In February 2003, two rebel groups from Darfur, Sudan led a rebellion against their Khartoum government. They protested against years of poverty and discrimination. They would pay for their protests with their own lives and the lives of over 400,000 Darfurians in a genocide that continues to this day.
The Student Anti-Genocide Coalition (STAND) is an organization that aims to assist in ending the genocide in Darfur and preventing further genocides from happening. The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as “any act with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.”
The group STAND was originally started in 2004 by Nate Wright in Georgetown University. At that time it stood for ‘Students Taking Action Now: Darfur.’
Since then it has broadened its meaning to include the prevention of all genocides and has chapters in over 600 universities across the nation. St. John’s is now among the newest members of this national community as a chapter of STAND is now being introduced to the university.
STAND’s aim is to foster awareness of the crisis, help the global society to put economical pressure on the Khartoum government and raise funds in order to help the millions of displaced citizens of Darfur.
The government has sponsored the Janjaweed militia and used them to kill hundreds of thousands of civilians, rape countless numbers of women and burn their homes and agricultural fields. This has caused starvation, disease, homelessness and has led over 2.5 million refugees to find shelter in neighboring countries such as Chad. Aid workers are often threatened or face restrictions when trying to bring food, medicine and other necessities to families, the elderly, orphans, the injured and the dying.
In response to this, 19 year old Ramya Sekaran, under the supervision of St. John’s Director of Multicultural Affairs Reginald Barnes, decided to bring more awareness of the crisis to the campus.
After attending a Darfur conference in Central Park, Sekaran was given the opportunity to meet the leader of the Genocide Intervention Network (GI-Net), Mark Hanis. He encouraged Sekaran to bring a chapter of STAND to St. John’s and since then she has received a great amount of support from the organization.
“From the beginning STAND has been really great about helping me in getting this organization going. They put me in contact with other students who would help me in coordinating a chapter here. They’ve been really helpful.”
Along with other members of the group she plans to bring awareness to St. John’s by having different guest speakers cognizant about the issue, Public Service Announcements through the university’s radio station, word-of-mouth, and several eye-opening programs. Sekaran hopes that STAND will bring more activism to St. John’s and lend more voices to the world-wide campaign against genocide.
Sekaran says that the chapter of STAND at St. John’s will foster values of involvement in causes that deserve everyone’s attention and will help to change the mindset of students and the wider society.
“It’s not just about ending genocide. It’s about changing the way the world responds to genocide and mass atrocities, so that from now on the phrase “never again” won’t be an empty phrase. It will mean something. We won’t let genocide happen again.”