PrintPrint CiteCite
Style: MLAAPAChicago Close


Darfur: Another Problem From Hell

Speakers: John Prendergast, director, Africa program, International Crisis Group-Washington, and Samantha Power, lecturer in public policy, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; author, “A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide”
Presider: Phillip Gourevitch, staff writer, The New Yorker
September 21, 2004
Council on Foreign Relations


Council on Foreign Relations
New York, N.Y.

PHILIP GOUREVITCH: Hi, everybody. Good evening, good afternoon, whatever. I'm Philip Gourevitch. I'm the moderator here today for this panel on Darfur, called "Darfur: Another Problem from Hell," the title of the panel obviously taken from Samantha Powers' magnum opus, "A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide."

Samantha— I'm not going to give extensive introductions; I think these are— Samantha Power and John Prendergast are household names in this crowd. And Samantha has come to us as a lecturer from the Kennedy School. John Prendergast is now the director of the Africa program at the International Crisis Group in Washington. A couple basic things. The normal Council ground rules are suspended today. This session is on the record. What they say they're willing to stand by, or at least be held accountable for. [Laughter.]

JOHN PRENDERGAST: It's altogether different.

GOUREVITCH: It's extremely strange. [Laughter.] So please turn off your cell phones now. And a little note from the Council here.

Next Monday on the website,, the Council's new report on Darfur, "Giving Meaning to Never Again: Seeking an Effective Response to the Crisis in Darfur and Beyond," a Council special report by Cheryl Igiri [research associate, Africa policy studies, Council on Foreign Relations] and Princeton Lyman [Ralphe Bunche senior fellow in Africa policy studies, Council on Foreign Relations], will come out. It will be available Monday. This report looks at the lessons learned from the genocide in Rwanda and examines the international response to the Darfur crisis in the context of those lessons. It finds that much is still lacking in both the political and institutional mechanisms for responding to a crisis of this magnitude. The report recommends the steps necessary to bring the Darfur crisis to an end. Though the path will not be an easy one, it then recommends steps that must be taken to avoid the fire next time. So that sounds pretty essential.

There's been civil war in Sudan for 20 plus years, and late last year, there was even a pretty strong spasm of hope among Sudan hands that the country was on the verge of a real peace deal. Then that prospect seemed to vanish, and the story of horror in Darfur came to dominate the pretty fitful coverage that we have of Sudan. A complex story suddenly revealed itself to be much more complicated. And you're both just back— I think this weekend, from Darfur— and we want to hear how you found it.

Samantha, can you start us off with maybe a brief situation report? This is about as informed a room as you get. Nevertheless, I think it would be really helpful to have a few minutes of the background, who the people are, where we are now, how it got this way.

SAMANTHA POWER: OK, well, what you had in Darfur was a population of about 6 [million] or 7 million, 70 percent of whom were estimated to be— or are now estimated to be— African or non-Arab. I went to Darfur for the first time in, I guess it was early July, and I expected to see, you know, Africans and Arabs, and there to be some kind of distinguishing traits. But as is often true when you get this kind of ethnic polarization and otherization, identity turns out, at the root, to be quite constructed. And so what you actually find is often the perpetrators, who are said to be Arab, and the victims, who are said to be African— you'll see darker skinned, more African-looking people as the aggressors riding on the camels, as the janjaweed [government-backed militias], and very Arab-looking people sometimes falling under the African label or the non-Arab label.

So what you have is about 70 percent that are said to be non-Arab, or African. There's a division within the society between farmers and herders that is really, I think, the essence, or at the root of, the tensions that are now being exploited by the Sudanese government. The Africans, who tend to be farmers, tend to be sedentary— but [this is] by no means a fixed rule— and the Arabs, who tend to be herders, had coexisted quite easily with lots of tensions, of course, among tribes, but not on African-Arab lines, until very recently.

What you used to have are herders, who would take their animals— Arab herders, mainly— who would take their animals and move southward when the harvest season came around, because of course they couldn't be around with their animals grazing on land that was about to be mined for its bounty, for its harvest. And they would move downward. And when they arrived, they would arrive in places where the harvest had already been taken out of the land. So conveniently they would show up just in time to fertilize the land, so it could be replenished for the next year's harvest.

They would also take what had been taken out of the ground, put them on their animals— on their camels, on their horses— and help the African farmers bring their goods to market. So it was very, very symbiotic. And in fact, the farmers used to celebrate the arrival of the herders with big roasts, where they would all come together and kind of toast to this symbiosis.

What ended up happening over the course of the last 10 to 20 years is desertification shrank the amount of land that was available, both for herding, for grazing for the animals, and for farming. And that of course shrunk the pie and so increased the competition.

And crucially, the herders started leaving early and also expanding the ambit in which they, you know, sort of traveled again— the length of Darfur, in some cases. So they would show up early, before the harvest had been taken out of the ground, and the farmers said, "Well, forget this! You know, we're going to build fences around our farms to prevent you from coming on, because what you're doing is getting in the way before we've had a chance to get our goods out of the ground."

Anyway, so this economic tension began to spiral. It's unclear what course it would have taken on its own. But what ended up happening, of course, in February of last year, is when a group of rebels who decided that they were going to mutiny against the Sudanese government on the grounds that Darfur was underdeveloped— when they rose up, the Sudanese government decided to take advantage of these tensions that had been brewing over the years between basically farmers and herders, but also, coincidentally, Africans and Arabs, and to arm the Arabs and to fund them in the effort; to use that Arab population, the herding population, as proxy force to put down the rebellion.

