By Mena Abedi
There has yet to be any lasting resolution for the violence-stricken Darfur region of Sudan, which is undergoing what the United Nations has labeled “genocide.”
In 2003, the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA), comprised of various villagers, demanded that their government address issues of economic, political, and cultural marginalization. In response, government-sponsored militias known as the Janjaweed began attacking villages, and the region has been entangled in violent conflict since.
Over 400,000 people have been killed as a result of genocide, war and poverty.
Last week’s HOPE: Africa Benefit event worked to bring information about the situation in Darfur to students at UC Santa Cruz.
Paulino Paida, a survivor of the crisis in Sudan who came to the United States as a refugee in 1999, gave the keynote address. Paida fled Sudan with his family to avoid persecution by the Sudanese government for delivering food and supplies to Ugandan refugees.
“As a weapon, [the government denies] food to people so that they die of hunger,” Paida said during the event. “They deny medicine so that they die of disease.”
Paida noted the Sudanese government terrorized all who opposed them and supported the rebels’ cause.
“Girls as young as seven years old and women have been systematically gang-raped to death, while men have been subjected to all types of torture before being murdered by [the Janjaweed],” Paida said.
Mark Brecke, a documentary photographer who has spent time documenting genocide in Cambodia, Kosovo, Rwanda, Iraq and Darfur, showed audience members images of displaced families at refugee camps and photographs of decaying bodies left in the desert.
Brecke entered Sudan under the government’s radar and traveled with the SLA while in Darfur. At one point, his car was ambushed by the Janjaweed, leaving six men wounded.
“[The Janjaweed has] managed to kill, displace, and psychologically traumatize so many people,” Brecke told City on a Hill Press. “You have a region [where the] way of life has systematically been taken away.”
Because of government-sponsored destruction of indigenous villages, well over two million civilians have been forced to flee their homes, either to displacement camps around Sudan or to refugee camps in the neighboring country of Chad.
At the event, the speakers noted that Sudan needs help from other countries, as almost four million people in Darfur are dependant on international aid to survive. However, the United Nations’ attempts to intervene need to be approved by the Sudanese government.
Isaac Paida, a second-year UCSC student and the son of Paulino Paida, recognizes that while many are pressing the UN to intervene in Darfur, there are international limitations preventing it.
“What makes you think that somebody is going to let you come into their house to witness if they are engaged in domestic violence at that exact moment?” Isaac Paida said.
The teach-in capped off with a performance from spoken word artist Fritz and a rousing concert by Prince Diabate, which brought the crowd to its feet.
According to Elizabeth White, benefit co-organizer and UCSC student, the main focus of the night was to create awareness, but the event was also able to raise over $200 for the Muzbat School of Peace in northern Darfur.
“The event showed how people from different disciplines can come together and bring their talents to benefit a cause,” said White, who taught a class on the Darfur genocide last spring. “It was powerful to get students to [understand] the situation in Darfur and how much of an effort students need to take to combat the atrocities.”