Washington, DC — The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum suspended regular activities for the first time in its history Thursday for a half hour program on the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, Sudan that called for immediate action.
The Museum's Committee on Conscience sponsored the event, "Bearing Witness for Darfur," that included remarks from three members of Congress, a Holocaust survivor, a representative from Darfur, and the Committee on Conscience Staff Director, Jerry Fowler.
The Committee's mandate is "to alert the national conscience, influence policymakers, and stimulate worldwide action to confront and work to halt acts of genocide or related crimes against humanity." In accordance with this, it issued a "Genocide Warning" for Darfur in January of this year.
In May, Fowler visited some Darfurian refugees in Chad. While he described the dismal reality of their situation and the extent of their trauma, he emphasized the need for immediate action. "The obligation to prevent genocide is a legal and a moral one," he said.
Nesse Godin, a Holocaust survivor, explained to the audience that she was all too familiar with such despair. Godin witnessed immense death and destruction by the Nazis before World War II ended in 1945.
"We Holocaust survivors know what it means to be victims of hate," Godin said. "That's why we stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Darfur."
Amal Allagabo, whose family still lives in Darfur, described the current situation, which has driven an estimated one million people from their homes and killed thousands already. The U.S. government estimates that the conditions these refugees now face could kill up to 350,000 people in the coming months.
Allagabo lost contact with her family as they fled the region. "In my eyes and many eyes this is the world's worst humanitarian disaster," she said. "My family is just like yours. They want to feel secured as human beings with observable rights."
Senators Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) and Jon Corzine (D-New Jersey) and Representative Donald Payne (D-New Jersey) talked about the importance of government action. Brownback, is leaving for Darfur on Friday night, along with Represenative Frank Wolf (R-Virginia), announced his intent to get an amendment on the floor in the coming days to increase the amount of U.S. aid to the region. "We must raise our voices and speak for the voiceless now," he said.
Brownback and Payne called on the United Nations to term this crisis genocide. Payne mentioned that he hoped to introduce legislation for a Darfur resettlement plan, which would rebuild communities and reclaim seized land.
After the brief event, tours and educational activities at the museum resumed. Fowler commented that he was satisfied with the turnout, but that he hopes to see more extensive coverage of the issue in the mainstream American press.
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