Now flashing forward, because— just to today, to give the actual SITREP [situation report], what you have now are basically three refugee populations: between 150,000 and 200,000 mainly Africans who are in Chad, who John and I just visited last week, and then what you have is more than a million people who are gathered— who are internally displaced people— who are gathered in government-held territory within Darfur itself. So they're people who have been forced to flee their homes but haven't had the opportunity to make it to Chad. And they are people who are living, really, as hostages of the Sudanese government at this point. They're the people that you hear about, where the rapes are still occurring; that is, women who are congested and— women and men concentrated into these facilities in government-held territory, still vulnerable to janjaweed attack, still vulnerable to rape, and very much at the mercy of— and the wards, basically, of the international community.

The third group, finally, is a group that is internally displaced but that we know almost nothing about. And this is people— and it could be anywhere from 400,000 to a million to 2 million— we really have no idea— in rebel-held territory. And these are people that John and I encountered back in July in our first trip to the region, and they are people just wandering the Sahara desert, people who are either too sick, too old, or too poor to have the animals to make the trek either to Chad or to Sudanese government territories. These are people who have not been accessed by the international community. We really don't know anything about their fates.

GOUREVITCH: So, I guess— I want to get into the sort of ratcheting-up of international attention pretty soon and talk about that. But maybe— there's another factor that I suspect that overall we're here less familiar with, and that's the Sudanese context and, really, the Sudanese government, which has met the escalating international pressure with a pretty adamant resistance, hostility, some fiery rhetoric, promising that the gates of hell would open for anybody who came mucking around in their affairs.

So what's at stake right now, John? You've been in and out of here for a long time. What makes this a critical moment for Sudan, and perhaps, more broadly, for Africa?

PRENDERGAST: Well, first of all, let me just say, traveling with Samantha Power in Africa, I'll never be the same again. And— [laughter]--and the Sudan, as well, has reached the moment [in] which it is one of these fork-in-the-roads all of us policy wonks always talk about— you know, forks in the road. And I think we actually mean it sometimes. And I think Sudan is at one of those forks in the road where if the government pursues— continues to pursue a very hard-line position, a very intransigent position on a number of different fronts, we can see those— in fact, its own gates of hell open up in a different way than it means. And if it pursues a— approach a policy of cooperation and moving forward, I think we have the potential for real peace in Sudan.

But just to— a couple of points. I mean, the patient, the Sudanese patient has lost an enormous amount of blood. Two million people have died in the main civil war in Sudan between a southern-based rebel group and successive governments in Khartoum, and then Darfur now has added a death toll that we just— you know, hurl numbers out there. Fifty [thousand] to 80,000 is the number we use now. We have no idea, you know. Post facto we'll still be trying to figure this out five years from now as to what really happened, how many people really died, how people are really at risk, and there are huge disparities in the numbers.

But I think that this government's pursuit of a very hard-line position represents a very comfortable position, a very comfortable feeling that it has, now that it's not going to receive any serious punitive measures from the international community. They can continue to pursue this course of action, pursuing this sort of at the same time as holding a very intransigent position. It's pursuing a charm offensive in a number of capitals which are helping it to modify the potential for international pressure. It's slaughter with a smile.

If the regime doesn't move forward, I think, to close this peace process between itself and the main rebel group, southern-based rebel group, if it doesn't move forward in the near future to allow the basic elements of civilian protection to pertain in Darfur, I think there's a real likelihood of major conflagration. You have a continuing war underneath the ethnic cleansing campaign, a continuing war in Darfur which will only increase because the rebels have not had their capacity to wage war diminished by the fighting. In the long run, the southern-based rebels, the SPLA [Sudan People's Liberation Army], will likely go back to war if their objectives are not realized at the peace table in the coming months, which would then widen the war from just a western war to a national one, which would include the south, areas of the country in the center— Nuba Mountains and southern Blue Nile— and even a great deal of— the clouds, the war clouds are on the horizon in eastern Sudan as well. And then you have, of course, many of you know, the Lord's Resistance Army, one of the Sudan government's favorite militias that it continues to support and provide sanctuary for, and [it] has the capacity to inflame the situation both in southern Sudan and northern Uganda.

Now in that scenario, the relationship between the United States and Sudan would certainly deteriorate dramatically after three years of a pursuit of a very misguided constructive engagement policy, and you could have hard-liners tempted back into something that I'm sure you'll want to talk about later, their rapprochement with some of the elements of international terrorism that they have tried to distance themselves with because of international pressure over the last year.

This isn't the worst-case scenario I've just painted to you; this is a likely scenario if we don't ratchet up some very serious pressure on this government. And as you can see, Sudan is just not one problem from hell; it's many.

GOUREVITCH: Very well put. I think one of the terms that we're using here, problem from hell, and one of the things that's made Darfur, particularly, the focus of people's attention, imagination, and questions right now is this question about the designation of genocide. And I mean, as you mentioned, 2 million people have been killed in the main civil war. We have not a clue really about the statistics or the nature of what's actually happened in Darfur to now, but the numbers are much smaller. And numbers aren't the issue in genocide, but nevertheless there's this notion that if it's a genocide it somehow enters into a different order of international concern or something.

Have— you've thought harder, Samantha, and written more wisely than most anyone about this designation of genocide and its history and its genesis. [Secretary of State] Colin Powell says it is one. I guess [President George W.] Bush this morning declared, to a little gasp at the [United Nations] General Assembly, that his government has decided it is one, which makes one start to think that perhaps that means that genocide means nothing anymore. I mean, if Bush declares it a genocide, and we pretty well expect he's not planning to intervene to prevent and punish and stop it, as the Genocide Convention would require, maybe it doesn't mean anything anymore. The EU [European Union] waffles. The AU [African Union] resists the label. [U.N. Secretary-General] Kofi Annan, with the characteristic urgency of the U.N., has declared that he has some names in mind for a panel— [laughter]--as the raping and killing goes on, they will ponder and have disputation about whether or not --

POWER: I think you're on the list, by the way, of the commission experts.

