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Transcript: Mark Hanis on the Crisis in Darfur

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Maria Hinojosa: Hello and welcome to the Now on PBS podcast. A conversation about stories behind the headlines. I'm Maria Hinojosa and it's great to be with you. Today a conversation about Africa, Sudan and the crisis in Darfur. Joining us is Mark Hanis.

He is only 24 years old. But helped to create a new organization, relatively new organization called The Genocide Intervention Network. Hi Mark. Thanks for joining us on the Podcast.

Hanis: Hi Maria. It's great to be on.

Hinojosa: A lot of conversation this week at the United Nations general assembly. But let me ask you this, is there something that we were missing when you were watching what was going on at the U.N., What is the big news that was reported on — what's the big news that perhaps we didn't hear about.

Hanis: Sure. I think the big news was seeing a lot of heads of states specifically President Bush and you've got Prime Minister Blair talking about the need to deploy U.N. Peace keeping force to Darfur. That's the big news 'cause that's the necessarily step to help stop this genocide. But consequently the big news that wasn't covered is that re— is that rhetoric being followed up by action. And this has been going on for three years and it seems to be the same old story where the— they talk the talk. But they certainly don't walk the walk.

Hinojosa: So, what would need to happen in order for them to walk the walk? Or for the international community to walk the walk?

Hanis: I think they need to back up what they call for U.N.— For U.N. Force with funding. That's a huge issue. And then pressuring diplomatically, the Sudanese governments to give permission, to give consent for this U.N. Force 'cause that's necessarily right now— for the U.N. peacekeepers to go into Darfur.

Hinojosa: Now, you have been raising money— through your organization, The Genocide Intervention Network. But your money is going to support the African Union soldiers who have been there and who have now been extended until December, if I'm not mistaken, right?

Hanis: That's right. We're supporting African union peace keepers right now because they're the only force right now. They're the only thing between the Darfurian people that are being attacked and the militia, the government of Sudan's forces. So, we figure while we're waiting and while we're advocating for stronger U.N. Force, it's still required on us to supports the peacekeepers that are there right now.

Hinojosa: But interestingly, some of those peace keepers, those African union peace keepers, it appears don't even want to be there.

Hanis: Yeah. It's extremely frustrating when you're deploying Rwandans and Nigerians who are supposed protect the people of Darfur. And we're penny pinching them. A lot of these Rwandans haven't been paid for months. And they need to pay for school fees for their own kids and put food on the table while they're protecting people from a genocide in Darfur. So it's really hard to stay motivated when you're not getting the support from the international community.

Hinojosa: I want to talk about two things that happened. What President Bush said when he was addressing the United Nations and what the president of Sudan said who was here, kind of in a surprise visit. I was very taken a— about the fact that he was extraordinary critical of non-profit groups, like yours. He denies that there's a major humanitarian disaster. And he claims that human rights groups are actually exaggerating the crisis in Darfur. He says because they want more money.

Hanis: Yeah. It's a great ploy. I doubt we would find many documents of Hitler saying, "Yes. I'm trying to eliminate six million Jews in concentration camps." And the same thing with Pol Pot in Cambodia.

So, it's classic that the actual architects of genocide don't admit what they're doing. And aren't speaking positively about those that are trying to stop the crimes that they're committing. It's obviously a propaganda ploy to try to divert attention from what's actually happening on the ground.

And there are facts, there are plenty facts. Our government has called it a genocide. All the aide agencies on the ground are begging for more support, more civilian protection to help this on going genocide.

Hanis: In fact, president al-Bashir you raised the issue of Hitler. He accused Jews of spreading propaganda and basically of organizing anti-government rallies in the United States. I mean he's bringing in some pretty serious accusations here. How do you as a young Jewish man who is organizing to intervene in this genocide, how did that strike you when he said that?

Hanis: I mean just, he's hitting below the belt. But it shows how desperate he is. If the president of Sudan, who's committing a genocide, has to go to the most sort of classic marginalized group to point his finger in terms of why there's such a large growing multi- interfaith multi-national — this is an international movement in Darfur.

