only sought to bring attention back to Darfur, but to focus on the epidemic of violence against women. Panelists from various countries spoke about rape as a weapon of war and the damage it does to not only a woman’s life, but to her entire community. These stories were shared by women from Rwanda, Guatemala, and Burma–each from a different continent which reinforces, in my mind, the idea that #YesAllWomen truly is a universal conversation. What made the conversation particularly enriching was when men spoke up and reminded us that women’s rights are men’s rights. Jeffery Eide, a representative from a the Fargo Rape and Abuse Crisis Center reminded us that men have a crucial role to play in reshaping the way we discuss sexual violence and they must be important advocates for change.
Perhaps the “headliner” of the weekend was the International Criminal Court Prosecutor, Bensouda Fatuo. She spoke about her personal commitment to ending sexual violence and gender crimes on an international scale. In recent years the ICC has made it a priority to work on prosecuting crimes of sexual violence including rape a weapon of war. She reminded us that while the ICC has a crucial role to play in holding perpetrators accountable, it is not the end all be all, and requires assistance and cooperation from other nations to hold criminals accountable. Stephen Rapp echoed this saying that the ICC is a court of last resort and other jurisdictions–of all levels–must make it a priority to prosecute these crimes. Talking specifically about Darfur, Bensouda was adamant that Bashir will be brought to justice as she said “victims will not find solace in our promises”.
There was certainly a lot packed into the two-day conference, but one of the most valuable aspects was interacting with people from Darfur and other areas in Sudan as we took the conversation to the next level. The weekend culminated in breakout discussions as the audience first segregated themselves into two groups: members of the Sudanese Diaspora and everyone else. Each group discussed actions that the US government could move forward with on a policy-level, and what we can all do individually. The two groups came together to share some discussion items: the need for unification among the Sudanese Diaspora in order to affect change within their home country, strengthening civil societies in Darfur, and the inclusion of women in the justice and peacebuilding process. While change must come from within Sudan, the international community and other nations must be supportive of these efforts and work to hold Bashir’s regime accountable to international laws. While many understood the limitations to the Save Darfur movement, there was some discussion for the need to bring the world’s attention back on Darfur through social media so that people are more aware of the ongoing atrocities. As the movement seeks to once again harness the power of social media, it must move beyond the online realm and create effective organizing and structural changes to bring about real change. The conversation must continue.
Being in a room full of passionate activists, community members, students, volunteers, and NGO leaders was inspiring. We were there because we had not forgotten about Darfur. It was invigorating to be a part of this conversation, and I hope that these discussions continue and build so that the spotlight is once again on Darfur.