GOUREVITCH: I'm not available. [Laughter.] But does it matter— does it matter if we call this a genocide? Does it make it worse if it's a genocide? Or conversely, does it make it a better situation in Darfur if we say, "Whew! It's not a genocide." Has this debate been constructive?

POWER: Well, John and I, in traveling in Darfur in early July, and actually, I guess for many weeks before that, used to have exactly this conversation. And I would say— you know, we were debating, basically, how much effort as advocates and analysts to put into pushing this government, and governments generally, and international institutions, into using the word. And I was sort of saying, you know, there's only so much time in the day, I mean, it's actually an abstract word, when you think about it; it's not real people. I mean, it may sort of have— create a kind of shudder effect, as Raphael Lemkin, the coiner of the word, wanted; it makes people maybe sort of perk up their ears a little bit.

But ultimately, my fear was— having written a 600-page book on the subject— that even though what we had seen in the past was people unwilling to use the word for fear of triggering a domestic political summons to do something for it, that the reality was when we use the word, that summons that politicians had feared in Rwanda and elsewhere, sadly, wouldn't really come to bear. And that thus, you know, looking prospectively at the limited time we had, maybe we'd be better off— you know, sort of gathering the testimony of witnesses; trying to somehow, even if in a kind of pilot village forum, somehow systematize death tolls and extrapolate on the basis of pretty thorough analysis of specific regions, and so on.

But we went back and forth. And, you know, one of the challenges is you really— when you're talking about terminology, you don't want to base your approach as an advocate or as a government on outcomes. Right? You want to base it on law and on fact, to the best that you can sort of understand it. So behind your question, you know, is: Is it a genocide? And—

GOUREVITCH: You can address that when you're through.

POWER: I mean, and then— and then the question— the subsequent question is, does calling it [genocide], you know, make a difference. On the "Is it [genocide?]" question, there is no question that this is not Rwanda. I mean, this is not an outright campaign of extermination where every non-Arab is being bludgeoned to death or shot to death, lined up and executed. That's not what's happening in Darfur. This is a paradigmatic case of destruction where the Sudanese government and its proxies have decided to quell a rebellion by eliminating— by basically draining the swamp in kind of classic, brutal, counterinsurgency form. That does not mean it's not a genocide. One of the best ways— time-tested ways to put down a rebellion is to destroy the group from which the rebellion hails, and that is what this is. I mean, I think you have to exterminate or execute enough Africans, enough non-Arabs to ensure that the population that had existed, this Darfurian-African population, ceases to exist as such. And so in that sense, given that, again, the Genocide Convention requires a systematic attempt to destroy— to destroy, not to exterminate— to destroy a national, ethnic, or religious group as such, that the evidence that is in so far is very compelling that this does meet the standards of the Genocide Convention.

Now if I could get to the point about what the hell difference does it make, one of my concerns in— as John and I discussed this prospectively— not ever really actually expecting— at least I was not expecting that the Bush administration would declare a genocide, just given the behavior of governments in times past. So this— you know, in a sense I hadn't really expected it to get to this point.

But my concern in, again, channeling all our efforts to getting them to use the word, use the word, use the G-word, was not simply that it would debase the word because we wouldn't do anything, but it was actually that it would engender what I fear now is, in fact, happening, which is another debate about facts. That is, because you and maybe any reader of my book may have happened to have read the Genocide Convention, we're in the small minority, to my regret. You know, this is not a piece of law that your average European, your average Arab League statesman, your average African has read. When they hear genocide, they think Holocaust and they think now— luckily, thanks to you, Philip— Rwanda. And so my concern was we get this label and then we have to go back to the drawing board where we go into the, you know, policy circles and we get Americans on one side of the room saying it's genocide now, we've decided firmly because we've read the Genocide Convention, and then you get people on the other side saying no, it isn't, then you have Kofi Annan saying let's convene a panel.

And the reality is people are dying and they're dying every day, and the Sudanese government hasn't stopped its attacks on villages. It is not the case that the problem remains now simply that of feeding the refugee population; refugees are being created every day, an estimated 50,000, in fact, just in the last month while this debate has been going on about whether the G-word should apply. So whether the term is any more debased now that it's been used and we don't do anything about [it], then when we wouldn't use it for fear that by using it we would have to do something, I don't know. I mean, I'm not sure the term has ever [been] really, you know, where truths or policy motion lie. It's just a word is a word is a word, but [the] reality is states are making— undertaking cost-benefit analyses every day about how far they want to go and what they want to put on the line on behalf of saving people. And call it genocide or don't call it genocide; that calculus is what we have to affect.

GOUREVITCH: Well, with that calculus, John, I mean, how do you see this genocide debate? Is there anything constructive about it? And more broadly, really, is there a policy towards Darfur? Does the Bush administration have one? Does the EU, which seems to differ with us on these things, have one? I mean, is there actually a debate, like here's what we stand for, here's what they stand for? I mean, I get the feeling that there's a kind of classic response to Africa, which is: We'd better look like we've got a response. We've got to make some gestures of concern here, but let's just at all costs try to avoid getting sucked into this thing.

