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Crisis demands action, activist says

The ongoing Darfur genocide requires that we shed our apathy, Ruth Messinger emphasizes.

Published February 27, 2007


Those who attend Ruth Messinger's talk about Darfur on Thursday should prepare for an earful. Expect the educator, advocate and activist on the genocide in western Sudan to use statistics to drive home her points:

-The genocide in Darfur is now in its fourth year.

-Close to 500,000 people have been slaughtered.

-2.5-million people have been displaced from their homes.

-4-million now depend on the outside world for survival.

In a telephone interview, Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service, an international development organization that has been providing humanitarian aid to the displaced people of Darfur, said it's past time for people to get involved and take action.

She urges people to learn about the crisis, lobby Congress to do more to help, write letters to the editor and contribute to relief efforts.

She also scolded the media for its scant attention to the crisis.

"It's a complicated story," she said. Further, she said, some people dismiss the conflict as "black people killing black people."

"People treat it as if it is far away and not related to their lives."

The genocide in Sudan's western province began in early 2003, when Sudanese forces and government-backed Arab militias, or Janjaweed, tried to crush two rebel groups fighting what they described as the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum's marginalization of the region's black Africans.

International observers accuse the Sudanese forces and Janjaweed of raping, starving, killing and displacing the civilian population.

Hundreds of thousands are now in displaced-persons camps in Sudan and refugee camps across the border in Chad.

This week the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor is expected to name the first of those suspected of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan's western region, the United Nations said Thursday. Attempts to end the conflict continue to fail, Messinger said.

"There's a tremendous amount of violence on the ground right now. More people are being killed," she said, adding that international aid workers are being pulled out for their own safety. Some have been killed.

Those clamoring for the world to pay attention to the crisis in Darfur point to other modern-day genocides, like the Holocaust, which took the lives of 11-million people, 6-million of them Jews, during World War II, or the 1.5-million Armenians killed between 1915 and 1923 by the Central Committee of the Young Turk Party of the Ottoman Empire.

Messinger's American Jewish World Service is a co-founder, along with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, of the Save Darfur Coalition - 151 faith-based, humanitarian and human rights groups.

The coalition has been running TV commercials, picketing, generating letter-writing campaigns and raising money to ease the woes in Darfur.

Local groups have joined the effort. Last year the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Pinellas County and the Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater sponsored an interfaith gathering about Darfur.

In St. Petersburg, a large street-side banner that said "Call to your Conscience,," is on display on Congregation B'nai Israel's property.

Last fall, the Pinellas County Interfaith Coalition organized a Save Darfur benefit concert.

Messinger's talk Thursday at the Florida Holocaust Museum is being sponsored by the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis, the JCRC of the Jewish Federation of Pinellas and Pasco Counties, the St. Petersburg Branch of the NAACP, the Pinellas County Interfaith Coalition to Save Darfur, the St. Petersburg Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and the Florida Holocaust Museum.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at 892-2283 or

Darfur genocide

By the numbers

500,000 People have been slaughtered in the genocide in Darfur.

2.5-million people have been displaced from their homes.

4-million people depend on the outside world for survival.


Tour museum, listen to talk

What: "From Awareness to Action: Responding to Genocide in Darfur," by Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service.

When: 7 p.m. Thursday.

Where: Florida Holocaust Museum, 55 Fifth St. N, St. Petersburg.

Details: The museum will open at 6 p.m. for docent-led tours and remain open until 9. A question-and-answer session and dessert reception will follow the talk. The event is free. For more information, call Dawn Sullivan at the museum, 820-0100, ext. 265.

To learn more

- Save Darfur Coalition, Suite 600, 2120 L St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20037, (202) 478-6311. E-mail Web site,

- American Jewish World Service, 45 W 36th St., New York, NY 10018-7904; (212) 792-2900 or 1-800-889-7146. E-mail Web site,

[Last modified February 27, 2007, 07:39:38]

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