The Youth's Stand on Darfur and Human Rights
December 12, 2006Comments (1)
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Geneva, December 12, 2006: World Jewish Congress delegation to UN Human Rights Council Special Session; Ambassador Itzhak Levanon, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations in Geneva – (l.-r.) Peleg Reshef, WJC Director of Future Generations; Amb. Levanon; Margot Stern, University of Florida student; Daniel Translateur, Chairperson, World Union of Jewish Students; John Fishel, President, Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles.
Margot Stern, a University of Florida alumna, spoke at a press conference for the UN Human Rights Council special session on Darfur in Geneva, Switzerland on December 12. She highlighted Hillel’s work on Darfur. Below is her speech.
“Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.”
-- George Santayana
As a graduate of the University of Florida, a representative of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), The Foundation for Campus Jewish Life (Hillel) and a part generation Y, I have learned and am personally committed to the importance of fighting injustice. The future belongs to today’s youth, for today’s youth are the future. It is our duty to raise global awareness and coordinate efforts across all borders and boundaries to counteract misdeeds of the past and present, and prevent them in the future. Efforts of this magnitude can only be done through collaborative initiatives of all races, religions and ethnicities, as there is strength in numbers.
The United Nations defines genocide as “any… acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such…” History reflects millennia of genocidal acts, which continue in the 21st century.
In 2004, following President Bush’s public statements describing genocide in Darfur, a group of college students at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, created STAND: Students Taking Action Now Darfur, a student anti-genocide coalition. There are now approximately 600 high school and college chapters in the United States.
The following college youth programs are examples that reflect the abhorrence of genocide, focusing specifically on the Darfur conflict in Sudan. While many of the chapters and activities are Hillel centered, they reflect efforts by Jewish and non-Jewish youth that are willing to accept social responsibility, acknowledge violation of human rights, and communicate to Congress and the world, a willingness to facilitate a stop to the violence and feed the hungry.
Darfur Youth Program Highlights for 2005-2006:
- Hillel’s Paper Plate Project: Linking Darfur to hunger. Twenty college campuses sent letters attached to symbolic paper plates to Congress, requesting increased funding for aid and peacekeeping forces. The plates were displayed on campuses prior to mailing.
- Darfur Fast: Created by students from Stanford and Brandeis universities, this fundraiser has grown to include more than 70 universities nationwide. Through public and private support, the event's fundraising success approaches $10 million to fight the injustices and provide humanitarian aid.
- Mid-Atlantic Conference: Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania held a campaign of STAND entitled, “Time to Protect: End of Genocide” December 1-3, 2006. The purpose of this program was to educate students about the genocide in Darfur that resulted in the deaths of 450,000, over 2.5 million displaced, and 3.5 million going hungry.
- Darfur rallies: April 30 (Washington, DC) and Sept 17 (New York, NY): Hillel organized approximately 2,400 students combined at the rallies to raise public awareness.
- Letters to Congress on Darfur: University of Florida (UF) students sent 1,350 letters to President Bush, Sen. Mel Martinez, Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Cliff Stearns to implore legislators to pass the Darfur Accountability Act. In addition, the UF student body passed a resolution officially condemning the genocide in Darfur.
- Dimes for Darfur: An active fundraiser across many universities in North America. For example, the University of North Carolina Hillel donated money for aid to the children. They illustrated the parallel between the Darfur genocide and the Holocaust, by collecting 1.5 million pennies to represent the 1.5 million children who died in the Holocaust.
- College Campuses have hosted prominent political figures and speakers on human rights:
a. Ruth Messinger, President, American Jewish World Service: keynote speaker at Hillel’s Spitzer Forum on Public Policy - spoke about Darfur and lead multiple workshops on the issue of genocide.
b. Stephen Lewis, UN Special Ambassador to Africa: hosted twice at the Hillel of Greater Toronto
c. Paul Rusesabagina, former general manager of Mille Collines Hotel in Kigali, Rwanda, hosted by close to 10 campuses nationwide
d. Screenings of the movie Hotel Rwanda, based on Rusesabagina’s heroics during the genocide in Rwanda, were linked with general discussions about genocide and Darfur.
The following examples of planned initiatives reflect the commitment that college youth have made to stop genocide:
- Northeast STAND Conference: January 26 – January 28, 2007 at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island
- Midwest STAND Conference: January 26 – January 28, 2007 at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, Colorado
- Southeast STAND Conference: February 2 – February 4, 2007 at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia
- Western STAND Conference: February 2 - February 4, 2007 at the University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California
- Congressional Call-In Campaign: March 27, 2007: The University of Florida will hold an all day phone campaign to arrange votes for the NATO force for Sudan.
As an undergraduate music major, I understand the power of music and song. Songs often reflect social and environmental issues. Singer songwriter Debbie Friedman describes choice, commitment to change, and legacy to future generations in “And the Youth Shall See Vision”:
…. I cannot have a future 'til I embrace the past.
I promise to pursue the challenge, time is going fast.
Today's the day I take my stand, the future's mine to hold. Commitments that I make today are dreams from days of old. I have to make the way for generations come and go. I'll have to teach them what I've learned so they will come to know.
Baby boomer Billy Joel wrote “We didn’t start the fire.” His closing words ask “But when we are gone, will it still burn on and on and on…” The fire of his parents’ generation was the Holocaust. Today’s fire is genocide in Darfur. When my generation is gone, will that fire still be burning on, and on, and on? Through united, organized, coordinated, interfaith, multi-ethnic, and culturally diverse efforts of youth, history does not and should not repeat itself, unless it reflects all that is good in the world.
Margot H. Stern
Member of the North American Student Body