DATE August 19, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Dr. Rowan Gillies, Doctors Without Borders, on the
condition of the refugees in the Darfur region of Sudan
AVE DAVIES, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, filling in for Terry Gross.
A brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing against three African tribes in the
Darfur region of western Sudan has driven more than a million people from
their villages and killed tens of thousands. Attacks on the villagers
continue by Arab militias supported by the pro-Islamic government of Sudan,
and international observers warn that disease and malnutrition among the
refugees could bring the death toll to the hundreds of thousands by year's
Later in the program, we'll hear more about the roots of the conflict in
Sudan. First we'll speak with Rowan Gillies. He's international president of
Doctors Without Borders, which has been working to improve health conditions
among the Darfur refugees. Gillies is a surgeon from Sydney, Australia, who
began working for Doctors Without Borders as a field doctor in Afghanistan.
He recently visited Sudan and returned at the end of July. Among the sites he
toured is a village called Mornay in western Darfur, where about 80,000
displaced people now live in a refugee camp. I asked him to describe what he
saw when he walked through the camp.
Dr. ROWAN GILLIES (Doctors Without Borders): You walk through, the children
always follow you. The children are always excited to see a Kawaja, which
means `white man' in Arabic. And they follow you, talk to you and chat to
you. And then--but if you go and you sit down in these small little huts,
which are only about five feet high and maybe eight feet wide, and they're
covered in plastic tarpaulin and there's a few sticks around it. And there's
a little cooking pot there and a little--maybe a blanket and usually a
jerrican for water. And this is where three or four people live, and it's
very hard to grasp what they feel about their future, where they're going,
because they're stuck in a limbo, a life of limbo.
When the camps don't have enough water, when there aren't latrines and they
have to go and defecate in the field, when some of their family have had to go
to the clinic because they're having constant diarrhea, when some members of
their families have died in the mass displacement or they've died from the
diseases from being so crowded afterwards, it's an incredibly vulnerable group
of people. And I'm always surprised at the dignity they still maintain. They
still offer you in for a cup of tea. They even offer you food. And I feel
incredibly guilty taking food from people who have very little food. However,
I think the insult is greater for me to say, `No, no, no. You're poor. I'm
rich. I won't make it any worse for you.'
DAVIES: What kind of food are you offered?
Dr. GILLIES: Beans, often the food that we've given out in distributions, or
usually a cup of tea, actually. A cup of tea and a bit of some beans or
something. And I sit down. I don't eat very much, to be honest, and I have a
chat with them. One of their abilities to keep their dignity is to keep
behaving like they would in their normal lives. Their culture is to offer
help to strangers and to offer hospitality to strangers, and I'm one of them,
so they'll come, and it's continuing their dignity, continuing their lives.
And the other thing I found very, very, very difficult to deal with was you go
through the camps and you find a lot of elderly people, and when I say
elderly, I mean 60, 65. They've gone through probably a number of
displacements in their life because there have been difficulties in Darfur
over the last 20, 30 years. And when the food comes to them, they often give
it to their children, because the children are vulnerable, or to their
pregnant women. And they either don't have people to look after them or don't
want people to spend too much time with them, 'cause they would rather look
after the children. And they're often dying in these little camps with very
little help and dying of starvation.
And this is what we found. We started a little donkey cart going around the
camp to look for people who cannot make it to the clinic, 'cause we found that
people were actually dying within their own structures. And on the first days
the donkey came, there was elderly after elderly person. We couldn't do a lot
for them. Pretty much they had diarrhea, they were malnourished, so we put
them into the hospital, cleaned them up, gave them some food, had a bit of a
chat, keep them in for a few days and then take them home and try and make
sure they've got a good food distribution for next time.
So there's a lot of humanity still happening. There's a lot of children still
laughing, and there's a lot of people getting on with their lives, but there's
a basic underlying concern about where is their life going? What are they
going to do in six months' time, and where is their next food coming from?
