On Sunday, November 19, Pigott Auditorium on the Seattle University campus was host to John Prendergast, an African affairs specialist and human rights activist, who has been traveling across the US to bring home the urgent message that U.S. intervention in the region of Darfur is imperative. Since 2004, Prendergast, who serves as a Senior Adviser for the International Crisis Group, has been traveling to the troubled region in western Sudan which he described as “Rwanda in slow motion”. He has also been an adviser to the U.N. Security Council and the U.S. State Department.
The evening began with a lively performance by the Zumbuko Marimba Ensemble and an introduction by the event’s organizer, Deborah Jones. Prendergast minced no words in addressing the audience, describing how Darfur was in the throes of genocide. He shared that even President Bush had recognized that reality in 2004, marking the first time that the word was used by a head of state to describe a government campaign. He was also adamant that the Sudanese government, not ethnic or religious tensions, was the cause of the crisis, and that it would never halt the massacre until the international community exerted political and economic pressure. He advocated the imposition of sanctions on Sudan’s growing oil industry and the prosecution of Sudanese officials in the International Criminal Court – a prosecution that could be greatly advanced by current American intelligence on Darfur. While Prendergast still considered military intervention a “Plan B,” he encouraged his audience to consider this route, especially in view of the potential for even greater disaster in the region. At present, over 2.25 million Sudanese are living in marginal refugee camps, relatively safe from the marauding militias called the janjaweed. But if the militias began attacking refugee camps, the ensuing devastation would be unimaginable.
Prendergast ended his message with an appeal for a response by average Americans. He urged the audience to write to their elected officials demanding a response to Darfur, and to contact media companies of all types, requesting that they present more frequent reports on the region. He ended by recounting a story of a young man whose school notebooks were found in the charred remains of a village, and whom his team tracked down years later in a refugee camp. The youth, now 17, told the team that he refused to join the rebels as so many young men had; he continues to go to school, and aspires to become a politician who would bring peace to his country. Listening to this story of courage, we felt we could not simply forget this genocide. We walked out of the room burdened with the knowledge of Darfur, but challenged to act upon it.
The evening with John Prendergast was organized by SaveDarfurWashingtonState, a Seattle-based non-profit and by numerous individuals, local schools and fatih communities. WSPCA was present at a table in the main lobby of the auditorium and showed its support through an ad campaign to its membership. We were pleased to see several RPCVs, WSPCA members and non-members alike, in the audience Sunday evening.