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In the midst of genocide in Darfur, Sudan, students in the Human Rights in Modern War class taught by Joshua Sanborn, associate professor of history, have been learning about human rights conflicts and the different ways in which the international community has responded or lacked a response.

“We have focused on several crises around the world, including Bosnia, Chechnya, Rwanda, Cambodia, Somalia, the Holocaust, and Armenian genocide,” says Emily Fogelberg ’05 (Plymouth, Minn.), a double major in economics & business and history. “This was a ‘make your own syllabus’ class, so in addition to the set reading list, all of our research was independently motivated and selected.”

The class is bringing Eleazer Ziherambere, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, to campus to share a first-person account of the experience 12:15-1 p.m. Thursday in Hogg Hall. The event is part of the International Students Association’s weeklong Extravaganza.

According to Fogelberg, the class decided to learn more about the situation in Darfur, where more than 300,000 people have died and more than 2 million have been displaced since the beginning of 2003. They ultimately believed it was important to bring awareness about this issue to campus.

“This class has allowed us to innovate and pursue opportunities such as lobbying and increasing awareness about Sudan,” says international affairs major Jillian Gaeta ’07 (Middletown, N.J.). “The students in the class came up with these efforts on our own. We did not have a professor telling us we had to do it, and so there is a great deal of enthusiasm for what we are learning.”

Other key organizers included English major Erin Koen ’05 (Hamilton, N.Y.); Meghan Mara ’05 (Bedford Hills, N.Y.), a double major in American Studies and history; history and government & law major Farrell Sharkey ’06 (Glenside, Pa.); and Lori Weaver ’06 (White Haven, Pa.), a double major in history and government & law.

On March 8, the students held a brown bag discussion entitled “Not on our Watch” to generate broader campus interest in the Darfur genocide, after which they were contacted by the Genocide Intervention Fund run by a group of college students at Swarthmore.

The students gathered information on the Darfur Accountability Act introduced in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives that would allow the United States to take steps to end the genocide in Sudan. The legislation seeks to increase the mandate of the African Union peacekeeping force on the ground in Darfur.

“The African Union has the capacity but not the funding to be successful,” Fogelberg says. “The legislation also calls for the freezing of assets of war criminals, the possible imposition of economic sanctions, the establishment of a no-fly zone, the trial of war criminals, and so forth.”

The U.S. was the first country to call the slaughter in Darfur “genocide.” This is particularly significant because the term is not usually applied until after the situation has ended.

But just being informed and spreading the word on campus wasn’t enough. The students wanted to have the largest impact possible, so they joined the Genocide Intervention Fund’s “Congress RUSH” event on April 6, 11 years to the day after the start of the Rwandan genocide. They gathered with over 300 other students from 42 states at the Senate Hart Building on Capitol Hill.

“We attended a press conference in the morning and heard Senator (Jon) Corzine, Senator (Sam) Brownback, and Representative (Donald) Payne speak about the Darfur Accountability Act because they created the bill in the Senate and the House,” Gaeta says.

The Lafayette students spent the remainder of the afternoon lobbying in the offices of their senators and representatives, including Sen. Rick Santorum, Sen. Arlen Specter, and Rep. Charlie Dent, urging them to co-sponsor the bill. At the end of the day, the group African Action organized a “speak out” at Lafayette Park in front of the White House. Speakers included survivors from Rwanda and natives of Sudan, as well as Rep. Payne.

Back at home, the Lafayette students are still doing what they can to create campus-wide awareness about human rights crises, including holding fundraisers and starting their own chapter of Amnesty International.

In addition to organizing tomorrow’s brown bag, the class is selling bracelets from, with all proceeds going to humanitarian aid. The green bracelets are adorned with the quote “Not on my Watch,” which President George W. Bush stated as a promise that he would not allow another genocide like Rwanda to occur.

“Every time someone asks, ‘What’s the green bracelet for?’ we have one more opportunity to teach someone else what’s going on in the hope that they too will be outraged and demand action,” Fogelberg says.

Lafayette’s chapter of Amnesty International will keep students informed about human rights issues. Activities planned for next year include letter-writing campaigns, brown bags, and guest speakers to promote human rights.

“It will serve as a way for students to get involved in promoting human rights worldwide and educating other students about the abuses that occur around the world,” Gaeta says. “Unfortunately, Darfur is only one of many human rights abuses around the world and students need to be aware of what is happening around them. Amnesty will allow students to become more educated and become active world citizens.”

Categorized in: Academic News