DAVIES: Give me a sense of the demographic makeup of the people that you've
seen in the camps. I mean, are there old people, women, children, other than
Dr. GILLIES: Well, interesting you should say--yeah, interesting, because
we've done a number of demographic studies, and suggest there are
disproportionately fewer numbers of men of what you'd call fighting age. And
my impression is it's from two reasons. One is because there has been massive
violence, and specifically the men have been killed. And secondly, the men
are out trying to find food, whether they travel to Khartoum to get food or to
get money, and try and do things for their families.
And the difficulty people face inside the camps on a demographic basis is
quite stark. The men are too afraid to go outside the camp because they feel
they'll be killed by militias around them. The women between the ages of,
let's say, 12 and 40 have a reasonable chance of being raped if they go
outside the camps. So it falls to the elderly women and the young children to
get out of the camp to collect firewood and sometimes water. So people are
coming across incredible decisional difficulties about what they should do.
Should they send their men out to die or their children out to get beaten?
DAVIES: What kind of effort have international relief agencies been able to
mount to relieve the suffering in Sudan?
Dr. GILLIES: Whenever you get displaced people, whatever the cause, I
suppose there are a number of things you must address: their housing, water,
the sanitation, their medical care and their food. And different
organizations have been involved in this. We're obviously much more focused
on the medical side, but we've noticed that, because of the lack of food,
we've been forced to step into areas that we do occasionally but not a lot.
We certainly often help malnourished children, but on the scale--I think
currently we have about 2,000 children under five in therapeutic feeding
centers. That's an incredible amount of children in what you would describe
as an intensive care situation. If they're not treated in this therapeutic
fashion, they will die in the next two to three months.
DAVIES: That is to say that their malnutrition has reached a point where they
require intense intervention.
Dr. GILLIES: Exactly right. It's sometimes between five and seven meals a
day and certain medical protocols. We give them antibiotics and vitamin
supplements and so on. So there's a lot of children that have reached that
level because of the lack of food assistance. There's also a large number--we
have around about 10,000 children we're also treating in supplementary feeding
centers. So they haven't got to the level of needing the therapeutic centers,
but they're still on the downward slope, and we'd rather catch them there than
go to the point of the intensive feeding centers.
And then we're doing what we call blanket feeding, which is basically every
child under five gets a ration every 10 days or so. And this is a ration for
them, but also for their family. The fact that we're doing so much what we
call blanket feeding in this area suggests that there has just been
insufficient general food distribution over the last six months.
DAVIES: Are the difficulties the result of opposition from the government in
letting the food get there? I mean, does it come in through Sudan, or does it
come in through Chad?
Dr. GILLIES: It comes in mainly through Sudan, not through Chad. There were
certainly administrative difficulties earlier in the year. They have really
opened up a lot now, and you can get a visa and you can get access and trucks
in much more easily at this stage. I think there's also--the wet season makes
it more difficult, but we knew it was coming, so planning for that, I don't
think, has been inadequate. And there's money required by the different
groups to do it, so the donation requirement hasn't been enough. And as well,
I think there's been sort of some intransigence amongst many organizations and
slowness to react over this whole crisis. And I would include us in that. We
were one of the first to respond to this, but we feel we were late ourselves
in our response.
DAVIES: Why have people been slow to respond?
Dr. GILLIES: I think that getting into the areas was very difficult. We
have administrative constraints, we have visas and so on. But also I think
it's that reluctance--my impression is there's been a reluctance to jump into
this manmade crisis and all the political difficulties that it involves.
Unfortunately, you can't sort of step back from these crises and allow a group
of people to be sacrificed because you're very worried about getting too
involved in politics. We're certainly not involved in the politics that are
going on, but we are, as always, a victim to the politics, I suppose, the
world politics and the internal politics that happen within Sudan.
DAVIES: When you reflect on your experience in Sudan, is there one particular
moment, one experience that's left an enormous impression?
Dr. GILLIES: Yes. There's actually a few. I found, after spending about a
week in Darfur, I just reflected on the number of people that I've watched
die, and it's sickening. It's sickening, watching a pregnant woman die of
jaundice with a four-month fetus inside, and there's very little you can do.
