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International Human Rights Clinic Hosts Genocide Discussion

by Gilien Silsby
International Human Rights Clinic Hosts Genocide Discussion
Professor Rebecca Hamilton talks to a USC student after her presentation.

More than 120 USC students, faculty and staff attended a USC Gould School of Law discussion titled “Fighting Genocide Around the Globe: What Is Our Responsibility?”

Sponsored by USC Gould’s International Human Rights Clinic, the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, the USC International Law and Relations Organization and Fight On for Darfur, the noontime event featured Rebecca Hamilton, special correspondent on Sudan for The Washington Post and Stephen Smith, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute.

Hamilton spoke about her new book, Fighting for Darfur: Public Action and the Struggle to Stop Genocide, which looks at the grassroots campaign to draw global attention to the plight of Darfur’s people.

“Rebecca, through her research, brings critical thinking to the Darfur advocacy movement, the first mass mobilization of ordinary citizens to prevent and stop genocide,” said Hannah Garry, director of the International Human Rights Clinic, who moderated the discussion. “She effectively demonstrates the need to measure success not just with respect to short-term ability to influence decision-makers but with respect to achieving actual long-term solutions for victims and their communities on the ground. Otherwise, despite all good intentions, such movements are in danger of doing more harm than good.

“In 1994, 800,000 people were killed in Rwanda, while the world stood by,” Hamilton said. She explained that U.S. foreign policy is grounded in the idea that people who are born in America matter more than people born outside the country’s borders. But she added that at the start of the Darfur movement, “everyone thought that if we could raise our voices loud enough on Darfur, Washington would begin to care.”

Hamilton explained how advocacy for Darfur led to a multibillion-dollar effort. From college students who galvanized university campuses to celebrities such as Mia Farrow and Steven Spielberg, who took on the cause, Hamilton offered a detailed account of the impact of the first major citizens movement against genocide.

But despite the advocacy efforts and the dramatic increase in news coverage (50 percent greater by 2007 than it had been when the story broke in 2004), “none of this resolved the situation in Darfur,” Hamilton said.

Although activists shook up the U.S. foreign policy process, the situation in Darfur remains unresolved because the battle to protect civilians now takes place in the realm of global geopolitics, she noted.

“It’s not enough to get Washington to care,” Hamilton said. “The perpetrators are still in power, and the survivors don’t feel safe enough to return home – they’ve been in camps for seven years. The advocacy movement never quite captured or created a long-term impact,” she added.

In researching her book, Hamilton conducted more than 150 interviews with a variety of policymakers, including Colin Powell, Stephen Hadley, Jendayi Frazer and all the Sudan envoys.