NEW YORK, August 15, 2007 – Speaking from a press teleconference in Kigali, Rwanda, AJWS President Ruth Messinger implored activists to continue the fight for Darfur. “We’ve made a mockery of the idea of ‘never again,’ living through Armenia, the Holocaust, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo, South Sudan and now Darfur. It’s time to stop this genocide and to end genocide for all time.”
Messinger recently returned from Chad and Rwanda with Dream for Darfur, a global advocacy campaign sponsoring a symbolic Olympic Torch Relay from Darfur to Bejing to draw attention to the role of China in the ongoing crisis in Darfur.
On August 15, Messinger helped to launch a six-country symbolic Olympic Torch Relay with a torch-lighting ceremony in Kigali at the entrance of Ecole Technique Officielle, a school where 2,000 Rwandans were murdered in 1994.
Each stage of the relay, which began along the Darfur-Chad border, will be held in a city or nation that has suffered genocide or mass slaughter. The relay demands that China, in its role as Olympic host and close partner of Sudan, uses its unique influence with Khartoum to end the suffering in Darfur before the Games begin in August 2008.
Also traveling with Messinger was actress Mia Farrow, NBA athlete Ira Newble, Dream for Darfur Director Jill Savitt, actress Clare-Hope Ashitey, Darfuri human rights advocate Omer Ismail and U.S. Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ).
In Chad last week, Messinger met with Darfuris in a refugee camp on the border with Sudan. She reported in the press call: “Every story is a story of someone who has seen their family destroyed, lost their farmlands and their livelihoods. They are continuing victims of this genocide.”
Messinger recounted: “I met a woman who fled after her village was attacked in 2003. Her husband was killed; it took her two days to find her three year old twins from whom she’d been separated during the attack. They traveled to a refugee camp in Chad living on only one meal a day during their two week trek. I met a group of young people, desperate for education, representation and peace. One young man with whom I spoke told me: ‘When the war started, everything was destroyed. War ended our education, war took our future.’”
In Rwanda, Messinger met with survivors of the Rwandan genocide that saw the loss of an estimated 800,000 to one million lives. While in Rwanda, Messinger met with the Rwandan Women Community Development Network (RWN), an AJWS grantee since 2003. As part of RWN’s peacebuilding initiatives, RWN has constructed a “Village of Hope,” a space for women survivors of violent crimes.
AJWS’ ongoing support of organizations like RWN in Rwanda is a testament to its principle of “disaster to development,” a continued commitment to sustainable development not only during a conflict, but also after the conflict ends.
The Olympic Torch Relay will continue throughout 2007 in other countries historically associated with genocide. After Rwanda, the relay will visit Armenia, Bosnia, Germany, Cambodia and Hong Kong. The goal, according to Dream for Darfur Director Jill Savitt, is “to build a powerful anti-genocide movement.”
Simultaneously, the relay will proceed in the United States, Canada and Australia. For a full list of dates and locations, please visit the Dream for Darfur Web site.
Please click here to listen to a report of the trip on NPR, including Messinger’s account of her experience in the Darfuri refugee camps.
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David L. Marcus