CJC Darfur Action Committee Holds Ottawa Lobby Day
"Canada has great moral authority on the world stage and we can make a difference."
Last week, 15 representatives of Canadian Jewish Congress’s Darfur Action Committee travelled to Ottawa to lobby Members of Parliament, Senators and government officials to have Canada increase its contributions to solving the refugee crisis in Sudan’s Darfur region.
“Canada has a great moral authority on the world stage and we can make a difference,” Benjamin Shinewald, CJC National Executive Director told Shalom Life. “A good example of that is the role the government of Canada, and Canada as a whole, took in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Canada was instrumental in ending apartheid. That’s not just verbiage. That’s true.”
Shinewald said that last Thursday’s lobbying effort made a real difference, with a very positive response from a number of MPs and Senators from all three federalist parties as well as several government officials.
The coalition was under the CJC umbrella and leadership and included volunteers as well as Christians and Muslims advocating for Durfur. “The volunteers felt fantastic at the end of the day,” he said.
He added, “I do think it was successful. Advocacy is seldom something were you have immediate dramatic results. And especially with something like Darfur, the way you achieve progress is incrementally. But I think we did advance the cause measurably yesterday.”
Ben Fine, an Action Committee volunteer, said that he found that MPs and Senators from the three parties were very receptive to the Action Committee’s suggestion of a permanent Parliamentary Committee on Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity.
“All the Parliamentarians with whom we met were sympathetic. Some, like Liberal Glen Pearson, were so knowledgeable and committed that they took lots of time to help us learn more about the conflict. Others, like Conservative MP Tim Uppal, were so supportive that they immediately offered to advance our ideas with their colleagues,” he said.
Since 2003, the Janjaweed, a Sudanese-government backed militia, has conducted a campaign of ethnic cleansing and genocide in Darfur against African tribes, killing up to 400,000 Darfurians and displacing 2 million others. Currently, some 200,000 Darfur refugees live in extremely poor conditions in camps in next door Chad, with the rest of the refugees stuck in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Darfur.
Literally thousands of tiny farming villages have been wiped out, with four million people of Darfur now dependent on international food aid for survival.
Today, Darfur is in a very precarious position, with the region remaining unstable amid ongoing fighting. Furthermore, instability surrounding IDP camps means that millions are unable to leave without risking their lives.
“Canada should be commended for its continued commitment to the people of Darfur and Sudan,” said CJC. This includes sending military and diplomatic personnel and equipment and co-chairing the Friends of United Nations Assistance Mission in Darfur. Canada has also worked with other countries to support the Sudan peace process, leading to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of January 9, 2005, which officially ended the 20-year North-South civil war. On the domestic front, Canada has enacted into law UN Security Council mandated sanctions.
“There’s a lot Canada can do in Darfur,” said Shinewald. “Can Canada solve the problem on its own? No. This is a tragedy that must be solved first and foremost in that part of the world, in Sudan and in Africa. This is an international humanitarian catastrophe and for that reason every country and everybody has a role to play.”
The Darfur Action Committee had two other recommendations besides the Parliamentary Sub-Committee for the Prevention of Genocide and Other Crimes against Humanity: One, continued support for a diplomatic resolution to the Darfur conflict, independently and through international collaboration Two, for Canada to play a leadership role in strengthening the UNAMID Mission through the Friends of UNAMID at the UN.
The group also expressed to parliamentarians how fragile the situation is right now in Darfur and in greater Sudan. Shinewald described it as “in flux,” saying the major worry is there is a very real possibility that the situation could get worse, creating a “Somaliafication” of Sudan where it implodes and becomes another East African failed state.
“As we all know as Canadians and as Jews, failed states bread terrorism, they breed instability, they breed international consequences, of which genocide is only one,” he said.
The situation for Darfurians is also currently precarious. “In Darfur, there has been a decline in the violence, which is great on the one hand, but on the other hand, it’s partly because there’s not a whole lot of people left to kill. People have either been killed or they’ve fled. And the people who’ve fled are living in deplorable conditions in other parts of the region.”
As Jews, the Darfur Action Committee explains, we cannot stand by and ignore the genocide and refugee crisis taking place in Darfur. According to the concept of tikkun olam (repairing the world), we must take action and advocate for the world’s most vulnerable.
Fine said that he is proud that the Darfur Action Committee’s parliamentary lobbying day brought together Jews, Christians and Muslims.
“When the Jewish community says ‘Never Again’, we must mean it equally for our grandparents as for all humanity,” he said.
Fine mentioned that what is going on in Darfur personally touches him as well as many other Jews because the Holocaust occurred only several generations ago.
“As the grandson of a Holocaust Survivor, I grew up with the horrors of genocide part of my family's narrative,” he said. “When I visited the concentration camps in Poland, I saw the genocidal result of the world's indifference to Jewish suffering. When I learned about acts of genocide on-going in Darfur, I resolved to do something. We could not remain silent while men, women and children were being slaughtered – simply because of who they are.”
The CJC Darfur Action committee was joined on Parliament Hill by Stand Canada (a Darfur advocacy group headed by Ben Fine), the Darfur-Sudan Peace Network and the SubSahara Centre, all lobbying the government to do more to help the people of Darfur.