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Dec. 10, 2007

Center for the Study of Human Rights
Event Advances Dialogue on Darfur Conflict

Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Human Rights (CSHR) hosted a major day-long conference, “Towards Sustainable Peace in Darfur,”on Dec. 3, bringing together a “who’s who” of diplomats, donors, senior UN officers and policy advocates from both international and Sudanese nongovernmental organizations. Speakers included Jan Pronk, former Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and head of the Mission for the United Nations Mission in Sudan; Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN; Kitty Pilgrim, CNN anchor for the Lou Dobbs' show; and many others.

A map of Sudan, courtesy of the C.I.A.

The conference marks the first time that Darfuris and key policy makers were together in the same room, discussing the urgent issues confronting Darfur as the conflict continues unabated. The event also served as the official launch of Dossier on Darfur Development Opportunities, the centerís effort to galvanize expertise in development and post-conflict resolution to address the needs of Darfuris now and when the conflict ends. This effort will culminate in a collection of policy recommendations to be published in spring 2008.

The conference was organized by David L. Phillips, visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of Human Rights, along with Elazar Barkan, co-director of CSHR and professor of international and public affairs, and Dirk Salomons, director of the humanitarian affairs program at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA).

“If this [discussion] proves to be an effective conflict mitigation strategy for Darfur, it can also be applied to other intractable conflicts,” said Phillips. “Columbia is exploring a partnership with the UN and Darfuri stakeholders using its convening power and access to multidisciplinary experts as valued added to the UN’s efforts.”

Related Links

Law Students Learn Creative Ways to Fight for Social Justice at Columbiaís Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic, Columbia News, Dec. 10, 2007

US Presses Sudan, Experts Query Peacekeeper Plan, Reuters, Dec. 4, 2007

Columbia to Divest from Sudan, Columbia News, May 1, 2006

Darfur through the Eyes of Its Smallest Victims, Columbia News, March 6, 2006

World Responds Inadequately to Refugee Children, Columbia News, Oct. 26, 2004

Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of Columbia’s Earth Institute, and Mahmood Mamdani, Herbert Lehman Professor of Government, professor of anthropology and an Institute of African Studies faculty member, were among the Columbia scholars who participated in the conference.

Sachs gave an overview of development in the Darfur region and dismissed the need for UN peacekeeping troops, calling the funding of peacekeepers a “waste of money.”  He said the root of the conflict in Darfur is due to poverty, and by immediately addressing the basic needs of people and by shifting money for peacekeeping to a strategic development plan, Darfur’s problems could be effectively addressed. A number of Darfuris and other conference participants disagreed with Sachs’ ideas.

“One-third of the Darfur population is displaced and are living in 50 to 60 camps that are temporary,” said Michael R. Meyer, director of communications, Executive Office of the UN Secretary General. “So long-term development for one-third of the population is not possible. But development must be interconnected [to achieve peace]. You must walk and chew gum at the same time.”

Mandani drew a historical picture of how Darfur’s contemporary problems have been the consequence of colonial and post-colonial dynamics that have been in the making for more than 45 years. Mamdani said that a peacekeeping force in Darfur now would be a “force of occupation” and argued that, in fact, fatalities had dropped considerably since 2005 without the help of peacekeepers. 

Barkan, who took over the leadership of the Center for the Study of Human Rights as co-director in 2008, said that the center will be a place to advance policy proposals that engage multiple perspectives from inside and outside the University.

“We want to believe that this type of work is what we can do best — to bridge research, academic and capacity building with the goal of addressing the most urgent global needs,” said Barkan. “The most promising part of the conference was the engagement of the Darfuri leaders and the expansion of the involvement of international organizations with Darfuri stakeholders. Keeping them at the heart of the conversation is a challenge we are committed to embrace.”

Story by Tanya Domi.