TOPICS > Politics

Darfur Report

February 2, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


GWEN IFILL: The new U.N. report found that at least 70,000 people have died and 2.3 million have been displaced in western Sudan’s Darfur region during the past two years. The 176-page report recounts an occurring pattern of mass murder rape and the pillaging of entire villages, “Crimes against humanity,” the report calls it, but not genocide. Here to discuss the report’s findings are: Edward Mortimer, the director of communications for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan; and Salih Booker, the executive director of Africa Action.

Mr. Mortimer, can you give us in a thumbnail sketch what the conclusions were that this report found?

EDWARD MORTIMER: Well, first of all, they find that the government and the janjaweed, you know, the auxiliaries armed and encouraged by the government, are clearly guilty of crimes under international law amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity, and these things like pillage, rape, sexual violence, murder, forced displacement, I mean, really horrible things.

And this unfortunately they find was going on while they were conducting their inquiries; that is to say up to the middle of January, and I’m afraid probably even now as we speak. And they say that action must be taken urgently to end these violations.

Secondly, they say, as you mentioned, that one element, in their view, is missing to say affirmatively that this is genocide, which is a clear intent on the part of the government. But they do consider that there may be genocidal intent on the part of individuals, including government officials, but that could only be decided by a competent court on a case-by-case basis.

Thirdly, they have identified the perpetrators, the people they believe to be responsible for these crimes. They have submitted a sealed list of names of those people which they say has been given to the secretary-general, but it should only be handed over to a prosecutor of a competent court.

And fourthly, they recommend strongly that that court should be the international criminal court, and the Security Council should refer the case to that court as it has power to do under the statute of the court.

GWEN IFILL: All right. Salih Booker, what of those conclusions and this pretty exhaustive and kind of unflinching report do you agree with as someone who has studied this and traveled there? And how — what is it that you disagree with?

SALIH BOOKER: Well, certainly there are massive crimes against humanity, and war crimes. You know, the estimate is really somewhere in the area of 300,000 people have been killed, mainly due to violence. The 70,000 figure is largely due to disease and conditions in the camps.

We agree that all the categories of violence that they list– the killing of people, the rape, the sexual crimes, the torching of villages that have resulted in two million people being internally displaced and homeless and some 200,000 people made refugees across the border in Chad– we agree with all that.

We agree also that there needs to be accountability, and that it is possible to identify government officials and others responsible. And we also agree that the top priority needs to be the protection of civilians in Darfur because this killing and these atrocities continue. In the last week, there’ve been some 20 aerial bombardments of African villages in the Darfur region.

Where we disagree is that this is a genocide and it has been going on for two years now. We’re just dismayed that this commission could not discover the government’s intent. It’s clear, at least at three levels. There’s documentary evidence that the government intended to destroy, in whole or in part, specific ethnic communities in the Darfur region. It is their methodology of counterinsurgency. Instead of fighting the rebels, they’re trying to destroy the civilian communities whom they believe support these rebels.

Then, due to legal precedents, you can infer intent when there’s a systematic pattern of killing that has been going on for these past two years. And thirdly, you have the testimony of the survivors of genocide in Darfur who make it clear that the perpetrators of these crimes themselves– government, soldiers, police, janjaweed– have all made it clear that they’re trying to destroy these specific communities.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Mortimer, why not call it genocide? Why get hung up on a term?

EDWARD MORTIMER: Well, I don’t think we should get hung up on the term. I would definitely agree with that. I am not going to argue with Mr. Booker on this point. I’m not a lawyer. I’m not an expert on what is the correct definition of genocide. But nor am I going to argue with this commission of very distinguished experts. You know, the president of the commission was Antonia Cassese, who was the first presiding judge of the international criminal tribunal for Yugoslavia —

GWEN IFILL: If I may just interrupt you for a moment — one of the points that he makes in that report, he makes a distinction between government intent to wipe out entire tribes, for instance, and individual actions.


GWEN IFILL: Is that the basis for it?

EDWARD MORTIMER: Well, no, he’s leaving open… they are leaving open the possibility of indictment and prosecution of individuals for genocide. But they say this is really something which a court should decide on a case-by-base basis.

So I wouldn’t make…frankly, I think the only party that has an interest in making a lot of the finding, or the failure to find, genocide on the part of the government is the government itself. They say the crimes that they have found may be no less serious or heinous than genocide. So I think we should get on and deal with them on that basis, rather than continue to argue about whether it’s genocide or not.

GWEN IFILL: Assuming that you’re not going to agree on what to call it precisely, still you agree on what the scope of the problem is. So whose role is it then to do something to pursue an end to the continuing slaughter that Mr. Mortimer talked about or the prosecution of those who may be responsible?

SALIH BOOKER: Right, well, that is one of our concerns. Now, the commission makes a recommendation that this should go to the international criminal court in The Hague, and something the United States has objected to, suggesting that a tribunal to achieve accountability should be based in Arusha, Tanzania.

Our point is really that while accountability is absolutely critical, and we would support, of course, the international court, the real priority has to be physical protection for people in Darfur who are dying even as we speak tonight. The report does not make any recommendation whatsoever regarding the need for the United Nations Security Council to adopt a Chapter 7 mandate to provide for an international intervention.

There are already 1,000 African Union troops there. They need a new mandate. They’re not allowed to protect civilians. Now they’re just observers. They need to have the mandate to protected civilians and enforce, not observe a cease-fire. But they also need support from other countries, not just logistical and financial support, but troops as well.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Mortimer, as to the mention of that in this report, is that something that Kofi Annan, the secretary-general, supports?

EDWARD MORTIMER: Well, he certainly supports what they say, which is that action must be taken urgently to end these violations. And that I agree with Salih Booker that that’s not just holding people accountable after the fact; that action needs to be taken now to stop it from continuing. So then comes the question of what sort of action should it be? Clearly, this commission did not consider it their job to tell the Security Council how or, you know, what kind of action to take.

One thing that they have talked about in the past and the secretary-general has said should definitely be still on the table is sanctions. But I think Mr. Booker was also right to mention the presence of, at the moment, a very insufficient group of brave African Union soldiers on the spot. There certainly need to be more of those. I think they need to have a stronger mandate. They need to have a mandate to protect people and not just to protect observers, which is basically the situation now.

GWEN IFILL: You represent the United Nations. The United Nations has had quite a role in this and this is a U.N. report. What is the U.N. poised to do, or prepared to do, in the near future or even the distant future about acting on sanctions or any other kind of move?

EDWARD MORTIMER: Well, of course, one of the problems about speaking for the U.N. is that, you know, the U.N. has multiple identities. And, you know, I speak — I try to advise and help the secretary-general. But I cannot speak for the Security Council, which has 15 members.

And I think that this report, as the secretary-general himself has done over the last 12 months or so, has basically reminded the Security Council of its responsibility to deal with the situation like this. And I think, therefore, it’s really to the governments in the Security Council that the question should now be addressed.

This is, you know, a massive breach of human rights, and basically a threat to international peace and security. That’s what you’re there to deal with. You’ve passed a number of resolutions. You clearly haven’t succeeded in stopping this. What more are you going to do?

GWEN IFILL: Okay. Edward Mortimer from the U.N. and Salih Booker from Africa Action, thank you both very much.

SALIH BOOKER: Thank you, Gwen.