There is over 41 countries that were protesting on Sunday calling for U.N. peacekeepers. And he's got to point his finger on Jews in the United States as the reason for why the international community is trying to stop a genocide. It just shows how desperate and absurd the situation is.

Hinojosa: Tell me what it, when you heard him say that, what did it do to you in your heart, when you heard him say that?

Hanis: It was extremely frustrating. You know, four of my grandparents were holocaust survivors. And so, I grew up in a small Jewish community mostly of holocaust survivors, hearing, "Never again, never again." And to have read and— as I was growing up and heard about what was happening, Cambodia, in Bosnia, in Kosovo and then Rwanda. And then to hear in the 21st century while genocide is happening that one of the main architects of it, is saying this is you know, pointing to the Jews is just it's frustrating and maybe so much so frustrating and so absurd to the point that it's laughable, that he's, that when, from the original, one of the main genocides in the holocaust is trying to eliminate the Jews that one in the 21st century is still pointing — the "genocider" is pointing his finger to the Jews.

Hinojosa: Let's talk about what President Bush had to say at the United Nations this week about Darfur?

President Bush: My nation called these atrocities what they are, genocide. The world must step forward to provide additional humanitarian aid. So, today I'm announcing that I'm naming a present a presidential special envoy, a former U.S. AID administrator Andrew Nazis to lead America's efforts to resolve the outstanding disputes and help bring peace to your land.

Hinojosa: When you hear what President Bush had to say at United Nations this week, what's your reaction?

Hanis: Extremely disappointed. It's the classic story where the rhetoric is there but the action isn't there. President Bush talks about and points to the people about what's happening is a genocide. And that's important that he's still acknowledging the actual facts that it is still a genocide at the United Nations.

However, when he talks about his frustration, it's absurd as the leader of the free world, the most powerful country in the world, he's talking about being frustrated. When he prides himself in saying when he speaks and following it up with action. And to be in this position of power and be frustrated is like throwing a glass of water into a bonfire and saying you're trying to you're trying to stop the fire from burning.

And this it's absurd that he talks about being frustrated and then having a special envoy, that that's the best he can do. There's so much more that he could be doing in terms of helping the African union with funding and logistics and communications. And yet all he's able to do is say that he's frustrated and nominate someone as a special envoy. It's very disappointing.

Hinojosa: So, what needs to happen? I mean if you believe that in fact something can happen immediately that could drastically affect this situation? Senator Richard Lugar has, you know, a proposal in the Senate right now. You also think that that's not as strong as it should be. So, what in your 'dream-o-vision', if you could decide what needs to happen, who would do it and what would it look like?

Hanis: So, what needs to happen is very easy. That's the beauty of this, is we have an opportunity to stop a genocide. And so, what needs to happen is, we need to be a lot more forceful in our diplomatic and economic approach to Sudan.

So, we need to enforce a no fly zone. And there's a base in the Chad that the French — that the French control, that we could use that base to enforce a no fly zone to stop these gun ships from bombing villages where Darfurians are living. We also need imposed sanctions, specific travel bans and asset freezes of these government leaders.

Al-Bashir should have a travel ban. He shouldn't be allowed to travel to the United States while he's committing a genocide. And we've only imposed these travel bans on one retired general.

We should be doing this with the whole regime if they're known to be committing genocide. And we have 15 names that have been leaked to the media of people that have been charged with being architects of this genocide. And then additionally we need toimpose sanctions and ensure that they're there because the government of Sudan is able to buy weapons from the Chinese and the Russians to commit genocide.

And so, we need to ensure that these means of violence are prevented. And then lastly, we need to ensure that Americans are allowed to divest. And this goes into your question of Senator Richard Lugar are able to divest from companies that are funding a genocide.