And on the other hand, maybe stepping from this G-word to another G-word— the GWOT, the global war on terror— maybe the one thing that Sudan has that Rwanda or Liberia or Zimbabwe doesn't have as obviously, is a link to these bad guys. I mean, what you described in— earlier is a seriously wicked regime. And yet our biggest concern is not that they support the Lord's Resistance Army, but that they have had ties to al Qaeda. How does that affect— is that linked into our policies? Is that going to affect our response to Darfur?

PRENDERGAST: Is it just me, or did he just ask me four questions? [Laughter.]

GOUREVITCH: I thought there were six.

PRENDERGAST: Oh. Oh, really? [Laughter.] Take that notebook from him, somebody. Well, look, I'm humbled here. I'm sitting on the stage with two people who have— probably two of the greatest writers of this age who are experts in the issue of genocide and who have written so beautifully on it and moving me on it that it's made my commitment, my personal commitment, deepen. So I'm not even going to get near your first question, because I think it's been answered very, very well by Samantha. But I'll try to really pick up on the last five— [laughter]--with U.S. policy and where it's going and how it interacts with the GWOT.

I think that, in fact, for a decade now, the GWOT has been a driving force— it certainly was even more so in the last administration— for policy on Sudan. Given the fact that Osama bin Laden lived in Sudan from '91 to '96 and incubated some of his commercial assets in Sudan [and] raised a lot of money through the work that he was able to do, the free rein that the Sudanese government gave him and many other groups and individuals, unsavory elements of the international terrorist network. So I think that these guys were in it pretty knee-deep. And thus that element drove U.S. policy and continues to. But the U.S., as the administrations changed in 2001, I think had a very clear choice. There were voices—

By the way, you know, the Clintonian strategy was very tough rhetorically: I mean, hammer them daily, do sanctions and stuff. But I don't think anyone really believed, outside of that little errant missile strike in the pharmaceutical factories in Khartoum [in August of 1998], that Clinton would ever authorize anything substantial with respect to regime change, despite the fact that the rhetoric often tiptoed on the brink of that. However, in 2001— January 22, if you talk to officials in Khartoum, they had no idea where this new administration was coming from, because they— there were elements within it, as we saw— Elliott Abrams [senior director for Near East and North African Affairs at the National Security Council] and other people who were immediately swept up into the new administration, who had a track record of being very hard-line on Sudan. And September 11 exacerbated that greatly, that fear, that uncertainty. So there are voices there who would advocate for a harder line, but there were also Secretary Powell and [National Security Adviser] Condoleezza Rice, who didn't want to get sucked into that quagmire, wanted to pursue a moderate course, a policy, an effective, constructive engagement which would use incentives to draw the Sudan government to things that we wanted it to do rather than pressures to hammer them to things they wanted to do. They soft-pedaled, in my view, regime atrocities and allowed a lot of stuff to go on.

Darfur was the biggest casualty of what I think was a very misguided policy. The strategy was, on the conflict-resolution front— because in addition to the counterterrorism effort which continued apace— was just a carry-over from the Clinton years. There was a renewed effort, admirably, to try to resolve the main war, which I mentioned earlier, between the government and the southern-based rebels, the war that's cost two million lives. And the administration put a lot of effort into that. The problem was [that] Darfur exploded in 2003, and they were getting closer, they believed, to final resolution on the deal between the southern based-crowd and the regime.

The U.S. said to them, "Look, we're going to deal first with this main war, and as soon as we get that finished, as soon as you, government of Sudan, sign on the dotted line, then we'll turn our attention to Darfur, and we'll deal with the major developing emergency that exists there." And as soon as— I mean, look, you know, that's Diplomacy 101. We have people in the room who know a lot more than I do about that, but if I'm sitting in Khartoum, well— I'm trying to conduct at least an ethnic cleansing campaign, and maybe worse, and I'm told that they won't deal with this issue, this ethnic cleansing campaign, until I sign this, which they desperately want more than I want it, I'm not going to sign. So they just strung it out.

So September, October— you go in— I spent months up there in the location where this peace process was going on, and all the U.S. diplomats and everybody else was saying: "Yeah, we're weeks away from a deal. We're weeks away from a deal." Well, you know, that's a year ago. And we were snookered into this thing for six months. The Sudan government slow-rolled the world on the peace process while it conducted a massive ethnic cleansing campaign.

And the height of this error, I think, was in January when President Bush sent now [U.S.] Ambassador [to the United Nations John] Danforth to— which then was his special envoy— to Khartoum to invite [Sudanese] President [Omar Hassan al] Bashir, if he'd only sign on the dotted line, please, to the State of the Union address, a seat that I think was eventually taken by [Ahmed] Chalabi [head of the Iraqi National Congress], which was really another story— [laughter]--not this one for sure, but I'm sure the focus of some of your discussions here in this very room. So this invitation was given literally at the height of the ethnic cleansing campaign, at the height of the killing. And I mean, it's --I think in retrospect— I know Samantha doesn't want to start writing another one of these things, but— one of these books— but it's definitely— it will be at least a chapter somewhere in someone's book 10 years from now.

And I think that we have, though, a number of things that have begun to change that calculus— calculation on the part of the U.S. I mean, we have— you know, the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. Everybody was sort of looking around to make their never again speech, and luckily that day, Samantha had an op-ed published which made the connection and said, how can we say this when this is going on? The [U.N.] secretary-general said it very clearly, and has sort of halfway backpedaled ever since then, until very recently, and a number of other heads of state made some very impassioned pleas. I don't know if we would be in the position we're in now if we didn't have that 10th anniversary and that moment of saying— just the realization, the self-realization of hypocrisy of these very moving speeches that we make and trot them out over and over again, and then while the— while killing like this is going on.

