PBS Frontline: 'On Our Watch'

Neil Docherty, Frontline producer
Neil Docherty, Frontline producer
Neil Docherty
Wednesday, November 21, 2007; 11:00 AM

Frontline producer Neil Docherty was online Wednesday, Nov. 21 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss his film "On Our Watch," which seeks to understand why the international community and the United Nations stood by -- yet again -- as genocide took place in Darfur.

" On Our Watch" airs Tuesday, Nov. 20, at 9 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings).

The transcript follows.

Docherty started work for the CBC in 1990 and since has won more than 40 awards for his films including an International Emmy in 1992 and the 2004 Gordon Sinclair Gemini Award as Canada's best broadcast journalist. Most recently he co-produced and directed "A Toxic Company" for the CBC's "The Fifth Estate," "Frontline" and The New York Times; the film won a Peabody and numerous other awards while the Times articles won a Pulitzer.


Edison, N.J.: Why is the U.N. so weak and controlled by European and U.S. interests. Money? Globalization needs a strong central body to help and look after poor countries' interests.

Neil Docherty: The problem in this situation is that even the poor countries, or certainly the lesser powers, like the Arab states have gone out of their way to protect Sudan.

Some of that is because they are uncomfortable with the idea of the U.N. sanctioning an intervention in a sovereign state. The issue of sovereignty remains paramount at the U.N., despite a 2005 declaration by the U.N. called "The Responsibility to Protect," which does allow for such action.


Annapolis, Md.: Okay. Darfur is certainly on everybody's radar screen in the U.S. It is an apolitical issue, from what I can see. Why is the U.S. not pushing their plight more? This has been going on across at least two administrations.

Neil Docherty: To be fair to the Bush administration they have tried, some certainly argue not hard enough, but they have done more than any other country, and have put in considerable sums to keep people alive.

Some argue that this is a direct result of the huge advocacy movement that now exists in the U.S. The problem has been that all efforts have been stymied by Sudan's allies in the Security council in and in the U.N. in general. So China and Russia in the council, and the Arab countries in the Council, have all come to the consistent aid on Sudan.

It also has to be said the the Iraq war has damaged American influence on the issue.


Washington.: It seems like the whole issue of genocide has turned into a play on words in which to avoid taking real action in Darfur. Why can't the international community, genocide or no genocide, give aid to the region on the sheer fact that there are horrible atrocities occurring? Is genocide terminology a scapegoat for our silence?

Neil Docherty: The "genocide" term is highly charged, but international law is now clear that the U.N. is supposed to take action, even if the atrocities are not considered a genocide, but are classified as crimes against humanity and war crimes -- such as mass rape.

The problem seems to be forcing the moral imperative on the political powers. One suggestion I came across in making the film is that the security council members not be allowed to use their veto on issues such as these.


Houston: Mr. Docherty, I was terrifically moved by your program on Darfur. I am embarrassed to say that up until tonight, I knew next to nothing about the seemingly endless struggle these people face every day. I knew that learning more would be painful, but when I caught your program, I could not look away. All of us need to know about the horrors human beings face and have been facing day in and day out year after year due to the immoral and political agendas of our world leaders. Seeing how the U.N. machine is incapable of taking any real and decisive action makes me realize that we cannot rely on them to do what is right and what is just. Action is required, and the pure spirits and true leaders in the world must rise up as Mia Farrow and others have done to shoulder the tremendous responsibility that everyone else seems to be dancing away from or pretending it does not exist. Some may say, "but I am only one person, what can I do?" I am one of those people. What can the unknown masses do to help? I know that there is power in numbers and mobilization which has already begun to set a new standard regarding the issue of genocide which seems to be history repeating itself with multiplied horrific results.

Thank you for telling it like it really is. The world needs it now more than ever. When I watch Frontline, I know that what I am watching is the truth however detrimental and gut-wrenching to my at times all-too-comfortable youthful psyche it may be. It is dedicated individuals like you, Mr. Docherty, that inspire people to move to make changes, and you have certainly done that in my case.

I am a struggling college student, but I know that I can contribute in some way, shape, or form. Any guidance you can offer would be greatly appreciated. Do you have any information on how I as a moved individual who truly wants to help in some way can use her common voice and/or prolific hand to influence those who choose to speak for us when what comes out of their mouths is rarely in the true interest of the people in matters such as this?

Thanks for enriching my life an countless others! You deserve every award proudly displayed on your mantle.

Neil Docherty: Thank you so much for you kind words. I think you are correct that the lesson of the film, and certainly the lesson I learned making the film and talking with the inspiring individuals involved, is that we can't turn away.

