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March 7, 2008

Smith Professor Lauded for his One-Man Campaign to End Darfur Genocide

Video: Watch highlights of the honorary degree ceremony.

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. -- When she enrolled in Harvard Law School and wanted to learn about the genocide in Darfur, Rebecca Hamilton came across a Washington Post column on the topic written by Eric Reeves.

Then, noted Hamilton, she did what any curious student would do: She Googled his name. What popped onto her computer screen seemed an unlikely Darfur expert -- a professor of English language and literature at Smith College.

On March 6, Hamilton recounted how she had discovered Reeves, during a ceremony in which Reeves received an honorary degree from Smith for his humanitarian work for the African nation. The award is an unusual accolade for a sitting faculty member. 

Following Hamilton’s tribute to Reeves, four experts who have worked with him led a panel discussion during which they decried the lack of governmental pressure and media attention on Darfur and called upon individual citizens to get involved.

“Don’t depend on governments to be the answer,” said Ted Dagne, specialist in African affairs for the Congressional Research Service. “Do what you can do as an individual.”

Dagne encouraged people to pursue projects such as supporting the construction of schools in refugee camps. Other panelists spoke about efforts to exert political pressure on China, which has been criticized for its financial ties to the genocidal regime in Sudan. Reeves is credited with inspiring the “Dream for Darfur” campaign, which uses the leverage of the 2008 Beijing Games to press China to bring security to Darfur.

In recognition of the setting for the forum, panelists said that colleges provide an ideal location to cultivate activism. Hamilton noted that she had transitioned from her activist role as a law student to a position as a representative of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. Now she is part of the ongoing investigations into the crimes in Darfur.

One panelist, Omer Ismail, a native of Darfur who fled the country as a result of his political views, said that the relief efforts from around the world support the efforts of the people who live there.

“We are still fighting with everything we can,” said Ismail. “We want this to be the last shame in the record of humanity.”

Susannah Sirkin, a leader of Physicians for Human Rights, who has worked in Darfur with survivors of the systematic campaign of rape, echoed Ismail’s assessment. When Sirkin asked Darfur rape survivors if she could bring them something from the United States, they responded “law books.”

“These women want to go to The Hague, and God-willing, we’ll get them there,” said Sirkin.

Panelists left to right: Ted Dagne, Omer Ismail, Jeb Sharp, Susannah Sirkin, and Reeves
Read Reeves' remarks and introduction to the panel (PDF)

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