Sudan: Amnesty International
Human Rights Crisis
William F. Schulz, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Amnesty International (USA)
Tuesday, October 5, 2004
Amnesty International was granted access to examine the current human rights crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan. Amnesty's delegation toured abandoned villages and refugee camps and
met with government officials, Sudanese non-governmental organisations and
Amnesty International's Executive Director William F. Schulz, Ph.D. was online Tuesday, Oct. 5, at 3 p.m. ET to discuss the organization's relief efforts.
Schulz was appointed Executive Director of Amnesty
International (USA) in March 1994. An ordained Unitarian Universalist
minister, he came to Amnesty after serving for fifteen years with the
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA). In 1997, he led an Amnesty mission to Liberia to investigate atrocities
committed during the civil war there and returned to Northern Ireland with
the human rights organization in 1999 to insist that human rights
protections be incorporated into the peace process.
He has appeared frequently on radio and television, including "60 Minutes," "20/20," "The Today Show," "Good Morning, America," "All Things
Considered," "Talk of the Nation," "ABC World News," "Larry King Live,"
"Nightline," and on the BBC, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, FOX News and Bloomberg News. He has published and is quoted widely in
newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, The Washington
Post, and The
Nation. He is the author of several
books, including "Making the Manifesto: The Birth of Religious Humanism" and "In Our Own Best Interests: How Defending Human Rights Benefits Us All."
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
William F. Schulz, Ph.D.: This is Bill Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA. I have recently returned from an eight day trip to the Sudan, including four days in Darfur. Amnesty was the first international human rights group to be permitted to enter the Sudan since the crisis began. We were able to visit internally displaced persons (IDP) camps, to visit with victims, to talk to human rights monitors, to talk to local human rights defenders, to meet with the African Union, to visit a national security prison and to talk with high Sudanese government officials. I will be briefing the Human Rights Caucus of the House of Representatives and speaking at 10:15 a.m. at the Holocaust Museum this coming Thursday. I look forward to answering your questions.
What are other nations around the world doing in Sudan? It seems that many of them feel it is up to the United States to intervene.
William F. Schulz, Ph.D.: The European Union has joined the US in condemning the atrocities in Darfur, calling them "tantamount to genocide." The EU has been a principle supplier of humanitarian assistance to the camps, as has the US. The African Union has provided some 300 human rights monitors and troops on the ground in Darfur and is prepared to provide many more if the Sudanese Government agrees to allow them entry, as it says it will, and if the international community supplies adequate material resources for the African Union to do its job. That job must include offering active protection to the displaced people and not just monitoring of the cease-fire violations as is currently the case.
What are the chances any meaningful resolution to the Darfur crisis is possible without European or American, and not just African, forces to keep the peace?
Also, the crisis in northern Uganda -- with atrocities committed by the LRA and more than 1.6 million people homeless -- seems more urgent than Darfur, yet we hear nothing about in the the US media and humanitarian assistance appears to be negligible there. Any hope of AI spotlighting that problem, too, to garner more international coverage and attention?
William F. Schulz, Ph.D.: While the presence of Western troops might indeed help resolve the crisis, the reality is that such an intervention is unlikely, which means that the African Union troops are essentially the only game in town. Their numbers need to be expanded to at least 5,000; they need to be deployed in every district of Darfur to assure the people that they will be safe if they return to their villages; and they need to have their current mandate to include active protection.
The situation in Uganda is also serious and Amnesty has been highlighting that crisis for years, including having issued many reports on the violations committed by the Lord's Resistance Army, but at the moment the conflict in Darfur is more "live" and people are still being attacked, their villages burned and their lives destroyed.
What do you believe the United States should be doing in the Sudan?
William F. Schulz, Ph.D.: There are at least three key things which the US needs to undertake: 1) it needs to broker the peace talks between the parties to the conflict in Darfur that are now taking place in Abuja, Nigeria, just as it brokered the talks that appear to have resolved the North-South conflict; 2) it needs to take the lead in providing material support - helicopters, ground transportation, communications equiptment, etc. - to the African Union so that it can do the job it needs to do on the ground; 3) it needs to see that the international community provides adequate humanitarian assistance not only for the immediate needs of the 1.2 million displaced people, but for the massive job of resettling those people in their villages once adequate security has been obtained to convince them to return home.
Whether the international community will follow through on the implicit threats contained in the UN Security Council Resolution, including various sanctions against Sudan,will also depend in good measure on US leadership.
What is preventing the United States government from taking a position of non-allignment in the dispute but sending troops to guarantee that food and supplies reaches threatened populations and maintaing troops to safeguard people against the threat of genocide?