And you look at the reasons why, and it just didn't need to happen. And
watching--it's quite morbid in some ways, but watching someone die really
concentrates you on the frustration and the anger you feel about what has
happened to these people on many, many levels. It's not just the
displacement. It's not the violence. It's everything, including the lack of
assistance and, in many ways, a lack of caring from--whether it be authorities
or whether it be people in the rest of the world, that these people are going
through these awful, awful times, and they will continue to do so over the
next six months, probably over the next year or two, and the fact that it may
not stop is incredibly upsetting.
DAVIES: Dr. Rowan Gillies. He's international president of Doctors Without
Borders, and he recently visited the Darfur region of Sudan. He'll be back
later in the show.
Coming up, the origins of the conflict in Sudan. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: John Prendergast discusses the killing in the Sudan
DAVE DAVIES, host:
Today we're examining the civil war and humanitarian crisis in the Darfur
region of Sudan, where more than a million people have been driven from their
villages and tens of thousands have been killed. To explain the roots of the
conflict we turn to John Prendergast. He's followed events in Sudan for 20
years and he's been involved with other humanitarian emergencies and civil
wars in Africa. He was a member of the National Security Council in the
Clinton administration and he's currently a special adviser to the
International Crisis Group. Prendergast was in the Darfur region of Sudan
last month. I asked him to explain the origins of the conflict.
Mr. JOHN PRENDERGAST (Special Adviser, International Crisis Group): Well, as
always, these wars are very, very complicated, and I think there are a few
very elementary reasons why we're seeing a major war and then an ethnic
cleansing that's resulted from it. There are environmental factors.
Certainly, in this part of the world, the Sahara Desert is encroaching; it's
moving further and further south. This is disrupting the traditional land
tenure patterns of both the agriculturalists and particularly the pastoral
groups in Darfur. There are socioeconomic factors involved, of course. As
certain groups are disadvantaged by this environmental change and
disadvantaged by the economic changes that result from the environmental
shifts. And then there are political reasons for the conflict as certain
groups perceive themselves to be marginalized and cut out of the political
processes that govern the country.
So all of these have led to a rebellion by what are primarily three ethnic
groups that are African groups--they're not Arab groups--from Darfur, and then
these three groups have formed two different rebel movements which have begun
fighting in early 2003, and by April 2003, by April or May 2003, the
government had responded by using these militia called Janjaweed as its
principal means, its first line of defense. And by arming these Janjaweed and
thus siding with one of the groups in the intense competition for resources
and giving that group impunity and arming it and encouraging it to wipe out
the civilian population of the rebels, we saw this extraordinary campaign of
ethnic cleansing unfold.
DAVIES: Now what is the Janjaweed's interest in attacking these African
Mr. PRENDERGAST: Yeah. The Janjaweed have their roots in a racist ideology.
They're a very small subsection in their origin of the larger Arab groups in
Darfur. They're sort of a Ku Klux Klan version of the narrow opinion in
Darfur that believes that the Arabs are the rightful owners of the land and
should therefore drive African populations out of the area. So by siding with
this narrow band of people, the government basically threw gasoline on a small
fire. These Janjaweed were given impunity, were given freedom to do whatever
they wanted to do and they effectively burned down half of the villages in
Darfur and displaced half of the people in Darfur and killed a very high
percentage of them. So it's a remarkable war strategy on the part of the
government. It's very effective, as a matter of fact, because it actually
inhibits the rebels' ability to move around now because they don't have
civilian support base anymore. But the impact in humanitarian terms, in human
rights terms is profound and really unmatched since anything we've seen--since
1994's genocide in Rwanda.
DAVIES: Now the Sudanese government has said, among other things, that the
people in Darfur are victims of an old ethnic and tribal conflict that has
really little to do with the central government. What concrete evidence is
there that the Sudanese government is complicit in this campaign of massacres
and ethnic cleansing?
Mr. PRENDERGAST: Well, first of all, the government wants people to see this
as a local conflict. They want to see it as a so-called tribal conflict.
