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IDHA Graduates Urged to See Identity Complexities in World Conflicts


A key United Nations adviser on preventing genocide told graduates of Fordham’s International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance (IDHA) program that understanding identity differences is key to understanding conflicts they will soon enter.

“Many of the countries that are at war and causing a humanitarian tragedies are countries that are failing to manage their diversities in a constructive way,” said Francis Deng, J.S.D., special advisor to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide at the UN, at a June 29 diploma ceremony at the Lincoln Center Campus.

“All countries of the world experience some sort of diversity. No country can claim to be totally homogeneous. So all countries are challenged to manage diversity from a structural point. Most do . . . [but]the few that don’t are the ones that risk genocidal atrocities.”

In a talk titled “Sudan’s Comprehensive Agreement: An Incomplete Achievement,” Deng used his native Sudan to illustrate his point to the IDHA’s 37th graduating class. He placed blame for a conflict that continues to ravage the country some 50 years after it began—even after the formal independence of Southern Sudan in 2011— on a distorted self image held by a minority African/Arab hybrid culture in the North, that views itself as Arab Muslims.

This distorted self-perception was reinforced by the British, who ruled the country from 1924 to 1956, keeping the Northern Arabs and Southern Sudanese separate while offering more opportunities in the North.

“The North became an identity of assimilation, where people enhance themselves by accepting to be ‘Arabized,’ and the South had an identity of resistance,” he said.

Given this history, Deng noted it was not surprising that citizens of Southern Sudan desired independence. He lauded leaders of Southern Sudan for their commitment to liberate the whole country from old discriminations and the old distortions, and create a new country where race, ethnicity, tribe, religion, and gender will not be factors that lead to discrimination against people.

“The interesting thing about this is all the northern groups that had always assumed to be part of an elevated, Arab Islamic identity, began to be inspired by the message from the south,” he said. “They began to look at themselves, look at the [African] people of the south, and saw a lot in common,” he said.

It was these alliances that made the South’s struggle for independence successful, he said. However, even though Southern Sudan became independent in July, 2011, Deng said  he still frets about whether they will survive.

Patricia A Cole, MC ’74, former president of the Marymount College of Fordham University Alumnae Association, was one of the graduates honored on Friday’s ceremony. Photo By Bruce Gilbert

Larry Hollingsworth, director of humanitarian programs at Fordham’s Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs, which administers the IDHA, told the graduates to stay in touch as they venture into the most dangerous corners of the world, such as Sudan.

When graduates return home from relief missions to such places where widespread ethnic violence still occurs, their families may want to know about their experiences, but they will likely not be able to have that conversation.

“Our life is difficult. We’re off and we’re away, and we see things that we can’t put into place and put into order in our own minds. And therefore, we do find it difficult to share,” he said.

“Whether you share or you don’t share, I want you to know that now you’re sharing with much larger family. You’re now a part of IIHA.”

The IDHA is a highly intensive, multi-disciplinary academic course designed to simulate a humanitarian crisis, incorporating lectures, workshops, and field experiences filling ten to 12 hour days, five to six days per week, for four weeks every summer. This year 41 students, many of whom are already working in the humanitarian field, received diplomas.



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