URI Response to Darfur: A Model for Collective Action
What follows is a description of how a small, international group of individuals active in the URI came together in response to a global crisis and agreed on two responses in keeping with the URI charter. These responses resulted in Global Council support for the Darfur Unity Statement, an unknown number of individuals and groups contacting their government representatives to support international intervention, and three independent articles mentioning URI actions with respect to Darfur. (Originally documented in February 2006 for the URI Partners in Leadership guide).
Sometime in early 2004, tribal warfare in eastern Sudan's Darfur region began to unfold into what most would call out-and-out genocide, perpetrated by government backed "Arab" militias against the "African" Darfurians (both are Muslim groups). In January 2005, the U.N.'s International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur issued a report to the Secretary General that included the following assessment:
“Based on a thorough analysis of the information gathered in the course of its investigations, the Commission established that the Government of the Sudan and the Janjaweed are responsible for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law amounting to crimes under international law. In particular, the Commission found that Government forces and militias conducted indiscriminate attacks, including killing of civilians, torture, enforced disappearances, destruction of villages, rape and other forms of sexual violence, pillaging and forced displacement, throughout Darfur. These acts were conducted on a widespread and systematic basis, and therefore may amount to crimes against humanity.”
Around the same time as this report, URI members began to express their concern at the lack of international action to halt these "indiscriminate attacks." A small group out of the many concerned individuals came together and mobilized a special effort to provide appropriate action responses to the conditions in Darfur.
Members of this group organized a special-focus e-mail listserv and invited members of CCs to join. They proceeded to research and share various kinds of information about Darfur and considered various effective ways URI members might respond. One that emerged from the discussions was a request that URI add its organizational name as a signatory to a Unity Statement written by the Save Darfur Coalition.
Representing URI members from across the United States and from Brazil, Israel, Ethiopia, Nepal, Pakistan and Chile, the group requested that the URI Global Council show its solidarity and desire for peace by endorsing the Unity Statement. Though the URI Global Council cannot make policy pronouncements on behalf of URI members, it can speak for itself. Reporting on the Council's agreement to support the Unity Statement, URI Executive Director Charles Gibbs said "the Standing Committee enthusiastically supports having URI be added as a signatory to the Unity Statement. A key factor leading to the committee's support was that the request came from our grassroots representatives and members who had been seriously considering this issue."
A second outcome of the group's deliberation was the crafting of a letter to interfaith leaders throughout the United States requesting their support for a campaign to encourage passage of the Darfur Accountability Act in the US Senate. The Accountability Act would have provided additional American aid in the region and work to secure additional African Union and UN peacekeeping troops specifically for Darfur. (Incidentally, a weaker version of the Darfur Accountability Act passed Congress in late 2005, though funding for its provisions was later removed from the budget).
Though the letter-writing campaign did not generate any responses from other religious leaders, a press release discussing both actions did prompt responses from several media outlets and blogs, who mentioned the URI in articles on faith-based responses to Darfur (these included The Philadelphia Tribune, Christian Today, and The Christian Post)
Deborah Moldow beautifully summed up the group’s sentiment in saying, "…We don't have the answers to how to make a genuine difference in the suffering in Darfur. But the URI is beginning to grapple with the question, which is part of a larger question essential to our future in the world…it is time for the United Religions Initiative to stand up and be counted. "
Steps taken in response to the genocide in Darfur:
- Concerned individuals came together on a dedicated e-mail list.
- The convener asked several individuals to research the work of specific organizations and news reports, and to bring their findings back to the group.
- Two separate group actions were decided upon:
- Support passage of the Darfur Accountability Act in the United States with a letter-writing campaign to religious leaders.
- ask the Global Council to become a signatory to the Darfur Unity Statement.
- A press release was written and distributed via Religion News Service.
- The mailing list was kept open after this action to help disseminate up-to-date news and research to all who wished to stay informed.
Additional Suggestions (Added Sep 20007)
- Do not be afraid to self-select (or step up to be) one or a few organizers / moderators / conveners – people who will help keep the momentum going whilst the group decides what to do.
- Plan on periodic follow-up with the URI body and/or Global Council.
- Document your findings, decisions, process, etc. Pass this documentation along to the URI hub office for easy sharing with future groups and to retain institutional memory (this very document is such an example).
- The process described above is very similar to the concept of a Cooperative Action Team (CAT), which came up at the URI Global Council 2007 gathering in Belgium. In fact, it could be seen as one way of implementing a CAT.