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Darfur conflict sparks discussion in public policy course

Courtesy of “Real Policy, Real Politics” class

Congresswomen Barbara Lee led a class discussion on Feb. 17 about the struggle in the Darfur region of Sudan.

The Mills course Real Policy, Real Politics, taught by Lee and Delaine Eastin, the former California state superintendent of public instruction, covers current topics, particularly issues set before Congress.

According to the Web site, the conflict in Sudan began in Feb. 2003, when Janjaweed militias, allegedly supported by the government, began attacking the region known as Darfur, where over 450,000 people have been killed. The common belief is that there are an additional two or three million people displaced and living in camps. The conflict has been cast as one largely based on religious and racial grounds, since the primary targets of the attacks are blacks and Christians.

Lee is pushing her bill,The Darfur Accountability and Divestment Act in Congress. The bill was first introduced in October 2006 and aims to prevent U.S. federal contracts from being negotiated with multi-national companies that have businesses in Sudan. “The first goal, of course, is the protection of the civilians,” Lee said.

Lee hopes that cutting off international financial support would cut off the means of hurting civilians in Sudan, therefore helping stop the genocide.

The Black Caucus, of which Lee is a member, met with the President several weeks ago. Lee said that although Bush is frustrated with the United Nations for not doing their job, she thinks that the President should use U.S. economic leverage with China and Russia to end the genocide. “We need to turn the heat up economically with regards to the sanctions and rev up the diplomatic action,” Lee said.

“At this point, I’m very frustrated and angry at the administration for not moving forward with some of the commitments that we have made,” said Lee. “America is the most powerful country in the world, and I don’t believe the United States is doing what it needs to be doing with regards to China and Russia,” she added.

Lee noted that China is one of Sudan’s largest trading partners, and about 20 percent of China’s exports come to the U.S.. This puts the U.S. in a good position to pull back any preferential agreement if China pressures the Sudanese government to end the genocide. Lee believes that the U.S could put pressure on Russia to divest. The former Soviet Union is another common trading partner for both Sudan and the U.S., and sells arms to Sudan, Lee said.

The United Nations has placed about 7,000 African troops in the region, but Lee said that Darfur needed 40,000 – 50,000 troops. United Nations has agreed to send the additional troops, but the Sudanese government has rejected the offer, saying it was a violation of their sovereignty. They consider it an interference to governing their own country, according to the organization’s Web site.

Organizations such as African Action have estimated the death toll to be around 450,000-500,000 since the conflict began. Last year, the United Nations estimated that about 400,000 were killed.

Lee believes that working with students around the country is important in the divestment movement. “Students have been doing a phenomenal job in the divestment movement. Their voices are very powerful,” she said.

Junior Mandy Day said discussing Darfur in classes is important. “It’s going to be part of our history in the near future. It is something politicians have largely ignored and it’s time we do something about it before we can’t,” she said.

Senior Katie Parranza said that the public policy class familiarized her with the conflict, giving her an opinion. “I think it would not be ethically correct to just stand by and not intervene,” she said.

“Whenever a government is acting in a way that is supporting genocide, that is not a very good message that we want other deviants to receive,” Parranza added.

Along with addressing the problem, Eastin proposed a solution that perhaps America should form an alliance with the United Nations or NATO, not just go into a country alone.

“It’s a tough world we live in, and we aren’t all-knowing, and situations are very complex – there’s different forces and values at work, and the solution may not be as cut and dry as sending a few hundred thousand troops to evade and occupy,” Eastin said.

Nicole Hudley, junior, said that although the atrocities should end in Darfur, she does not believe it’s a priority over other issues, such as withdrawing troops from Iraq. “When we are in a better position with more military resources and know how we could help most effectively, then we should definitely do something about the genocide in Darfur,” she said.