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Students Lead Movement to Bring Peace to Darfur


One group that has come up with a concrete and immediate response to the carnage in Darfur is the Genocide Intervention Network. It's the brainchild of students at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and now extends to more than 250 schools across the country. The group has raised money to fund the African Union Peacekeeping force serving in Darfur. It's leader, Mark Hanis, joins me in the studio now. Hello, Mark.

Mr. MARK HANIS (Genocide Intervention Network): Hi, how are you doing?

ELLIOTT: Good. Tell me, how did you get interested in the Darfur issue?

Mr. HANIS: Several reasons. The first one is four of my grandparents were Holocaust survivors and reminding us always never again. So this had a huge impact in my life. And another component was reading about all of the past genocides. We've gone from Armenia, the Holocaust, Cambodia, Rwanda. Once I heard about Darfur I simply said we can't let this happen again.

ELLIOTT: Now, how is your group different from the dozens of other groups that have taken up this issue?

Mr. HANIS: Lots of organizations look at humanitarian aid and raising awareness, which are both extremely necessary, but what we want to fill is that critical gap, the civilian protection gap. We need to talk about genocide as a security issue. The victims, the Darfurians, these people aren't running away to get this aid. What they want is security. So that's where Genocide Intervention Network wants to focus on: the security.

ELLIOTT: How much money have you raised for the African Union peacekeeping forces?

Mr. HANIS: We've raised over a quarter of a million dollars and that's come from grass roots efforts across the country. Cornell University, for example, showed Hotel Rwanda one night, raised 5,000 dollars. Three high school students in Mamaroneck, New York, did a Jam for Sudan, a sort of battle of the bands in their gym and they raised 3,000 dollars. A piano teacher in Salt Lake City gave us two weeks of her proceeds, so we've just been getting checks from ten dollars all the way to 5,000 dollars.

ELLIOTT: Now, help me understand how you go from all of these people at different schools around the country to actually getting the money into the African Union Force's hands?

Mr. HANIS: We've been working with Gail Smith, who used to be the Senior Director of African Affairs at the National Security Council under President Clinton. And she knew all the African Union top brass. She flew over to ask the African Union: A bunch of students want to stop genocide and want to help you guys out, can we raise money for you? And they said yes, and we drafted a contract and none of the money will go to any lethal means, guns and bullets, and we're now in negotiation with them and hopefully we'll complete it by the end of this summer.

ELLIOTT: No guns and bullets? Why is that?

Mr. HANIS: Well, two reasons. One are the negative consequences. What if a peacekeeper had killed a civilian and we helped raise money for that gun and bullet? But more importantly is, the African Union is not asking for guns and bullets. What they need are boots, they need more people, they need maps, they need satellite phones and walkie-talkies and they need cargo planes to transport all the people and the resources.

ELLIOTT: I imagine that they're used to reaching out to governments.

Mr. HANIS: This is unprecedented. The African Union has only received money from donor governments so we provide citizens the opportunity to directly support civilian protection in the face of genocide.

ELLIOTT: Now, did you have to get any special permission from the U.S. government to do this?

Mr. HANIS: Yeah, we did need to check with the U.S. Government and other governments and we are okay. We're not at all replacing the government's role. We need the governments to fund the African Union and to increase the force size. We're shaming, we're leading by example. We're not just going to complain and say you need to do this. We're gonna say, I'm willing to put money where my mouth is, what about you?

ELLIOTT: Mark Hanis is the Chief Executive of the Genocide Intervention Network. Thank you for coming in to talk with us.

Mr. HANIS: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.
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