While no American companies are funding the Sudanese governments, we do hold shares in specific companies. And so, we need to ensure that we're not complicit in this genocide. And Governor Schwarzenegger is hopefully going to announce on Monday that the state of California is allowing to divest from companies in Sudan.

Hinojosa: I think that when people hear the fact that there are no sanctions against the government of Sudan the country, I think people's jaws will drop. The fact that they can in fact be buying arms on an international market. I mean this is extraordinary.

Hanis: Well, the sanctions are there but the sanctions have been imposed in U.N. Security Council resolutions. They just haven't been enforced. So, this again is the huge gap between the rhetoric, the talk and the actual action. No one is actually enforcing it. So, it's a classic problem where Bush talks about him being frustrated, but then doesn't actually do much about it to follow up that that frustration is addressed.

Hinojosa: What is the resistance on the part of the Bush administration?

Hanis: The resistance I guess is several. One is they think that it's much easier to give carrots to Sudan than to give sticks. So, they're offering the president, al-Bashir, to meet with President Bush. So, he can get that nice photo op to show to everyone else that he's a recognized world leader that gets the chance to meet the president of the United States.

We also offer them to remove these sanctions. Or we actually fly over the minister of information over to the CIA to talk about intelligence information on terrorism. So, the United States sees Sudan unfortunately it's trying to engage with them diplomatically when it should be trying to punish them for committing a genocide. So, they're trying to do— I guess just appease the Sudanese regime into stopping a genocide. And if you look at what happened in World War II appeasement was a failure.

Hinojosa: So, when you saw what happened this past Sunday here in New York thousands of people gathered in Central Park. All around the world there were similar protests. When you saw what happened this past Sunday, what went on for you? I mean was it bittersweet?

Hanis: Yeah. It was bittersweet. But more sweet than bitter. I was inspired to see over 30,000 people in New York City calling for U.N. Force in Darfur and to know that there were similar protests in 41 other countries. That to me is amazing that we are showing that the world's —that the global public is calling on their policy makers to prevent and stop a genocide 'cause we've clearly done a really bad job of doing that since Armenia, the Holocaust, Bosnia and Rwanda. And so, this is important to show that the public is demanding that we actually use our resources, economic, military— diplomatic to prevent and stop a genocide.

Hinojosa: So, Mark, you were a student at Swarthmore and you have this background of having for grandparents who survived the holocaust. How do you end up getting involved in this situation with Darfur?

Hanis: I guess with that background I was very concerned about genocides and how we've done a bad job at stopping them. So, really it just happened in the cafeteria with me and my classmate. We were just reading the newspaper and hearing about Darfur and how it was a genocide.

So, we asked a simple question which I think many people do. And they say you know, what can I do about it. And in the case of the tsunami we gave to the Red Cross. But in the case of Darfur, there wasn't really a way for us as American citizens to help, to help stop what was happening in Darfur. So, that's when we started creating this organization to empower people, empower American citizens with tools to prevent and stop genocide. So, that's where it all started.

Hinojosa: And it's fascinating when you raise the issue of divesting from Sudan. It goes back to, when I was in college and it was all about divesting from South Africa. And you're really working with a lot of young people and college organizations. Is this in a way, your moment of activism regarding Africa for young people like you?

Hanis: Yeah. I think so. Many people— I'm not that old to— have been in activism for awhile. But many people say this is sort of the next big movement since the anti-apartheid movement.

But I think Africa's definitely growing— a growing issue on the public's agenda where you've got the Live Eight concert as a follow up to the Live Aid Concert— 20 years before. So, I think— with the one campaign and Bono doing such an effective job— raising awareness and calling for more effective policies in Africa that not only in the student population. But you find many adults caring a lot more about Africa now than they have before.

Hinojosa: And here's what I find fascinating, Mark. You're clearly not that old. And yet because of the Genocide Intervention Network, you're actually getting phone calls from members of Congress who are turning to you to get information about what they should do. That's pretty incredible.