It's the strategy of the government throughout the country, because Darfur's
not the only place, by the way, in Sudan that is on fire, or has been on fire,
over the last 10 years. And so the government has tried to--rather than have
people perceive the conflict as it rightly is, which is groups of people
around the country which feel cut out of the political and economic processes
in the country and who are rebelling against that government, they wanted them
to see local conflicts where tribes are battling tribes and it's chaos and
anarchy and they can do very little about it. And by taking sides with one
group over another in an underlying economic conflict over resources, the
government very wisely created additional tensions and hatreds now that will
take generations to unfold and unravel.
So they've been quite effective at what they're doing. In terms of their
ability to--or their relationship with the Janjaweed, the evidence is
accumulating. The Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reports, as
well as the reports by the group that I work for, the International Crisis
Group, all have begun to document the very specific ties between the
government in Khartoum and specific Janjaweed leaders who have received major
arms shipments and then distributed those arms with specific instructions,
have used government barracks and, most damning and most obvious, in terms of
evidence, have been backed in most of their attacks by government attack
helicopters and government ground troops, and even high-altitude bombing by
the Antonovs that the government uses.
So it's been very coordinated. The government has supported these Janjaweed
militias to attack, and it's backed them up just in case they run into any
rebels. If it was just the Janjaweed attacking, it, in fact, may have been
handled, to some degree, by the rebel forces. But because it was such a
mismatch, with both Janjaweed and government attacking, the rebels were simply
overrun in many places, and the civilian populations were devastated as a
DAVIES: What tactics did the Janjaweed and the Sudanese government use in
attacking these villages? What exactly were they trying to do?
Mr. PRENDERGAST: Well, in talking to refugees and in talking to internally
displaced Sudanese all over the country, they come back with the same story,
which begins early in the morning with an attack by a high-altitude government
plane which drops a payload of bombs on a particular village. And that, of
course, will kill some people, but usually, that's designed just to
destabilize people, so they come running out of their huts and houses and
rushing around in uncertainty about what's happened.
Just as they're rushing out of their huts, the Janjaweed militia come in,
either on camels or on horseback, usually on camels, and start shooting and
attacking civilians. Sometimes the raping starts right away. Sometimes they
wait until the women have been collected in certain areas. But they're
usually trying to kill the men and boys.
And then, if that's not enough, if that's not effective, or if lots of people
are escaping, then we see the reports, the consistent reports of a government
attack helicopter then being the third line, in effect. After the
high-altitude bombing and the Janjaweed attack, then the helicopter moves in
and starts shooting people that are running away and firing missiles and
exploding many of the structures remaining in the village. And this is
usually overseen by government ground troops which are off in the distance,
who are watching the scenario unfold and are on standby just in case there's a
rebel detachment there.
So that's the pattern that happens almost every time. At the end of that,
usually the government will move in, along with the Janjaweed, and start a
"cleanup" operation, in quotes, which involves having the bodies of the
victims of the killings stuffed into the wells to make the water supply poison
and thus the village uninhabitable for some time to come. So that's been the
pattern that is documented over and over again by survivors of these attacks.
DAVIES: What do the Janjaweed hope to accomplish with this kind of brutality?
I mean, are they, in effect, hoping to steal this land for their own herding
activities in the future?
Mr. PRENDERGAST: Yeah, I think that is precisely what is implied in the
government's promise and the government's provision of impunity to them. They
don't--of course, without being prosecuted for all these crimes and driving
the non-Arab groups out of their villages, they now have access to that land.
They don't want to live in these villages. They just want access to the
pasture land, and because, again--and we go back to the earlier discussion
about the encroachment of the Sahara Desert as it moves southward and reduces
their space for watering their animals. They just want the freedom to roam
into these areas, and it was becoming increasingly restricted. So I think
this is a major advance for them in their economic agenda, to be able to have
a free reign now in terms of their grazing and pasture land for their animals.
And not only that, and perhaps even more importantly, I mean, they've stolen
tens of thousands of head of cattle representing, in dollar terms, literally
hundreds of millions of dollars of wealth. These were wealthy areas in
Darfur, particularly in north Darfur. People had accumulated huge herds of
livestock, particularly camels and, in the southern part of Darfur, cattle.