GOUREVITCH: I think we've reached the time where, although I have many more questions for both of you, it's open— I'm going to open it to the floor to ask your questions. And please wait for the microphone and speak directly into it. Please stand, state your name and affiliation. And unlike me, you're supposed to keep questions concise, to allow as many members as possible to speak.

QUESTIONER: Mia Bloom, the Office of Counterterrorism at the University of Cincinnati. Could you comment a little bit more on [reports of systematic rape,] whether it's government-sponsored, whether it's controlled, and also how you can measure it? Because we've had so many problems with other parts of the globe, where there have been systematic uses of rape, and a lot of the ways in which we measure it are not necessarily accurate. So if you could comment more on the extent of the crime, I'd really appreciate it.

POWER: Well, I'd just— even maybe just relay an anecdote. I did something that I have hardly ever done in my journalistic life— and it's— I'm embarrassed that I've hardly ever done it— which is, I went back to the precise place that I had been a couple months before. So John and I went to— with Jonathan Wiesner, actually, who's here, with the IRC [International Rescue Committee]--to an IRC camp in northern Chad, in Bahai. This is a roundabout way to answer your question. I'll try to be brief.

But we went to northern Chad. We met these refugees, who told us their stories, and then, with Jason Maloney and Kira, actually from [CBS] "60 Minutes"--this is going to be on "60 Minutes" in early October— we entered into— we crossed the border illegally, and we went into north Darfur to follow the claims that these refugees had made, on the kind of wistful grounds that somehow if we could take the story from the refugees now and then substantiate it on the other side, that it would make a difference, or if it— if you could add kind of flesh and real context to it, that it would make a difference.

So we went and did that, and I wrote a piece in The New Yorker. And one of the stories I told was about a woman whose son had been beheaded, and she had found her son's head, and she put it in a bag and kind of walked it back to where her other children were waiting and buried the head of her son.

And so we went in and we tried to find the place where she had said the bodies had been stuffed into wells. And so we crossed, and we drove. Thanks to Jason's GPS [global positioning system] thing, we found our way to these wells, and they'd been covered. The bodies had been stuffed into the wells. It looked that had happened, because what they'd done is they'd— after doing what she had said they had done— but they had covered the wells with sand. And so, you know, we went there expecting to see wells and to have to look in, you know, a cement rim, and you look down, and you'd see the little bucket— and I don't have an image; I'm not a well person— but just sand, just Sahara sand. And that was so haunting, we asked people who had stayed— I mentioned these internally displaced who haven't made it all the way to Chad, because they're stuck, and they're really without food or access to international aid and so on. And they were there, and they substantiated everything that she had said, in a totally different place.

And I went back last week with John and "60 Minutes" to this camp, and "60 Minutes" wanted to interview this woman. And I— one of the things I got to do was I got to bring The New Yorker back to them and I got to— in The New Yorker was a photograph of the head of the janjaweed, Musa Hilal, who again is armed and funded by the Sudanese government. And I brought a stack of New Yorkers. [The New Yorker Editor David] Remnick will love this. [Laughter.] They saw this photograph of Musa Hilal and it was just— I almost caused a riot. I mean, they just couldn't believe— they'd never seen this man who was responsible for everything. And they were just, you know, screaming, "Musa Hilal! Musa Hilal!" You know, everybody was coming, coming, coming.

Anyway, meanwhile, this young woman was being interviewed, this 25, [twenty] six-year-old woman about the murder of her son, and the correspondent, Scott Pelley, was asking what happened. And she said, "Well, you know, I think he was killed." And Scott said, "Well, did you— did you find your son?" And she said, "No, I didn't find my son." And of course, you know— [laughter]--television, you know, they were like, "Well, but are you sure you didn't find your son? Because— [laughter]--you know, we have on good account by [an] allegedly prize-winning journalist here that you found your son." And she's like "No, I didn't find my son." And I'm there. I'm like, "Oh, no! Did somebody lie to me? Please, no, not now. Please." There's so much out there. People so want there to be a gap and a discrepancy, and I just— and many within the African Union, which is very divided between those who really want to take [a stand ] and not— and so Scott kept pushing this poor young woman, and she said her son has been killed and she said, you know, that— I mean, he kept at her, kept at her.

Anyway, I ran and got the person who had translated from him. I said, "Did you lie to me? Did you— did you?" And he said, "No, no, no, no!" He said, "She's told me many times her son was beheaded." Anyway, so then you end up just— [laughter]--I mean, could you be a bigger jerk in that kind of setting? But could it be more— could anything be more important, right, than getting the facts right, given the scale?

Anyway, it turns out that the translator who was doing the second interview was mistranslating. And so when she was saying, "Did you find your son?" in Zaghawa, the local language, what she was hearing—


POWER: --yeah, exactly— was, "Did you find the son's body?" So once the question was refined…so to your question about rapes in the camps, I went to Darfur in government territory and rebel territory and it's the rapes in government-held territory that are the issue. I mentioned you have more than a million people who are scattered in about 120 displaced person sites in Darfur. I somehow, again, expected camps. You know, you read about refugee camps, displaced person camps. In government territory, these are the furthest thing from camps. These are people where people have— places where people have just plopped down: fields, schools, street corners; I mean, just little encampments that have sprouted now throughout Darfur.

The wood, which is indispensable for cooking the humanitarian aid that is given to these people— the aid groups are now— the good news is, the only good news from Darfur, is the aid groups are reaching around it looks like 60 percent of those displaced within government territory. Forty percent don't have access to— 40 percent of the people don't have access to food, 80 percent don't have access to sanitation, and 65 percent don't have access to clean water. So there's still a humanitarian problem of big proportions. But they are being— you know, we're working our way toward reaching them.

