Panel on Darfur genocide to provide firsthand knowledge

Sponsored by 20-plus student groups, event will cover crisis, role of media

Students from many campus groups have come together to support an event that will show their concern with the genocide in Darfur and hope to educate the UCLA community on the current situation and its history.

The panel, titled "Darfur, Genocide, and the Media," will be hosted by the Darfur Action Committee – which was formed this past winter to bring local attention to the crisis in Darfur – and various other student groups that have pledged their co-sponsorship.

Adam Sterling, executive member of the committee, believes such a large and diverse coalition shows the powerful and unifying force that has been developing at UCLA against the Darfur genocide.

"The level of awareness for the crisis has really been increasing, with over 20 student groups coming together to put on an event like this," he said.

Sterling said this event aims to heighten understanding about the challenges facing the region by calling upon participants who have witnessed firsthand the turmoil that has plagued the area.

In early 2003, two rebel groups led an uprising in Sudan because they felt the government favored Arabs over black Sudanese citizens.

The uprising provoked the government to respond by mobilizing its militia.

Now, two years later, hundreds of thousands are dead, and millions more are in danger of dying from diseases, starvation and a lack of shelter.

The U.S. Congress declared the situation in Darfur a "genocide" in July 2004.

Panelists will describe their firsthand knowledge of the events in Darfur, and they will also examine the role of the media in spreading awareness about the violence in Sudan.

Sterling said it is important for such events to receive more coverage than they are currently given.

The panelists who will speak at the event include Darren Kemp, the British Broadcasting Company documentary filmmaker of the Peabody Award-winning film, "The New Killing Fields"; Ken Silverstein, a Los Angeles Times investigative journalist who reported on the situation; and Mohamed Yahya, a Darfurian exile and the executive director of Damanga, a coalition that advocates human rights for the people of Darfur.

Brian Steidle, a 28-year-old former U.S. Marine and African Union observer, will also participate as a panelist.

He was cited by Sterling as an "amazing" individual with a great understanding of the situation.

As an African Union observer, he was a part of a three-man team assigned to observe the cease-fire signed between the Darfurian rebels and the government of Sudan.

He traveled to Darfur in late 2004 and photographed the circumstances in which individuals were living. His photographs have been featured in the Washington Post.

A photo exhibit of his work, titled "Eyewitness to Genocide: The Photographs of Brian Steidle," has been featured in the Kerckhoff Art Gallery and Northern Lights since Monday.

The exhibit will be displayed in Kerckhoff Hall until the end of today and in Northern Lights through Friday.

Steve Sortijas, president of the African Activists Association, which has also pledged its support, said he hopes students take away from the discussion at least an understanding of the situation.

"Traditionally, and particularly at UCLA, there's been a lengthy history of activism on college campuses and this continues that tradition. The most positive thing that can come out of this is people acknowledging what's going on in Darfur at this point," Sortijas said.

Mouna Mikati of the United Arab Society has shown her support for the event and hopes students who attend this event will further educate themselves about the crisis.

"Students need to be aware of what's going on overseas because people should have general knowledge of what people from other countries go through. I believe that it is our humanitarian responsibility to offer them aid," she said.

The Darfur Action Committee and other participating groups hope events such as tonight's panel discussion will not only encourage individuals to learn more about the current circumstances in Darfur, but will inspire them to take action against genocide in Darfur as well as elsewhere in the world.

Published: Saturday, October 07, 2006