And these, you know, are tremendous savings accounts, in effect, for the
communities. And all of them have been transferred now to the Arab groups
that are involved with the Janjaweed.
So these guys are major criminal networkers now, and they not only undertake
their attacks there, but they also cross border into Chad to undertake cattle
raiding and camel raiding there as well. And they sell their goods up into
Libya and into the Gulf. So they've internationalized their criminal
activity, and this is all with the full support of the government of Sudan.
DAVIES: John Prendergast. He's a former member of the National Security
Council and a special adviser to the International Crisis Group. He'll be
back in the second half of the show.
I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.
DAVIES: Coming up, we continue our conversation with John Prendergast about
the origins of the conflict in Sudan. Also, Rowan Gillies, international
president of Doctors Without Borders, on the challenges humanitarian groups
face in war-torn countries, and why his organization has pulled out of
Afghanistan after 24 years.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies filling in for Terry Gross.
Let's continue our conversation with John Prendergast about the conflict and
humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan. Prendergast is a former
member of the National Security Council and a special adviser to the
International Crisis Group.
When a government is accused of the kind of brutality and human rights
violations that this one is, we often see behind it a particular strongman, if
you will. We know little about the Sudanese government. Where did they come
from? What kind of government is it?
Mr. PRENDERGAST: Well, over the last 40 years, a small but growing movement,
what they call Islamist movement, which would be a political Islam
organization, formed and grew and penetrated the structures of the
post-colonial state in Sudan. And finally, by 1989 they were ready to make
their move to take power. They certainly couldn't in an election, because the
only democratic election that had been held during the 1980s was one in which
they only secured about 12 percent of the vote. So they had a very small
base, but they engineered a coup in 1989 that took power and immediately began
to introduce their vision of an Islamic state. And they destroyed all forms
of opposition, drove the political parties out of the country and underground,
crushed the unions. And they've basically been on a roll ever since then.
DAVIES: So is this a military regime? Are they isolated? Do they have
Mr. PRENDERGAST: Yeah, it's a military regime that has assiduously developed
alliances within the Arab League over the years. It has allies in parts of
Africa, and it's been able to buy new allies as a result of its oil diplomacy.
In other words, providing concessional rates to countries that it wants to be
sympathetic towards it, for whatever political purposes it has. Because it's
now a major oil exporter, it can provide that energy at reduced rates. So it
has some tools at its disposal to build friendships abroad, and those
friendships have come in handy at times when the international pressure gets
too hot, as it is now. And you have countries all over the world running
interference for Khartoum on the Security Council and in other forums that
leave other governments, who are more concerned about human rights and
humanitarian assistance, very perplexed as to how to ultimately influence the
government and the larger international community to try to take, again, more
assertive action in response to the crisis there in Darfur.
DAVIES: Is the Taliban sort of a rough model for this kind of regime? Are
Mr. PRENDERGAST: I think this regime in Khartoum is much more pragmatic.
These guys have a desire to play ball in the international institutions, even
while they're perpetrating actions at home that ought to get them thrown out
of these institutions. And so I think that they're very, very different than
the Taliban in their world view. They're all educated in Europe and North
America, and they desire to be accepted and not only accepted but to be
players, to act as a bridge between Africa and the Middle East, to be major
actors in the Islamic world. So I think that they have these kinds of
desires, which makes them somewhat permeable to pressure, and that's why there
is some hope that you could actually influence this government, whereas in
Afghanistan, perhaps the Taliban was beyond influence.
DAVIES: Has this campaign of the Janjaweed and the government been effective
in defeating or discouraging the rebel groups?
Mr. PRENDERGAST: I think that the Janjaweed strategy or the government's use
of the Janjaweed in attacking the support base of the civilians has been
dramatically successful. It has definitely eroded the rebels' ability to
conduct military operations against the government. It's reduced the mobility
of the rebels significantly, and it's made their opportunities for undertaking
military actions against the government--has just reduced those considerably.
