Rajan Menon, International Relations professor, discussed a sensitive word in a March 28 lecture on an event equally horrific as the Holocaust—the Darfur genocide.
The term “genocide” comes from the roots genos (Greek for family, tribe or race) and cide (Latin for massacre). It was coined by Raphael Lemkin, a Jewish legal scholar in 1943, after WWII and was adopted into international law at the Geneva Conventions.
“Darfur is engaged in all matters of destruction ... from rape, pillage, to the destruction of villages,” Menon said. “And the response from the international community is either too late, too little or nothing at all.”
According to Menon, the most important issues at hand are the “systematic killing of people,” and “the issue of sovereign nation-state.”
To understand what is happening in Darfur, Menon described the region in western Sudan as having a “long and complicated history,” with many tense relationships among groups of people of different race, ethnicity, lifestyle and religion.
When Sudan was created in the 1950s, the region of Darfur was heavily neglected by the government. With no investment into it, it became a very backward and poor area.
Living on the peripheries of Sudan, Darfur was denied economic resources, political power, adequate infrastructure, and proper investment. Conflict began to brew in 1983 and since then 1 million people have died. In 2000, with the spread of information, there came a political awakening. Beginning to realize the extent of their oppression, Darfurians began to assemble and demand rights, marking “the rise of the Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement—neither of which were secessionist—but just wanted equal political representation and resources,” Menon said.
The inhumane acts committed in Darfur are hard to process. Of the 7 million people, 300,000 men, women and children have been killed. 7,000 villages have been destroyed.
“Darfur is even turning against itself,” Menon said. “Subject people to these extreme conditions for long periods of time and that’s what happens. Nobody wants to help one another anymore. The village burns down and where do people go? Another village—but those people don’t want you there. People are fighting to survive.”
Menon explored in particular the role that rape plays within the acts of brutality committed by the Junjaweed.
“Rape demoralizes and degrades the society," he said. "When it happens, the question arises—what kind of society cannot look after its women? Where is the society’s dignity?”
The Junjaweed, extremists in Arabist ideology, rape to reap more Arabs from the “primitive black tribes”—“to appropriate what is justly theirs” said Menon. This creates another class of people but most importantly—it is tearing apart the social fabric of society.
“Darfur is a traumatized child subjected over the years, repeatedly experiencing atrocities” Menon said.
As the international community looks in, nobody is quite sure what to do. The U.N., with a budget equal to that of the NYPD, does not have the resources nor the manpower to intervene. Avoiding using the term genocide has allowed the U.N. to stay out and keep the blame off themselves in case they were to fail (which they most likely would). Thus, they will not send in cavalry, Menon said.
Sitting on the Security Council, Russia is selling arms to the Sudanese and the Chinese have oil deals with Sudan and both intend to veto external intervention.
Sponsored by the World Affairs Club, Menon’s lecture left students thinking very profoundly on the very complicated issues at hand. The President of the World Affairs Club, Meredith Aach, ’08, said that it was important for her to arrange the lecture because, “a lot of people don’t know what Darfur is, where Darfur is, and what’s happening there.”
Project Awareness, a new club on campus, is also committed to spreading awareness on the genocide in Darfur. For more information, Professor Menon has recommended seeing the movie Hotel Rwanda, or reading the books "Darfur: A Short History of a Long War," written by coauthors Julie Flint and Alex de Waal, or "Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide," written by Gerard Prunier.