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Yesterday afternoon amid throngs of tourists taking photos in front of the White House, a dedicated group gathered near the pristine tulip beds to hear gruesome stories of man's state-sanctioned inhumanity against man.
This memorial and advocacy event was part of Genocide Prevention Month, a coincidental convergence of six anniversaries of mass atrocities that take place in April: the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, Cambodia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda, and the crisis still unfolding in Darfur.
Polish Holocaust survivor Herman Snyder was an elderly man no longer as he described a boyhood experience emerging from the woods to find a mass grave that contained his entire family. Bosnian Elmina Kulasic recalled her years in a concentration camp created for Muslims "cleansed" from the larger population, beginning at age seven. The former head of the Rwandan Parliament, Joseph Sebarenzi, urged those gathered not to ignore Sudanese suffering, as, 15 years ago, the Rwandan genocide was ignored for many months in the West. "Because they were born Tutsi, my loved ones called for help and no one came; only death came" to his mother, father, and seven siblings, along with much of an extended family. The greatest lesson, Mr. Sebarenzi said, was "to seek justice, never seek revenge."
Many speakers directed their hopes and comments to President Obama. While musicians from Zimbabwe and South Africa played in the background, activists including Enough's Co-founder John Prendergast urged onlookers to become advocates.
"There is a solution for Sudan and activism is essential for that solution," said Prendergast. He noted that activism had "elevated an obscure war in a desert far away to the Oval Office," saved thousands of lives by "preventing the Sudanese government from using starvation as a weapon of war," led to an investigation at the International Criminal Court, and secured the assistance of thousands of international troops on the ground in Sudan.
Emphasizing the important "unfinished business as an anti-genocide movement," Prendergast urged the audience to write and call government officials, and to contact the media to remind President Obama that he has the unique opportunity to lead a global push for peace in Sudan.
This event was one of 400 scheduled around the country during the month of April, including a huge gathering yesterday of high school students from the Chicago area, led by Ethan Barhydt, who recently wrote about the event on Enough Said. Actress/activist Mia Farrow announced yesterday that she would begin a water-only fast on April 27, "as a personal expression of outrage at a world that is somehow able to stand by and watch innocent men, women, and children needlessly die of starvation, thirst, and disease."
Photo: Activists hold up the names of villages in Darfur destroyed by the violence since 2003. Courtesy of Pete Muller/Save Darfur Coalition