So, yes, it's been a very effective strategy. The problem is that as
effective as it's been in pure military terms, it will have backfired when all
is said and done because so many people, young people particularly, have lost
so many family members that they feel the only future that they have is to
join one of the two rebel groups and fight against this government for as long
as they can, can't bring back their relatives but certainly can exact some
justice, in their view.
And so we interviewed many, many child soldiers as we were traveling
throughout Darfur. And we just kept asking them, rebel soldiers, `Why did you
join?' Young kids, `Why did you join the rebels?' And they said, `Because my
father was killed,' `Because my brother was killed,' `Because my mother was
raped,' `I had no choice.' So the government, I think, overplayed its hand,
successfully defeated or at least undermined the rebel support base but has
now driven thousands of young people into the arms of the rebels, which will
create a hostile force to it for the coming years. It will make it much more
difficult for this war to be resolved.
DAVIES: Our guest is John Prendergast. He's currently a special adviser to
the International Crisis Group and recently visited the Darfur region of
Sudan. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: Our guest is John Prendergast. He was a member of the National
Security Council in the Clinton administration. He's currently a special
adviser to the International Crisis Group and recently visited the Darfur
region of Sudan.
Well, John Prendergast, tell us what you saw when you were in Darfur this
Mr. PRENDERGAST: Well, we had a chance to talk to--most importantly we had a
chance to talk to refugees and people inside Darfur who've been displaced.
Went with Samantha Power, the Harvard professor, and we went and traveled
around the rebel-held zones of Darfur rather than the government-held areas,
which if you go through that, you're often just on some kind of stage-managed
tour. So we wanted to get a better sense from the people who had been
victimized, what really happened. So we got a chance to talk to people and
really find out, you know, the extent to which they had suffered at the hands
of the Janjaweedan government attacks.
We also went to burned villages. We saw village after village that had been
destroyed. We walked through those villages and we saw the remains of lives
that people had led before these brutal attacks, you know, decades and decades
of evidence of their savings, you know, the huge grain stores that had been
burned and all of the various personal items that people had accumulated were
all left as people just rushed out of their houses to try to save themselves.
And then we saw, quite disturbingly, a mass grave site in which young men had
been brought up to a ravine and asked to lay down, obviously in the ravine and
then shot in the back of the head, lined up side by side.
So we came back to Chad, of course, to talk more to the refugees who were
there in the Chadian camps, and they just continued to validate story after
story of people who have been suffering in the hands of this government, and
none of them want to go back unless there's an international force there to
protect them. They won't go back as a result of the Sudan government
providing more police, they won't go back based on government promises that
they won't do anything anymore to these villages. They will only go back if
there are international guarantees in the form of troops that will protect
people from the marauding militias and the government forces that have
displaced them in the first place.
DAVIES: How has the United States' involvement with Iraq and Sudan's ties to
other Arab regimes affected this situation?
Mr. PRENDERGAST: Well, I think in the Security Council, in the United
Nations Security Council, for example, the United States is unwilling to
utilize some of the leverage it has to try to get other countries to go along
with our agenda, which would be an agenda that would be more forceful in its
pressure on the government of Sudan. It's unwilling to exercise that leverage
because we want to save that leverage for Iraq. They're not going to tell you
that, but that's a clear dynamic and everyone realizes it in New York.
And then on the ground, we have a great deal of trouble convincing governments
throughout the Middle East that, in fact, there is a crisis in Darfur.
Remember, this is the same administration here in Washington that brought you
Secretary Powell with his dramatic speech and presentation of all the
intelligence on Iraq in advance of the vote that allowed the use of force. So
I think people are very skeptical, especially in the Middle East, very
skeptical of what the United States says about these kinds of things. And the
Sudan government has assiduously courted Arab opinion in the most dramatic
terms, saying, `The United States simply wants to invade our country. They
want to do the same thing they did to Iraq. Help us. Don't let them do
this.' And a number of countries have responded to this, so it's become a
very, very difficult global environment for more sort of action in Darfur
DAVIES: A lot of Americans remember that during the '90s, al-Qaeda had
operations in Sudan. Does the Sudanese government still have ties to Islamic
militant groups? How does that affect us?