William F. Schulz, Ph.D.: I suspect that the US is extaordinarily wary, given the level of troop commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq, of becoming involved in still another foreign engagement. The truth is the African Union is willing to supply the troops and the Sudanese Government has said that they will receive additional AU personel, but without adequate material support that offer and response are meaningless. Therefore the most important role for the US at the moment is to provide the AU the resources that will allow it to do its job.
Do you think the US is starting to pay attention to this crisis? Last week, the candidates were asked a question about Sudan. Was their reponse adequate?
William F. Schulz, Ph.D.: Unfortunately any crisis that does not at first blush appear to relate directly to US national interest often fails to receive adequate attention in this country. But the humanitarian crisis in Darfur is so severe that the media and political leaders have been forced by conscience, if nothing else, to address it.
The candidates addressed the issue only briefly and the situation is complex enough to warrent an entire 90 minute discussion on that topic alone, but I was at least gratified that the subject made it on to the debate agenda at all.
I think what Amnesty International is trying to do is wonderful, however... the first step to addressing a problem, is to notify the public that there IS a problem. I have spoken to so many people that don't have any clue as to what is going on in Darfur. I guess my question is is what is Amnesty doing and what can members do to educate the public on a large scale?
William F. Schulz, Ph.D.: You are certainly correct that, with American attention focused almost exclusively on Iraq, Darfur has not received the attention it deserves. Amnesty is launching a major grassroots campaign to generate additional attention and we will be utilizing the national media as readily as we can, but particularly in an election season, it is difficult to get Americans to focus on parts of the world where American troops are not on the ground. What we need to emphasize, however, is that if this crisis is not resolved soon, not only will tens of thousands more people die, but the region may well be destabilized and Darfur become a breeding ground for terrorists. That is in nobody's interest.
I had always believed that intervention in Darfur by the western world, the U.S., UK, Europe, etc., would be great public relations work and help especially the U.S. to improve it's tarnished image within the Arab speaking world.
As it turns out, Sudan's neighbours, the Arab world and even most of Africa strongly resent any incursion into Sudan. Perhaps the Iraq conflict has influenced this sentiment.
Considering all humanitarian and political aspects, what is the best way that a country like the U.S.A. can help the victims of Darfur?
Should America help finance a stronger presence by the African Union for instance?
William F. Schulz, Ph.D.: I was repeatly struck by the fact that both Sudanese Government officials and more neutral observers frequently cited US human rights violations at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, as well as US intervention in Iraq without international sanction, as excuses for what is happening in Darfur. One of the great tragedies of the current US condition is that our mistakes have compromised our credibility, even when it comes to a humanitarian crisis, like this one. That is one reason I have called so strongly for US support of the African Union presence.
As a general citizen, what can I do to help prevent more of these lives being ruined or ended?
William F. Schulz, Ph.D.: The first thing you can do of course is to join Amnesty International (www.amnestyusa.org). Amnesty will keep investigators on the ground in Darfur as long as we are permitted to do so by the government and is working assiduously to document the violations, name the perpetrators and bring them to justice. And the second is to encourage your members of Congress to suppport the kind of US role I have described earlier in response to several other questions. In addition, humanitarian agencies like, CARE, UNICEF and Save the Children are active in the IDP camps and deserve support from all of us.
Could you please tell me if my information is correct on some of the history behind the Darfur crisis?
From what I've read on the internet, I understand that poor villages in Darfur were actually sitting on land filled with diamonds and oil and they did not know it but their government did so they hired rebels to either chase them off their land or kill them. This may be why the American government is relunctant to get involved.
Also, what can be done? It seems now that this has resulted in genocide unseen since the days of Rwanda, maybe worse. Won't sanctions just hurt the people we're trying to help? Even an invasion may prove to be harmful. Are there any answers?
William F. Schulz, Ph.D.: I have not heard speculation with regard to diamonds or oil in Darfur; indeed, Darfur is the most economically marginal part of Sudan so if it is sitting on a fortune, no one in Darfur knows it. In fact, the US has taken an important leadership role in trying to stop the conflict, as it should have. Sanctions always run the risk of hurting people on the ground more than the leaders at whom they are aimed, but certainly an arms embargo should be immediately extended not just against the groups who are fighting, as is currently the case, but against the Sudanese government as well.
Wasn't the recent UN decision about Darfur essentially a slap on the wrist to the Sudanese government? And with China threatening to veto any strict resolution, what are the chances anything constructive will be done?
Also, you said Darfur is "live" as opposed to the northern Ugandan crisis. Are you saying the problems and atrocities in northern Uganda have ceased? I ask because a recent BBC report didn't seem to imply that.