However, what we're giving them when we reach them is food, grains, corn, et cetera, that needs to be cooked. So what happens is the refugees have to— the displaced people have to leave the camps and they have to walk to get wood in order to cook the food. Well, the problem of course, especially in urban areas, is there is no wood. In rural areas there was wood, but when you get 60,000, 70,000, 80,000 people gathered in a field that hasn't exactly prepared itself— in a sort of semi-desert or semi-savanna area that hasn't prepared itself for this kind of influx, you're starting to see the depletion of these resources.

So— and again, keep in mind the janjaweed are still there. The Sudanese government hasn't done anything to rein them in. So what they do is they patrol the perimeter of the, quote, camp— it's not a camp, they're just basically outside in the field. There are no aid workers there at night. There's nobody [who] stays there during the day. The aid worker is mainly now delegated to local people to pass out the food, and so on. And women are the ones— because the camps are two-thirds female— women are the ones who go out and get the wood, and they're walking— every day that we sit here, they're walking further and further in order to get the word and putting themselves— subjecting themselves again increasingly to the attacks of the janjaweed.

Every camp I visited— to finish— I would come in and I would say, "I'm just inquiring about the security situation." I would get a queue of women, certainly [in the] double digits, often a few dozen, in line to tell me about the rape that they had experienced in the [last] week or two. And that's four— maybe four sites, five sites, where I would get somewhere between 15, 20 in the last week or two.

So I just would urge the Arab League fact-finders to actually travel to Darfur and spend some time actually talking to the people that they claim are lying. Because what they're doing right now is just repeating Sudanese government claims.

GOUREVITCH: A very quick follow-up on that to you, John. I mean, you sort of said— especially the, you mentioned the Arab League. You've been dealing from inside and outside government with sort of like the vagaries of trying to calculate these things. How do you substantiate reports from a conflict zone that is very hard to do real, real documentation in? How profound is the interference? How much do we pay attention to the interference from Arab governments? How much kind of counterpropaganda is there?

PRENDERGAST: Well, first of all, you know, going from the anecdotal to the scientific is a hard leap to do while we have so many other exigencies, you know; while getting food to people and starting to deal with some issues of civilian protection would seem to be the order of the day.

But to Pierre Prosper's [U.S. ambassador at large for war crimes] credit, the State Department contracted a bar association to send people out to the chatting camps to collect data to try to scientifically ascertain, you know, who did what to whom. And we saw very shockingly high rates of reports of rapes, multiple rapes, gang rapes, all the worst vestiges exist. I think the tip of an iceberg that we're seeing throughout Africa of rape being used as a tool. You know, you look at the RUF [Revolutionary United Front] in Sierra Leone, and the interahamwe from Rwanda, the Mai Mai in Eastern Congo, and now the janjaweed. You know, it's something that, thankfully, at least has begun to hit the international radar screen in the form of the ICTY [International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia] and ICTR [International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda], the criminal tribunals. But that hardly translates often into accountability at the local level where it's so easy to perpetrate these kinds of grotesque crimes against humanity.

In terms of the Arab League, you know, it's really— I mentioned earlier this charm offensive that Khartoum has been on— you know, working very assiduously to repair some of the relationships that it had torched in the '90s while it was supporting some of these extremist terrorist and Islamist movements. And that charm offensive has paid off. I mean, the Arab League is running interference full time for Khartoum in international forums, and I think that these kinds of diplomatic investments we could learn a lesson from, because it helps your agenda.

QUESTIONER: Jim Traub with The New York Times Magazine. I have a question about blame, and it's a question that either of you could answer, but maybe Philip also because he's written about this in terms of Rwanda. [New York Times columnist] Nick Kristof had a column last week where he said that Kofi Annan's obituary will one day say that he failed to prevent two genocides, Rwanda and now Sudan. So the question is: To what extent did the U.N., and Kofi Annan particularly, fail to react dramatically enough in the relatively early phase of the conflict, such that it might have made a difference to the international response?

GOUREVITCH: John, do you want to start in on that one?

PRENDERGAST: Well, I would say— you know, geez, I'm so focused in on the need for the member states, and particularly the United States, within the context of the [U.N.] Security Council to take the lead to— you know, the responsibility to protect this whole movement, if you can call it that, over the last decade in trying to sort of find our way as to how to respond to situations of mass atrocities in the world's peripheral zones. I mean, I really think that the assignation of blame ought to be pinned on key Security Council states, and that to use Annan and others as whipping boys for it, I just— I don't accept it.

That said, and I hope you all have something more to say about that, you know, there were moments when the U.N. stood up, when the— in March, a guy whose tenure was otherwise very unremarkable, Mukesh Kapila [U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator for Sudan], who was the— sort of the head of the U.N. humanitarian and development nexus in Khartoum, outgoing, sort of his last week decided just to let the drum roll, and it was an extraordinary thing. I mean, he just came out and said this is as bad as Rwanda genocide, blah, blah, blah. And people were like, what? I mean, those 99.999 percent of the world that wasn't paying attention. And so I think that was a key moment in galvanizing some measure of international attention.

And then the secretary-general's speech, I think, was the most important of the ones— of all of the speeches that occurred on that April 6, the 10th anniversary of the genocide. I think his was the most important. I mean, he said— when he said, you know, we ought to— we may have to consider military action, or whatever the exact wording he used, [that] was another wake-up call. But he hasn't led on this, and you know— I mean, where is he on the question of, you know, reversing ethnic cleansing? Where's the U.N. on putting forward a plan on how to get people back to their home villages? Where is the U.N. on so many— on putting together a clear plan for how to disarm and neutralize the janjaweed? It's not there. And yet we just keep throwing food at problems and then sort of exonerating ourselves afterwards by saying, "God, we gave 500 million [dollars] last year. I mean, what, we don't care?"