Mr. PRENDERGAST: It's a very murky picture. The Sudan government, in
response to the sanctions that were placed on it by the Clinton administration
and by the Security Council during the '90s, slowly disengaged. They threw
bin Laden out, they asked many of the other groups that were housed in Sudan
to leave. Over time, this cooperation with the United States escalated in the
aftermath of the September 11 attacks because the government in Khartoum was
worried that they might be the next target after Afghanistan.
And so I think that at this point, the ties remain minimal to major groups
that are threatening Western interests. However, there are reports all the
time of the use of the territory of Sudan for both training and transit by not
only al-Qaeda elements but other groups as well, particularly Palestinian
groups. And so I think that that--it remains an issue of concern, perhaps
even grave concern to those working on the counterterrorism efforts here in
Washington as well as other parts of the world, but it is not the problem that
it proved--it posed in early to mid-1990s before it was pressured into
changing its behavior.
DAVIES: The UN Security Council has finally taken some action on the
situation in Sudan. What exactly have they done and how effective will it be?
Mr. PRENDERGAST: Well, the Security Council passed a resolution at the very
end of July which, by the way, was the first resolution that they passed on
this situation in Darfur despite the fact that the ethnic cleansing had been
ongoing for 16 months. It was very late, and it was a very weak response. It
effectively said that--it warned the government. It said, `There may be some
consequences if you don't improve the humanitarian situation, if you don't
protect civilians, if you don't start peace talks.' But it didn't specify
what those actions would be. So we got a very, very weak resolution, which
only--the only operative phrase was to impose sanctions on non-government--on
arms sanctions on non-governmental organizations in Sudan. That means the
rebels, who were the only groups that can, in fact, protect civilians, are now
subject to an arms embargo, but the government is not.
So at this point, they have a 30-day deadline, the government does, to respond
to some of the requests that the Security Council's made with respect to
civilian security and humanitarian assistance. And unfortunately, though, the
next week, the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan sent his new
special envoy, a Dutch diplomat named Jan Pronk, he sent him there, and Pronk
negotiated an agreement with the government that gave them another 30 days,
and he basically said, `Well, we don't really think that the government can
succeed in implementing all the things that the Security Council wants it to
do in this short a time period. It's unrealistic to think it could.' So it
just took the wind out of the sails of the Security Council action. The UN
undercut itself, and I think the Sudan government is laughing as it continues
to wage a terror campaign in Darfur.
DAVIES: In your view, what would it take to ensure the safety of these
villagers and reverse this human suffering? Are we talking about American
Mr. PRENDERGAST: I don't think the Americans need to be involved. I think
that at this point, the African forces that have volunteered to deploy to the
refugee camps in the internally displaced camps throughout Darfur and Chad
would be a sufficient deterrent to further attacks by both the Janjaweed
militias and the government forces. The Rwandans and the Nigerians and
Tanzanians and others who have promised that they could send forces, I think,
would be more than enough to protect civilians and give them the confidence
that over time, they could return to their villages and try to rebuild their
lives. I don't think--I think the United States' presence would be a very
disruptive one that would draw elements from Iraq down to Sudan for soft
targets, and we would be in a situation which would just divert attention from
the fundamentally important imperative now of just protecting people and
protecting their livelihoods and their return to their homes. And I think
that the African troops that are volunteering for this job can do the job, and
I don't think they need to have, necessarily, a major deployment of Western
forces to be involved in that, although what they will need is provisions,
logistics, equipment and all the kind of things that will allow them to do
their job well, and that, the United States has to lead on. We have to be, I
think, first and foremost, the provider of that kind of assistance to allow
those troops to do their job.
DAVIES: And as somebody who's watched Sudan for, I guess, almost 20 years,
I'm kind of wondering at what frustration you feel at seeing this gathering
Mr. PRENDERGAST: Well, if the international--the leaders of the international
community wouldn't make such beautiful speeches, I think I would be less
frustrated, but every single one of the leaders of the countries on the
Security Council in the European Union and particularly here in the United
States, have made very, very dramatic speeches about the importance of never
again be in the context of Rwanda and its 10th anniversary and the context of
even in Sudan in preventing the destruction from continuing. But they're not
willing to undertake the kind of action to back up these pledges, and I think
that is a tremendously frustrating thing for all of us who are trying to
respond to this.
