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Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Human Rights and The Mosaic Institute of Canada brought together more than 30 Darfurians in Cairo last month to discuss conditions for sustainable peace in Sudan. They agreed to launch the Darfur Reconstruction and Development Initiative to plan post-war projects in the key areas of water, agriculture, energy, health, education, land and gender issues.

Participants in last month's Darfur conference, including Elazar Barkan (last row, third from the left), director of Columbia's Center for the Study of Human Rights, and visiting scholar David Phillips (last row, fifth from the right).
Participants in last month's Darfur conference in Cairo

Image credit: CSHR

“The goal is to help Darfurians strategically assess development priorities and mitigate conflict by highlighting the benefits of a peace-dividend,” said Elazar Barkan, co-director of the center.  A peace-dividend reallocates money being used to fund arms to help provide services and support reconstruction: building schools, hospitals, roads and other infrastructure.

Half of the participants at the meeting came from Sudan. Others were drawn from the Darfurian diaspora in Africa, the Middle East, Europe and North America. Participants included former governors of the region, ex-ministers, professors, community organizers and women leaders.

“Our Darfurian partners are committed to ending the conflict in Sudan,” said David L. Phillips, a visiting scholar at Columbia who leads the initiative. “They represent different tribes and regions, pastoralists and farmers, as well as political factions. While they have influence, none are directly involved in Darfur’s rebel movements.”

The Darfur Reconstruction and Development Initiative was conceived at Columbia in December 2007 during a day-long conference with diplomats, donors, senior U.N. officers and policy advocates from international and Sudanese nongovernmental organizations. As a result of this conference, Columbia's Center for the Study of Human Rights later issued a Darfur dossier that laid out a plan for creating a sustainable peace by involving Darfurians in their own future development.

Details of the most recent meeting were summarized in a chairman’s statement issued by Phillips. Among the main conclusions reached was that a lasting solution to the Darfur conflict needs to address its root causes, which include extreme poverty.

With guidance from Columbia’s experts, the Darfurians will finalize the plan and meet again in May 2009 to determine how to provide information on the initiative to the government of Sudan.

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