POWER: International legitimacy is so huge in terms of leading the mobilization of a peacekeeping force or protection force, which is essential for any of these people to go home. And the Bush administration obviously lacks that legitimacy. And let me be clear, Europeans and Arab and African countries are using what they say is the lack of American legitimacy to avoid doing what they don't want to do to begin with. So let me not say that it's us. The Bush administration is not the reason they don't want to send their troops and put pressure on the Sudanese government; they have their own calculuses that they're undertaking.

But nonetheless, precisely because of the kind of— the moral vacuum within international institutions on the international stage, Kofi Annan has to be the one to lead. He has to. And he hasn't.

PRENDERGAST: Yes, well I think the nations behave like nations. And the secretary-general is unique in this forum of having— he doesn't, supposedly, have a national interest, he has this purpose as the secretary-general to speak out where the others aren't and to sort of hold them up to a higher standard. So when he fails to do that, it's— his failure is actually a failure, whereas the nations are actually succeeding in avoiding him. I mean, that's their job. [Laughter.]

QUESTIONER: Hi. My name is Reuben Brigety. I'm a professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, [Virginia]. Just so I can be clear, is it both of your senses that use of force is essential in order to protect civilians in Darfur? And if that is the case, in addition to articulation of interest by Kofi Annan, what specifically has to be done in order to change the decision calculus on the part of potentially intervening states in order to make such intervention possible?

GOUREVITCH: An excellent question. Who wants to start? Do you want to—

POWER: OK, the model that I look to in terms of the what should be done question is— I used to be wary of cookie-cutter, you know, past models and imposing them on new circumstances, but [it] is the East Timor-Indonesian-Australian intervention model. And what happened there, as I recall it, anyway, was that belatedly, having basically licensed and urged the people of East Timor to vote for independence, having stood aside when the Indonesian militias came in and basically ransacked the entire country, killing several thousand people, belatedly, the so-called international community, the states— some number of states came together and said, "We're coming to help these people regardless of whether you let us in or not." And we were probably bluffing, but the bluff worked, and there was such a veneer of consensus that the Indonesian government said, "Come in. You know, we'll invite you." So it was consensual, which is a very, very different kind of intervention, obviously. [It is] a much, much less risky one.

What's missing, of course, here in the Sudanese case is any kind of consensus. I mean, we don't have consensus within NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization], never mind across— you know, from the Egyptian foreign minister to the American foreign minister— secretary of state. So, it's going to— we're a long way from creating the specter of an intervention such that the Sudanese feel that they— that their best alternative, you know, is to actually invite a peacekeeping force in. So the route that I guess I would take in the near term, apart from working far harder on bringing potential like-minded countries along— Egypt may not be one of them, but, you know, getting Nigeria or Rwanda, South Africa, Canada, some of the Scandinavian countries, Japan— you know, countries that are going to be less inflammatory than the United States, if, in fact, they come to use the word genocide or come to advocate a particular course of action.

But leaving aside the diplomatic front, the wedge that we have right now, the only wedge into a peacekeeping force is this African Union proposal of 4,000 troops, with Rwanda and Nigeria as the backbone to that deployment. The refugees say— and they may— I'm sure they'll change their mind. But they say, "We will not go back to our homes if it's African troops," for two reasons: one, they can be bribed by the Sudanese government, because the Sudanese are using bribes regularly to try to get refugees to go back to their homes, and two, these African governments have voted with Sudan in international bodies when it comes to Darfur. How can we trust them? I think that would give way. And even on the second trip I could feel it already giving way. They said, "We're not going to trust any African country except Rwanda, because Rwanda suffered genocide, so they know what we've been through." So they're already kind of trying to— because they so desperately want to go back to their home, they want to see the best in the proposal that's on the table.

GOUREVITCH: A couple— sir? You wanted to --

RICHARD HAASS [president, Council on Foreign Relations]: Yes. When you say use force, use it what— for what? There's a fundamental difference between protecting people, fighting the janjaweed— I'm just trying to drill down a little bit on Samantha's point. You could use force here for at least four different ways. You can arm people—


HAASS: --you can protect people in camps, you can fight the janjaweed, you can take it, if you will, directly to the regime itself. So when you call about— when you call for bringing in outside force, I just want to pin you down. Exactly what would you recommend?

POWER: Sure. John, do you want to take this, or do we— [laughter] --


POWER: [Laughter] No, no, I'm happy to. No, no—

PRENDERGAST: That was impolite. That wasn't really a—

POWER: No, no, no. I— I --

PRENDERGAST: It sounded bad, but she actually did— [laughter]--

POWER: Do I look like somebody who's unprepared to answer a question? [Laughter.]


POWER: Do— do you want to? This is your topic.

PRENDERGAST: I— I'm going to follow up on you, but I think you need to have first— [laughter].

