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RAY SUAREZ: The newest estimate in the death toll in the Darfur region of Sudan has reached 70,000 — a combination of people killed in fighting and refugees succumbing to disease and malnutrition.
The latest effort to bring an end to the Sudanese government-backed attacks on Darfur rebels came this week from African leaders meeting in Chad. They called for a total and definitive cease-fire in Darfur, and urged the African Union to transform its small mission of 1,400 troops into a real peacekeeping operation.
A U.S. congressional delegation recently was in Darfur. We hear from Congressman Ed Royce, Republican of California. He led the delegation and served for eight years as chairman of the House International Relations Subcommittee on Africa. He’s now the vice chairman.
And Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Democrat of California. She’s also a member of the House Subcommittee on Africa. Rep. Royce, you’re just back. Given what you saw, have conditions for civilians in the Darfur area improved or are they still under attack?
REP. ED ROYCE: They’re still under attack. In fact, we went into Darfur and had an opportunity to go through the town of Tine. Tine has been completely evacuated. Of formerly 40,000 people, there may be 200 people left. Not far from there, the African Union has set up a post of observers to try to operate as a deterrent for additional killing.
We talked with refugees coming across the border, as well as refugees inside Chad. One young boy showed me where he had lost a hand to the Janjaweed horsemen who had taken it off in an attack. So while we were there, there was an attack south of us; 100 people killed, 9,000 people fleeing their village. The attacks go on.
RAY SUAREZ: Rep. Lee, late last year, there was a lot of attention given to the humanitarian response to the crisis in Darfur. From what you saw, is the aid getting to people? Have their sufferings been, at least, relieved somewhat?
REP. BARBARA LEE: Let me just say, first of all, I want to commend and thank Congressman Royce for leading this delegation because we’re beginning now to put public attention where it should be in terms of the genocide, which is occurring in Darfur.
The refugees we visited with on the border, in terms of the border between Chad and Sudan, had signs made. They said in these signs, in their language, that we need food, we need education; we need recreation for our young people. We need housing. We need water.
We didn’t see evidence of the fact that the humanitarian assistance was being actually received. But again, we were right on the border. I think we need to increase this humanitarian assistance a hundredfold. People are dying every day and it makes no sense that people have to live in these deplorable conditions.
This situation is a crisis that we have not seen since Rwanda. And what we’re trying to do is prevent another 800,000 people from dying, which is what happened very recently in Rwanda. It’s a horrible situation, and we’ve got to do something very fast.
RAY SUAREZ: Congresswoman, you used the word “genocide.” That triggers international obligations under various kinds of treaties. The United Nations recently concluded that there was not genocide going on in Darfur. Why do you call it that?
REP. BARBARA LEE: Well, of course, I disagree with the United Nations, and I am one of the largest supporters of the United Nations here in the Congress. But Congressman Royce, myself, the administration, we worked together in a bipartisan fashion, and we did our due diligence.
We believe, and we even more so now since our visit, recognize the fact that genocide is occurring. People told us over and over and over again that they were being bombed by the Khartoum government, then the helicopters would come in.
And then the Janjaweed and the militias on the ground would come and destroy their villages and kill and rape the women and children. So genocide is occurring. I think the United Nations needs to reconsider their designation.
RAY SUAREZ: Rep. Royce, on the topic of genocide, if it’s determined by the United States that that’s what’s going on there, what does that mean, gets triggered, what kind of response?
REP. ED ROYCE: Well, one of the things we’ve done in the United States is to put sanctions on Khartoum, but of course, it’s most effective when you get the entire world to do the same thing and pressure Sudan.
That’s why the attempt to go to the Security Council — as mentioned, we out of our committee passed a resolution with a finding of genocide and the United States government has taken that point.
When the — when China objected, when China objected — and China’s the beneficiary of most of the oil that goes out of Sudan. They are also the importers of most of the weapons along with Russia use by the Sudanese army and many of those weapons find their way into the hands of the Janjaweed.
When they began to object, it became very difficult for the Security Council to move forward. What’s happening in the absence of that is the African Union is putting together a force. We met with that force and saw them in action.
But there is an opportunity to increase that force to over 10,000 strong in Darfur. And right now, that’s the effort we’re promoting. While we were there, we met not only with the government in Chad and in Algeria for support for this effort, we also met with the rebel leaders and we urged them to, you know, go back to the peace table and enter negotiations.
But the main problem right now is the government in Sudan, and the fact that they continue to support the Janjaweed attacks and continue to have the bombing of the villages. So we need an international concerted effort to put pressure on Sudan. That’s what we’re trying to build an effort behind.
RAY SUAREZ: Now Congressman, meeting this week in Chad, leaders of the African Union asked the international community not to intervene militarily in Darfur, not to slap international sanctions on the government in Khartoum, and saying in effect, let this be an AU project; we can do this. Can they?
REP. ED ROYCE: Well, what they’re saying, I think, is that they’re ready to send peacekeeping troops in. The United States provides the logistics for this, the heavy- lift capability. We saw some of the camps set up by the United States.
So we’re assisting the African Union, but it is, in fact, the case that the African Union is trying to find a way internally, given the fact the Security Council won’t act, to ratchet down tensions and provide observers on the ground and reduce the level of violence.
I think these are important points, but I think if we take the pressure off of Sudan, we’re not going to get compliance. And I say that because even in the face of all this international pressure, we still find this evidence of the aerial bombardments and the poisoning of wells and, you know, attacks by Sudanese military. So the international community has a role to play here.
And I’d like to add one other point. When we talk about the refugee camps we can get into, the ones we saw, and I’ll tell you, it’s freezing at night and it’s scorching by day. But think about the 800,000 people that are wandering around inside, inside Darfur, an area the size of France, who haven’t got out over to the Chadean border yet.
The U.N. can’t get in to monitor those people and the NGOs tell us there may be several hundred thousand that have died on the ground there. We need pressure on the Sudanese government to get access to those refugees.
REP. BARBARA LEE: Let me just say we need to increase the pressure on Khartoum. In California, for example, I have mounted a divestment campaign. We have learned that over $7.5 billion is invested in about 44 companies doing business in the Sudan.
Californians don’t even know that their pension funds are being used to pay for genocide. And so I believe, like in New Jersey and in other states, we need to mount a very active divestment campaign. All the pressure sooner or later will work, but we have to revv it up quite a bit I believe at this point. Too many people are dying.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Rep. Lee, is that, given what you’ve seen from the Khartoum government, going to work?
REP. BARBARA LEE: I believe divestment works. If you look at what happened as it relates to South Africa, economic sanctions and divestment helped in terms of ending apartheid in South Africa. The pressure will build, I believe, through a divestment effort, through sanctions, through a real declaration of genocide, through all of the efforts that we mount. We can’t not do this.
RAY SUAREZ: Representatives Lee and Royce, thank you both very much.
REP. BARBARA LEE: Thank you.
REP. ED ROYCE: Good to be with you.