We must demand action on Darfur

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

To the Editor:
One of the dominant narratives of the 20th century was humanity’s collective failure to stand up to evil. In the face of global indifference, however, one group of people consistently raised its voice and demanded justice: students.

October 1956: Hungarian students march the streets of Budapest, triggering the country’s revolt against Soviet rule.

1960s, the American South: white students from the North partake in “Freedom Rides” in an attempt to de segregate busses in the racist South.

Late 1980s, around the world: students help lead an international boycott against apartheid South Africa, crippling its economy and helping bring down the regime.

Fast forward to 2007, Darfur: Its endless graveyards are evidence of crimes against humanity. Burned villages are becoming permanent reminders of what has transpired under our watch. Refugees’ faces tell stories of unspeakable horror.

But, for Darfur, the tides are turning. World leaders and celebrities alike are speaking out. United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon has called the situation “unacceptable.” The UN Human Rights Council held a special session on Darfur. Sudan is feeling the pressure. In short, we’re moving closer to putting UN peacekeepers on the ground to strengthen civilian protection.

We are at a critical moment. It’s time Canadian students united to pressure our government to take concrete steps to bring an end to the killing in Darfur. After four years of inaction, over 200,000 dead and millions displaced, we need to take a stand. “Never Again” means never again.

Canada can and must take a leadership role in ending this crisis. On the diplomatic front we can help jump-start a multilateral mission to protect civilians. Our CF-18 aircraft could help enforce a no-fly zone to prevent Sudanese aircraft from bombing villages as they aid the Janjaweed militia. Financially, our aid dollars can provide critical support. It’s time we come out and commit; we have the capacity to lead.

Acting on that capacity is simple. The prime minister needs to pick up the phone and rally his government and world leaders to join in implementing a strong multinational force on the ground to protect civilians. To this point he hasn’t been nearly vocal enough " and we are seeing the results of inaction. But politicians don’t act without a reason. If the prime minister is going to pick up the phone, he needs to see that his constituents demand more " that Canadians demand leadership.

This is where we come in. Our government answers to us. We just need to be heard. Students know how to organize and mobilize; we do it on campuses every day. We’re experts at writing letters, signing petitions and getting out our messages. This instance should be no different. From Victoria to St. John’s, it’s time Canadian students speak as one voice demanding a real response to the Darfur crisis.

The narrative of the 21st century is being written as Darfur is at a crossroad. As students, we have a critical role in shaping history. Either Darfur will start to live again or it will continue to perish. Let us fight for change as hard as students have before us. For if we don’t, and Darfur dies, a part of our humanity dies with it.
"Ben Fine & Josh Scheinert

Ben Fine, executive director of STAND Canada (Students Taking Action Now: Darfur), is a student in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto. Josh Scheinert, STAND Canada’s Advocacy and Communications Director, is a student at Osgoode Hall Law School.

This letter is being published in over two dozen student newspapers in all provinces and both official languages.

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