Campus Visitors: Advocating for Darfur

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof shares horrific stories of the Sudanese genocide to spur response. by Karin Fleming ’09

The photo is of the skeletal remains of a teenage girl. Her hands are still bound at the wrists and twisted behind her back; her body is still crouched in the ditch where she was shot. The scene is not unusual in Darfur, the region in western Sudan that has been crippled by gross humanitarian abuses for the last five years, and the photo is not the only one Nicholas displayed during his April presentation on campus.

“Initially,” says the New York Times columnist, “I was reluctant to show grisly photographs. It almost seemed like genocide porn, just appealing to people as a horrifying mess of images. But since people really haven’t responded intellectually to the issue of people dying in Darfur, I think maybe the only way of getting responses is to have people see exactly how horrible it looks.”

Kristof has won two Pulitzer Prizes, one of which was awarded for his reporting on Darfur. He was one of the speakers at a two-day symposium at Ithaca College and Cornell University on the connections between the Beijing Olympics (see box, top right) and the ongoing human rights atrocities in Darfur. Kristof’s South Hill stop was sponsored by the Ithaca College student organization STAND (Students Taking Action Now: Darfur).

Kristof also showed video footage of the refugees he met during his trips to Darfur and the border between Sudan and the country’s western neighbor, Chad. He spoke of his first trip to the border and the thousands of refugees he saw sitting under palm trees at an oasis. He approached the first four trees, and under each was an individual with a horrifying story. There were a woman who had been kidnapped and raped, a man shot through the jaw, two orphan children under age five, and a woman whose parents had been thrown into the village well. After hearing these stories, Kristof told the IC audience, he finally understood the full extent of the atrocities Darfur is are suffering.

“Four trees, right next to each other,” he said, “and in every direction as far as I could see, there were more trees with more people with stories like these. And when you talk to people like that and you know they’re still out there, it’s very hard to go back to writing about the campaign trail and Social Security finance problems and all sorts of other issues. They are important also, but genocide is something beyond them all.”