William F. Schulz, Ph.D.: Yes, it may well prove to be a slap on the wrist if the UN fails to enforce the threat of sanctions and fails to create the Commission of Inquiry to bring to justice those responsible for these crimes. That is why it is so important for all of us to keep pressure on the US Government, no matter who wins the election, so that it may continue its leadership role in this crisis.
I did not mean to imply that the fighting has stopped in Uganda; only that at the moment, it appears more wide-spread in Darfur.
If the ruling government in Sudan is Arab and is committing genocide on the black African population there, why have we not heard condemnations from other Arab governments? Or have I just not been listening?
William F. Schulz, Ph.D.: You are correct that the Arab League has been more reticent to condemn a brother/sister Arab government. That is tragic in as much as the Darfurian victims are every bit as much citizens of that Arab Government as are the perpetrators of the crimes. The Arab League will only have reached full political maturity when it is able to bring pressure to bear on one of its own as readily as it does upon others.
Reston, Va. :
Is this genocide considered terrorism by any?
William F. Schulz, Ph.D.: One of the great gaps in International law is the lack of an agreed upon definition of "terrorism." That is one reason the word is bandied about so recklessly. Whether what is happening in Darfur is a true case of "terrorism," it certainly "terrorizing" the Africanized tribes in that region and needs to be stopped.
How come you were not allowed to offer relief before and had to get permission to enter the country? Is there an Amnesty body that works in Africa as the organization I thought was a global one.
William F. Schulz, Ph.D.: The Sudanese government responded to international pressure by allowing Amnesty and other humanitarian groups entry. While Amnesty International has membership in over 100 countries, we have only a few individual members in Sudan. Those few members would hardly have been in a position to investigate a crisis of this magnitude. That is why we undertook an international mission, which included the Chair of the South African Section of Amnesty, and have placed researchers from our international headquarters in London on the ground for the forseeable future.
Could you compare the crisis in Sudan with the Rwandan genocide?
William F. Schulz, Ph.D.: While both Sudan and Rwanda have been referred to as "genocides," there are some differences between them. In Sudan, the current crisis began when the Sudanese Liberation Army, which is generally identified with the Africanized tribes who have been the principle victims of the conflict, attacked government airplanes at the airport at El-Fasher and some eighty police stations. In Rwanda, in contrast, the Tutsis were in no way responsible for the violence that overtook the country. In Sudan the Janjaweed fighters have targetted the younger males in the villages they have burned, but largely left older males, women and children to fend for themselves. In Rwanda the Hutus killed everybody in their path. The question of whether Darfur represents Genocide turns on the "intent" of the janjaweed and their government supporters. In Rwanda the Hutus intent was quite clearly to eliminate all Tutsis. In Sudan it is still to be determined whether the goal is to eliminate all African tribes or "merely" to take their land and/or enslave them.
What is the UN currently doing now in aiding Sudan? Can you tell us what countries are actively providing relief to the country?
William F. Schulz, Ph.D.: In addition to facilitating humanitarian relief in Darfur, the UN has at the moment 8 human rights monitors on the ground there. Their job is to track violations committed by all sides to the conflict and report them to the UN. But if you consider that Darfur is equivalent to France in size you can see how absurd it is to expect 8 monitors to do that job adequately.
Fortunately the UN Secretary General has asked a man named Jan Pronk to be his special representative in Sudan and to help mediate the conflict. Pronk is a well respected diplomat and we can only hope that his conscientious efforts will be successful.
Can you share with us some of the personal stories there? Is security among women and children a major factor? What are some of the aid that you are providing now?
William F. Schulz, Ph.D.: Many women report having been raped and assaulted when they leave the camps. The government denies this, but its denials are without credence. We were repeatedly told by government officials, for example, that because the Arabic word for "rape" is the same as the word for "forced" the women who claimed they had been raped might well only have been robbed (that is forced to give up their possessions) but were too stupid to know the difference. So, as in all conflicts, women and children bare an enormous burden.
Among those whom we met in the camps was one who told me, after the janjaweed attacked our village, they destroyed everything so that I did not even have a tool left with which to burry my husband.
William F. Schulz, Ph.D.: Thank you for participating in this chat and for your interest in a desparately sad part of the world. Take hope from the fact that, inadequate as its response has been , the international community is at least attending to this crisis with greater fervor than it did 10 years ago in Rwands. And for once, in providing leadership, the United States is doing something right. Those who would like to know more about Amnesty's work in Darfur should check our Website or attend a briefing this Thursday at 10:15 a.m. at the Holocaust Museum. Thank you again and good afternoon.
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