POWER: OK, so people don't think I'm wimping out. What you need right now, the proposal on the table is a 4,000-troop deployment to a region the size famously now of France or of Texas. Notice how France and Texas are the same size. [Laughter]. What— what I would suggest, again, if you were able to get the Sudanese governmental [to] assent to this 4,000-troop deployment, is a mandate that basically confines the 4,000 to one of the three Darfurs— north, west, or south— and doesn't try to, you know, fight every battle at once. Right now the African Union monitors who are there are spread out over— there are only 300, like 300 troops and 100 monitors— they're spread out over the whole area and they basically just protect themselves. That's all— that's all they do. So, combining the 4,000, choosing some number of pilot villages, coupling it with— and this is [the] only, really, way to do it, the kind of pressure which I think John will speak to now— next, but that will actually have the Sudanese government and— not nearly, quote, you know, disarming the janjaweed, but stopping itself attacking civilians. I mean, the Sudanese government is not the enabler; the [inaudible] government is the attacker. I really think that they have been masterful in framing the problem and the solution around their heroic intervention to stop those evil janjaweed from attacking the civilians, when they're working— they arm the people, they're still working hand in glove with them.

So— and John will add flesh to this, because he's thought more about the operational details. But what you— I think you have to aim at a— basically at small chunks of territory— and even talking about one of the Darfurs is probably too big— but create a model for refugee protection and return, which, again, you— if you're doing it consensually, you're working with governmental— you know, a governmental presence, hopefully a Darfurian police presence, like a local presence, where the police themselves are mobilized up from the among the African population. If you can— those are the only people that the refugees are going to trust who are official— Africans from Darfur. But there are lots of them. I mean, the police should be comprised from people who are— can be entrusted to actually offer that kind of protection.

So that sort of CIVPOL [International Civilian Police Program] element, I think, will come from the African-Darfurian police, and then you combine that with 4,000 and— I mean, these are people on camels, often with knives. You know, again, one has to guard against worst-case scenarios, but I don't think, you know, the specter of Iraq and the kinds of things that people have raised are sitting here, and especially given the widespread appeal on the part of local people for this outside force. If you start small and then you go and you try to get more troops— 4,000 is going to do it— it's got up in the 10 [thousand], 15 [thousand], 20,000 if you're going to make your way through Darfur.


POWER: Yeah.

GOUREVITCH: The clock's ticking --

POWER: Sure.

GOUREVITCH: --so I'm going to move it on to John and say if you could take us out of this— and also, the question of consensus is important, because, I mean, in the case of Liberia, you had consensus. Right? You had both sides in Liberia begging the Bush administration to send in troops [to help quell violence there after Liberian President Charles Taylor stepped down]. The Bush administration had just given up on WMD [weapons of mass destruction] and declared that it was running a humanitarian, democratizing war in Iraq and that it was interested in nation-building, and nevertheless it said no [to intervening directly to disarm rebels in Liberia]. Do we expect anything different here, without consensus? Are we talking about that?

And to get to Richard Haass's question a little bit, I think, what are they supposed to do, these troops?

PRENDERGAST: I think the consensus is almost there that there needs to be a force; the force needs to be led by the AU; the force ought to be, if it's going to be relevant, focused on civilian protection. How it gets there, though, is the subject of debate, which we'll get to.

I think that the more important thing about— than consensus is actually acceptance. I mean, unfortunately, no one is considering— and unfortunately is not the right word, because I don't think it's the right thing. But there is no one in the international community right now considering any kind of unilateral intervention against the will of the Sudan government. There has to be acquiescence and— built on the— or from the regime in Khartoum, to allow this force to come in.

So you know, we've had— so the question then becomes, how do you influence— and that's exactly the right question, a fantastically right question— is, how do you influence the calculation of the Khartoum government? How do you change the calculus, regime's calculus? And that, I think— you know, we look at this now— this ethnic cleansing has unfolded for 18 months in the context of this policy of global constructive engagement with this regime. Not one punitive measure has been imposed on this regime in the 18 months in which this campaign has unfolded. In fact, the one action that was taken by the Security Council was actually to embargo the rebels, the one actor that has the potential even of protecting civilians and does so in some small ways in some places.

So to change the government's calculation, I think, and given that we're not going to send the Marines, and given that the international consensus is very fragile about doing anything at all for many of the reasons that have already been mentioned, I think that the only way to deal with their calculation is through the instrument of accountability. Ultimately, this is a survivalist regime, a pragmatic regime, a regime that was highly unnerved— I happened to be in Khartoum when [former Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic went on the dock— [the Sudanese government became] highly unnerved by that because they've done ten— [laughter]--hundreds of times worse and perpetrated atrocities that make Milosevic's pale, unfortunately, in comparison. They're not Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, [who] want to go down in flames. These guys will adapt and change and moderate their behavior.

Accountability is secured through, I think— or at least sending the message of accountability is secured through a number of different tools. And I know it's a good laugh line, this— and I laugh, Philip— you know, the fact that the secretary-general is looking for names for this commission. But I actually do think this commission means something. I think having a commission of inquiry that will go in and start to lay the sort of multilateral foundation for criminal— potential future criminal prosecution for crimes against humanity, war crimes, maybe even genocide in Sudan is a message that's going to go right to the heart of this regime if we were to have the strength to push forward on a targeted sanctions regime, the asset freezes, and the travel bans on five people; I mean, just pick five guys and start it rolling, start the ball rolling. Put an arms embargo on the government. You know, even if you don't enforce it, just do it. Start to make a little bit of a cost to the regime.

These guys will change. They did it in the '90s in response to the international multilateral pressure on international terrorism. They changed. They renounced their ties. They pulled everybody out largely. They have a track record of responding to specific, focused pressure, and we're not doing it.

GOUREVITCH: There are a lot more questions, and unfortunately it's 2:00 sharp, so I'm afraid we're not going to get to them. And I think that is an excellent spot to end. I regret not being able to get to more of you. Thank you very, very much and thank you both. [Applause.]

PRENDERGAST: Thank you. [Applause.]





More on This Topic