WASHINGTON — In Sudan's Darfur region, today is just like any other day. Except the daily questions faced by the 3.5 million people still surviving genocide there tend to be far from ordinary:
"Will the government allow the aid workers to bring food today?"
"Will I have to bring my gasping baby girl to the doctor's tent today?"
Or, on those days when there's no more firewood to cook meals: "Do I go out foraging and risk rape today, or let my husband risk getting killed instead?"
Since 2003, the government of Sudan has tacitly sponsored the killing of some 450,000 ethnic Darfurians. The violent campaign has destroyed 450 villages and displaced 2.5 million people. Many have fled to refugee camps, their only haven from the janjaweed, the government-backed Arab militias that terrorize the region. Despite calling the crisis a genocide in September 2004, the US and other Western nations have yet to take the strong steps needed to protect the vulnerable and allow the displaced to return home.
Instead, the only military protection Darfur's vulnerable have from falling victim to a genocidal "final solution" comes from a skeletal and under-resourced 7,000-troop African Union force. This insufficient force, which must patrol an area roughly the size of France, is the last line of defense for Darfurians. It still hasn't received an additional 20,000 soldiers called for by the United Nations Security Council this summer. As a result, in barren camps in Sudan and neighboring Chad, millions of people, mostly women and children, face agonizing daily decisions as they await help that always seems to be on the distant horizon.
They've waited long enough.
That's why STAND, the anti-genocide group I lead, organized sponsored fasts at campuses across the country and around the world last month. The money we raised will pay for the support of African Union patrols to accompany families as they forage for firewood outside the secure boundaries of the camps, so mothers won't get raped and fathers won't get killed.
If this sounds like an absurd fundraiser, it is. So far, we have raised more than $120,000, only a fraction of the amount needed to protect Darfurians effectively. But we'd rather be absurd and perhaps save a few lives than sit back and pretend that the empty rhetoric of diplomacy makes any difference for people facing life and death choices right now.
We're global citizens; we can act even if our leaders won't. And we'll continue to pressure policymakers to do the right thing.
As student activists, we don't have an army, a vote on the UN Security Council, or leverage with China, which extracts hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil from Sudan a day and provides the government with military equipment and support. But we do have thousands of members and chapters at more than 600 high schools and colleges.
We're using our voices to urge the United Nations to put a robust blue-helmet force with strong military capabilities on the ground in Darfur – with or without the consent of Sudan's government. The world has a responsibility to protect the survivors of this and any genocide; a genocidal government should not have sovereignty on its side.
As Darfurians continue to ask their tragic daily questions – "Can I eat today?" "Will I be raped?" – the diplomats and leaders of the world's great powers are still asking the wrong questions:
"How can we look busy on Darfur?"
"How can we avoid intervening?"
"How can we keep Darfur out of the papers?"
Don't let them avoid dealing with this crisis. Make your own calls to political leaders to support a peacekeeping force to keep the people of Darfur safe. There are a lot of hot-air questions floating around this issue, but there's only one that really matters: Don't we have the responsibility to protect one another?
• Erin Mazursky, a senior at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, is executive director of STAND: A Student Anti-Genocide Coalition.