My advice is to join one of the many many groups who are active on this front. Miafarrow.org has lots of links and information on what can be. Good luck.


Anonymous: Mr. Docherty, I am a 56-year-old journalism student at UMASS-Amherst. My professor, Proinsias Faulkner, suggested that we view "On Our Watch" on PBS this evening. He considers you among the best 'investigative journalists' in the business. After watching "On Our Watch" this evening, I agree. Your telling of this tragic story is both educational and inspirational. I watched it with my 87-year-old mother who knew little of the Darfur tragedy. She cried.

After viewing it with her, I asked her several questions about what she remembered. To my amazement, she rattled off every important fact presented, many names, dates and issues. Thanks for illustrating what great work is to an aspiring journalism student and providing a great evening of educational entertainment to a son and his mother.

Neil Docherty: Thank you for these comments. I am so glad you found it useful. Please tell your professor I would be happy to visit with your class one day. Good luck with your studies.


Freising, Germany: Aren't all parties involved in the Darfur crisis -- the Janjaweed proxy militia and the victimized farmers -- all Muslims? Does this have anything to do with the Muslim-Christian civil war? Also, are there thought to be oil deposits in Darfur?

Neil Docherty: Both sides in the Darfur conflict are Muslim, but the issue is not religious so they are just on either side of a political dispute. The government has used one group against the other.

It has nothing directly to do with the north-south civil war, but it is symptomatic of how fractured Sudan is as a country. The periphery resents all the power and wealth being held in the center.


Rockville, Md. : Have we redefined "genocide"? I know even the president uses the term, but I hesitate. Does it even matter? Best to stop the killing and sort the words out later.

Neil Docherty: Genocide is loosely defined by the U.N., and that may be part of the problem. In the case of Darfur I find it almost a moot point, because the U.N. is supposed to act to stop crimes against humanity and war crimes, and few dispute that they have been perpetrated in Darfur. The U.N.'s own commission of inquiry concluded this.


Rolla, Mo.: I thought I understood China's involvement in Darfur until I watched your program. While it was briefly touched on in the program, is there more to the story with respect to the U.S. inability to move China, such as financial leverage China may have over the U.S.?

Neil Docherty: I think it is complicated. The components as I understand them are:

China needs oil and seized an opportunity to get engage with Sudan, because the U.S. had imposed sanctions, on the regime in response to its brutality in the earlier civil war with the south of the country.

China is heavily engaged in Africa as a whole and sees it as a ripe are for resources and to exert its influence.

China has a strict foreign policy maxim -- that derives from it own history as a country that was the subject of serial invasions -- not it interfere with other countries domestic affairs. This is a message I think they are keen to see broadcast throughout Africa

Ultimately the U.S. and others have to make the calculation how much is it worth for us to offend China, for the sake of a sad corner of the world.

Samantha Power in her book "Problem From Hell" has concluded that in such cases the U.S. and other great powers, have historically decided to look the other way, and will always do so unless the citizenry force the issue


Washington: If the status-quo continues, what is a realistic timeframe for the conflict "to sort itself out?"

Neil Docherty: I think it is going to be very difficult to sort this out. The years of inaction have been costly and the chaos has spread to Chad and the Central African Republic.

Also it seems the north-south deal which ended the previous civil war seems to be falling apart. It called for elections in 2011 and gave the South the right to secede. The south has oil, and personally I have difficulty seeing the regime in Khartoum giving up its power or its oil.

I think we are talking a long time frame, but I do think getting troops into the area is imperative if there is to be any political solution eventually brokered


Bethesda, Md.: Has anyone ever proposed a boycott of Russian and Chinese goods to punish these major players who block U.N. action? If not, can you conjecture as to why not?

Neil Docherty: I don't know the answer to that, but I do know that the call to shame the Chinese into action with the "Genocide Olympics" has gained traction and I think has had some success.

There are also widespread calls for divestment in companies which operate in Sudan, and that too has been successful. Miafarrow.org has more details on this.


Sun Prairie, Wis.: Good morning, Mr. Docherty, and thank you for doing this chat. With the price of oil pushing $100 a barrel, the Arab oil states certainly have the resources to make major contributions to humanitarian relief in Darfur and eastern Chad. To your knowledge, how much are they contributing to that cause? What form is their aid taking (e.g. is it just money, or are there Arab volunteers working for aid groups in the stricken areas)?

Neil Docherty: There are certainly many Arab Aid workers in the region, working under the most arduous conditions. On how much aid, I am sorry I don't know the answer to that.


