The Genocide Intervention Fund

Harvard’s divestment from PetroChina marks a victory for activists aiming to end the genocide in Darfur. It is hoped that Harvard’s decision will lead other investors to reconsider their holdings in companies doing business with El Bashir’s genocidal regime. But divestment, with its effect of taking money from the war-waging regime, is but one angle of the campaign. On Friday, the UN special representative on Sudan and the African Union (AU) released a joint statement condemning the recent attack on a small village in southern Darfur where 305 militiamen descended upon the civilians in a predawn raid. We can do more.

As Darfur remains the foremost ranking humanitarian crisis on the UN “watchlist,” the new buzzword amongst activists is the Genocide Intervention Fund (GIF), launched on Thursday. April 7 by Swarthmore college students, Mark Hanis and Andrew Sniderman. The premise behind GIF is that AU forces on the ground in Darfur should be provided with funds to cover their non-lethal weapon needs. At a conference organized in February by the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, the Swathmore undergrads sold their idea to students from 92 colleges around the country, who reviewed and reworked this plan. The launch here at Harvard was the culmination of a greater effort and coincided with the launch of the same initiative on 100-odd other campuses across the country. In order to gain student support, it is necessary to clarify why funding AU troops is an effective way of ending the genocide and to emphasize the importance of student involvement.

Civilian-funded troops are unconventional and unprecedented. In the past, the UN deployed peacekeeping missions and funded them as necessary. However, in the case of Darfur, the UN has shown reluctance and continues to withhold from sending troops to the troubled region. Responsibility has, instead, shifted to the AU, whose peacekeeping troops’ mandate is yet to be ratified by a majority of the states. This will be the first deployment of AU troops and these soldiers have the daunting task of policing a region the size of France on a mandate to observe and report that all parties are observing the ceasefire agreements signed in Abuja.

The mission has been dogged by constraints, such as an uncooperative host government that would not allow troops to examine certain areas, as well as deficient funding, which has led to a lack of transportation and food for troops. Many African countries have 70 to 80 percent of their populations living on less than a dollar a day; while they may be willing to send troops, they cannot afford the five dollars a day required to clothe, house, feed and arm a soldier, especially one on a mission with no profit for the country. Thus, nations have donated troops, but they are ill-equipped. Some have failed to reach Sudan because their countries cannot afford to fly them there.

Since the UN has abdicated its role as the primary peacekeeper to the AU, wealthier nations need to support the poorly funded and inexperienced troops of the AU. Unfortunately, only Canada has leased the AU several military transporters. Some have claimed that the failure of the AU’s mission is inevitable because the mandate the AU has of “observe and report” is the same mandate that UN troops had in Rwanda, and the UN was unable to contain that situation. While it may be true that the mandate is the same, the AU forces on the ground are more than uniformed journalists. These troops protect aid convoys ensuring that they get to the refugees. More importantly, as noted by Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, commander of the UN mission in Rwanda, there is respect for uniformed soldiers in the field. He recalls when militias would turn away when ordered to do so by the UN blue berets, proving that UN peacekeepers were helpful in Rwanda. Therefore, simply having soldiers in the Sudan would significantly slow the slaughter and help see the implementation of the signed ceasefires through.

Some people express concern with the GIF itself, especially since it enters the uncharted waters of funding foreign troops. Many believe civilians should contribute to humanitarian aid only. However, with the unsafe environment in Darfur, aid cannot be disbursed. Genocidal militias seek to destroy the people in Sudan: they poison wells, push villagers into the desert, and conduct a terror campaign marked by rape and murder. These militias have realized that if they attack aid workers, then aid groups, such as the British charity Save the Children, pull out and more civilians die. The AU troops protect the aid convoys and their camps. The AU’s presence alone deters militias from attacking. Therefore, for aid to be effective, every dollar given to a humanitarian agency must be matched with some money going to peacekeepers, without whom humanitarian relief is impossible.

Ultimately, the greatest strength of the GIF lies in the statement it makes. It speaks to diplomats and governments, saying that we, the civilians, are watching and we are furious with the delay of action in Darfur. If the powers that be fail to take action, by decision or indecision, then we shall support those who do. By buying a green “Save Darfur” bracelet, you will provide non-lethal supplies—food, tents, gasoline—to troops who save lives and gather evidence to prosecute the masterminds of the genocide. As Harvard students who do not often have a chance to directly impact the lives of the oppressed in Africa, this is an opportunity we should all embrace.

Hillary M. Mutisya ’07 is an applied mathematics concentrator in Quincy House.