Hanis: Yeah. We've come out with a tool called and what we've done is we've come out with a scorecard with we were students so we figured use the same tools that motivate us to do better. We'll do the same to motivate members of Congress to do better. So, we've given them letter grades A through F on how they have responded to the Darfur genocide whether they've co-sponsored specific legislation or voted for it. And so, now all of a sudden these members of Congress want to make sure they're getting A pluses just like mane students around the country are. So, they call us to find out what they can do more to ensure that they're not falling on stopping a genocide.

Hinojosa: When you have also very high profile activists, George Clooney, Don Cheatle, you have Mia Farrow's son whose involved, you know, a lot of people think, you know, celebrities. They're just you know, they just bring the glitz and the glamour. But in the case of Darfur, how do you see their kind of activities?

Hanis: I see the role of celebrities as being critical, absolutely critical. So, George Clooney, he was there. He went there with his father. So, it's not just a superficial thing where they hear about Darfur and all of a sudden they talk about it. They're actually being very involved about this.

So, Angelina Jolie also, has been very vocal about this. She's been there twice with the U.N. High commission for refugees. And then put an ad calling for members of Congress to take more action. And again, George Clooney with his dad went there. Shot a documentary and then came back and spoke at a rally with over 50,000 people in D.C. And so, I think that they're not only activists as many of us are, but they're able to use their positions of power as having the media very accessible and having a lot of Americans listen to what they say to raise this issue to the level of importance where it needs to be.

Hinojosa: So, for people who are listening to us— what do they do? Who do they contribute to? Who do they call? How do they get involved if they weren't in New York at one of the protests or in another city? What can an individual citizen do?

Hanis: The exciting thing is that they can do so many things. There are so many opportunities pre the rally, during the rally and now, especially after the rally. And so, the best thing is to go to our website,, and look at the three critical tools that we feel every single person can take to stop this genocide. And that is educate, advocate and donate. So, the education part is tell people about Darfur.

It's surprising how few people know about it, even though we've got George Clooney and Angeline Jolie talking about it. We need to raise awareness so that they can stop it. And then the advocacy part is go to and send an email to your member of Congress demanding that they get an A plus in stopping a genocide.

And then the third one is donate. And Genocide Intervention Network is raising money for protection 'cause we feel that's really the critical part of stopping a genocide. So, they can donate to us. But there's all these other aide organizations that they can donate to, so Doctors without Borders, or UNICEF or the U.N. In general, or the World Food Program. So, there's many different— many different avenues that people can take to helping stop the Darfur genocide.

Hinojosa: And if I'm not mistaken they can also go dance. Like, for example, they can dance Sidestep for Sudan as they did in Florida or Jam for Sudan. I mean you're kind of turning this into, it's hip to raise money right now for this issue.

Hanis: Absolutely. People are coming out with the most creative ways to raise money, raise awareness and pressure the members of Congress. So, you've got people coming out with dinners for Darfur where they'll invite people over. And they donate money to us.

Or they'll do, as you said, Salsa for Sudan where they'll have Salsa classes but before they walk in they donate. Or Jam for Sudan where they'll just have a high school band, for example in this case, it was a high school band that came. And people sent donations to us. So, people are coming out with creative ways on all different avenues to raising awareness pressuring members of Congress and donating.

Hinojosa: Before we let you go, Mark Hanis of the Genocide Intervention Network, is there anything else you want to leave our listeners with?

Hanis: Sure. I just I think it's critical that people understand that we have this opportunity to prevent and stop the world's worst crisis, the world's worse humanitarian crisis. And each of us is sitting on a winning lottery ticket. And all we have to do is cash it in. And it's so easy.

And it can have such a big effect. Please whether it's one minute or one hour a day. Within that whole range, there's so many things we can do to help stop a genocide.

Hinojosa: Mark Hanis with the Genocide Intervention Network thank you so much for joining us on the Now on the PBS podcast.

Hanis: Thank you very much for having me.

Hinojosa: I'm Maria Hinojosa. And we'll be with you again next week.

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