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What’s behind the Darfur campaign

Published Jul 17, 2006 7:34 PM

A well-attended forum entitled “Darfur, An Open Discussion on Intervention, Regime Change & the Politics of Genocide” was held July 6 at Smith College in Northampton, Mass.

The goal of the event organizers was to answer those clamoring for U.S. intervention in Darfur. According to independent journalist Keith Harmon Snow, the forum was organized in response to a June 21 event, “Witnessing Darfur - A Benefit for the People of Darfur,” which he said raised $10,000 for groups such as Human Rights Watch.

Panelist Sara Flounders, co-director of the International Action Center, gave a historical materialist overview of the underdevelopment of African nations by the U.S., Britain, and European colonial powers. She explained that the word “genocide” is being used for war propaganda, and posed a question to the audience: “How could anyone dare say that they were not against ‘genocide’?” She added that by claiming this as a “moral imperative,” the U.S. corporate media is shaping the issue on Darfur.

Flounders brought up that it is the U.S. that is militarizing the area by funding and arming rebel groups in Chad and Darfur. She went on to say that, in fact, the U.S. caused more than half of the deaths in Sudan—when under President Bill Clinton, the U.S. military bombed the El Shifah pharmaceutical plant in 1998, which supplied 60 percent of Sudan’s medicines.

Smith College Professor Elliot Fratkin gave a detailed history of Sudan covering almost a thousand years and emphasizing interethnic and intertribal conflicts. He was the only speaker on the panel who supported sending UN troops to Darfur to mediate among the Sudanese forces in Darfur.

The next panelist to speak, Keith Harmon Snow, emphasized: “People need to know they are being lied to [in regard to Darfur]. ... Sudan and the Darfur region have a lot of oil, and it has two-thirds of the world’s supply of high-quality gum arabic. Corporations such as Coke, Pepsi, and Pfizer rely on cheap supplies of gum arabic.” He went on to say that “The mass media and Hollywood are fooling the public about what’s really happening in Sudan. ... The CIA and USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development] are the real forces who want to overthrow the government of Sudan.”

When asked what he thought was important about holding Thursday’s forum, organizer and panelist Dimitri Oram replied, “For the first time, one of these events on Darfur is really shining a light on the U.S. role in Darfur and other African nations.” He continued, “The Rwandan Defense Forces sent to Darfur are themselves responsible for crimes against humanity and acts of genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and these troops were trained and are highly linked to the U.S. military.” Oram compared the U.S. claims of genocide in Darfur to the war propaganda used to justify U.S. military intervention in Bosnia and in Kosovo.

The last speaker on the panel, Dr. Enoch Page, Associate Professor of Anthropology at UMASS Amherst and expert on the anthropology of genocide, brought up the fact that the people of the United States do not need to look abroad to find cases of genocide. He pointed out that the 1949 United Nations definition of “genocide” has been and continues to be carried out against African Americans here in the United States. He reminded the audience that part of the UN definition includes killing members of a racial group; causing psychological damage to members of the group; and creating conditions of financial hardship for members of the group.

Professor Page raised the “attempt at systematic destruction of African Amer ican people by the U.S.” and stressed that, “We must talk about that fact whenever there is a discussion on ‘genocide.’”

Professor Page suggested, “Africa is still being punished for its brave resistance and overthrowing of its colonial oppressors.” When asked what information coming out of the forum he thought was important, Professor Page replied, “That the U.S. is causing the conflict in Darfur, and wants to overthrow the Islamic government there because it has a vested interest in the region, not because of ‘genocide.’”

During the question and answer period, Sara Flounders responded to the suggestion that UN troops should be sent in to Darfur by reminding the audience of past military interventions in which UN troops, pressed by U.S. resolutions, were involved: four million Koreans killed in the “UN Korean Conflict,” the 1991 war on Iraq, the 13 years of UN starvation sanctions imposed on Iraq with 1.5 million deaths, along with the massacre of civilians by UN troops in Haiti and Somalia.

Organizers of the forum included Keith Harmon Snow, independent photojournalist, human rights and genocide investigator; Deborah Chandler, graphic designer; Dimitri Oram, writer and researcher; and Doug White, member of the Northampton Committee to Stop the War in Iraq.

The entire meeting is available on audio at www.traprockpeace.org.