Panama City, Fla. : Do you think that Sudan government will ever allow U.N. force into Darfur? Or even bring justice to the torn region of Darfur?

Neil Docherty: We have to wait and see. On paper they have agreed, but they have always demanded that the troops be all African, and it is difficult not to see that as a ploy to thwart a meaningful force, since so far the African Union has been unable to furnish such a force.


Neil Docherty: Anyone who would like to see the film again or recommend it to others can watch online.


Milan, Italy: Shouldn't the United Nations be demanding statehood for the non-Muslim minorities of Sudan and other Arab-occupied nations? The U.N. supported independence for Eritrea from Ethiopia and they even support fabricating a state of Palestine for the Arabs living in Israel. Is it only Muslims who deserve statehood according to the U.N.?

Neil Docherty: The peace agreement in the north-south conflict, which preceded the current conflict in Darfur, does allow for secession, following elections which are to be held in 2011. It remains to be seen if the Khartoum regime will live up to that commitment, but I think it is generally thought the the South, which as you know is largely Christian, will go if given the vote


Wheaton, Md.: The U.N. has never used force to confront aggression and genocide anywhere at anytime. Why does the international community pretend do be surprised?

Neil Docherty: Thanks for writing, but I have no comment on this


Montreal: Mr. Docherty, Even if the Bush administration has done a lot, compared to other countries, toward Darfur, do you think that the cooperation on terrorism between the United States (mainly the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies) and Sudan has had a role to play in the somewhat confused answer by the Bush government?

Neil Docherty: This story ran for awhile, and perhaps Sudan cooperation with the "war on terror", has had an influence, nonetheless I think it only fair to say that the U.S. has been the most active country on Darfur, and many other members of the Security Council have done very little


Virginia Beach, Va.: Mr. Docherty, the U.S., under the Bush administration. has done more to support Darfur victims than other countries. Despite modest results, the effort should be respected by the international community. Have U.S. efforts helped U.S. foreign policy objectives in Africa?

Neil Docherty: It is absolutely correct to say the Bush administration has provided aid to sustain the refugees, and have done more that any other country in this regard also. As to how it has helped with the policies in Africa, I am afraid I am not in a position to judge.


Van Nuys, Calif.: Perhaps one reason for the American indifference toward the Darfur situation is our lack of presidential and congressional leadership. Our national focus appears to be on Iraq specifically, and the Middle East generally. I most likely will not watch the Darfur program (I'm a avid Frontline fan) because I feel overwhelmed by the Iraq war, the violence, death and injury suffered by our young men and women serving in that war.

As a nation, we also must confront an increase in homegrown violence, which is broadcast daily on the evening news. I don't need to see more dead babies and children to understand the Darfur situation. I'm not squeamish person, but seeing more death does not address the underlying question of why the world has turned its back on Darfur. It's a political problem that requires a political solution.

The American public needs and wants leadership in their president, which is pathetically absent in the Bush administration. The Darfur situation may not have become such a horrible mess if we elected representatives who were capable of leadership. Unfortunately, that will not change with the present administration. Thank you.

Neil Docherty: Thanks for the comment.


Dearborn, Mich.: Mr. Docherty: Thanks for giving the public a glimpse of what is happening in Darfur. The Sudanese government is well-known for signing international and local agreements that it does not mean to fulfill -- by simply dragging its feet -- because it knows that the U.N. is ineffective and that it takes years for any resolution to take effect. Omar al-Bashir and his so-called Islamist criminals care for nothing but their pockets (go to Malaysia that is where their money is kept). As for the Chinese, they only look after their interests, and all they want is the oil -- and they have an equally greedy partner. I am surprised that the world is allowing them to host the next Olympics.

Neil Docherty: Thanks for the comment.


Simon's Town, Western Cape, South Africa: What is happening in Darfur is a Saudi- and Chinese-funded genocide, but the actors are the relatively lightly-armed Janjaweed and Sudanese militia troops. They easily could be overcome. Here is why they are not: South Africa has attempted to contribute to the resolution of the Darfur situation, but the fault is with the African Union. The AU has not permitted the full participation of European and South African forces for racial reasons. This is a racial issue, period. The AU cannot admit to the outside world that it cannot administer the continent. For their hubris, hundreds of thousands more will die.

Neil Docherty: Certainly the AU force has been, as we say in the film, undermanned, underfunded, and unprepared. We also point out -- "that it was all Sudan would allow". Sudan has consistently demanded that the peacekeepers be all-African, and it is difficult not to see that as a ploy.


washingtonpost.com: This concludes our discussion today with Neil Docherty. Thank you for joining in.


Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company