But it's got to be just heartbreaking and soul-breaking for the people of
Darfur as they hear on their radios as they're huddled in these refugee camps
and these displaced camps all these wonderful speeches that are made, even
visitors that come, the secretary general of the United Nations, the secretary
of state of the US who came to Darfur and said, `We won't let this continue,'
and then they just don't do anything about it. So I think that it is even
more crushing for them than it is for all the people around the world who are
trying to bring attention to what is happening in Darfur. And we have to
remember those victims as we wonder what our world leaders are willing to do
to stop it.
DAVIES: Well, John Prendergast, thanks so much for speaking with us.
Mr. PRENDERGAST: Thank you.
DAVIES: John Prendergast is a special adviser to the International Crisis
Group on the crisis in Sudan.
Coming up, more from Rowan Gillies, international president of Doctors Without
Borders on the group's recent decision to pull out of Afghanistan.
This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Dr. Rowan Gillies from Doctors Without Borders
discusses why his organization was pulled from Afghanistan
DAVE DAVIES, host:
Let's get back to our interview with Rowan Gillies. He's international
president of Doctors Without Borders, a humanitarian group that maintains
strict neutrality in areas where they provide medical relief. Gillies is a
surgeon from Sydney, Australia. He recently returned from a tour of refugee
camps and villages in the Darfur region of Sudan.
How do you maintain your neutrality when you feel fury at political leaders?
Dr. ROWAN GILLIES (Doctors Without Borders): I think being Australian, I
have a cynicism for all political leaders, so it's easy not to take sides on
any political side. So you certainly feel frustration about what has happened
to them, but the machinations that go into the creation of these contexts are
not simple, and I think you can't necessarily find one person to blame or even
one group to blame. But certainly you feel anger and you feel a degree of
solidarity, but you do know that this is happening in many other parts of the
world, and it's happening--aggression from many different sources, so you
learn to deal with it, I think, and look after your patient and do what you
But I suppose the way we do it in organizations, we channel them into coming
back to places like Washington or to Europe and saying, `This is unacceptable.
What is happening is completely unacceptable.' The people that are
responsible, the national government has responsibilities to their people, the
international community has a responsibility and the humanitarian
organizations have a responsibility. So I think that anger and that
incredible concern about our--about what's happening, you can channel that
into something, and you can channel that into trying to make the conditions a
little better for these people so they can keep living.
DAVIES: Dr. Gillies, your group, Doctors Without Borders, recently ended its
24-year involvement in Afghanistan, and tell us what led to that decision.
Dr. GILLIES: Well, ultimately the decision was brought about because five of
our workers were murdered about two months ago in Badgis province in
DAVIES: Tell us about that incident, yeah.
Dr. GILLIES: Pretty much there were five people, three expatriate and two
Afghans, who were returning from their clinic where they'd been working during
the day, and we understand that they were attacked and shot and killed. This
obviously is one of the most difficult times we've had as an organization that
we've been attacked, and we've lost so many of our people that we've worked
with for so long. And the most important thing I think is for their families
and their friends that they've lost their loved ones.
Unfortunately, it also sends a signal about what has been happening in
Afghanistan and different parts of the world. Since that killing, we have
been named by a spokesman who says he's working for the Taliban a number of
times as targets. So as an A organization, we've been named as a target by
one of the warring parties. This is a situation we cannot work in--a
condition under which we can't work. As well, the follow-up of the murder of
these people has not gone ahead in the way we thought we would like with
respect to investigating what happened and trying to find out who did it, who
perpetrated these killings. Without some sort of show from governments,
whether they be overseas government or the national government, that it's
unacceptable to attack humanitarian workers, again, we can't work.
DAVIES: I gather that suspects have been identified in this case, right?
Dr. GILLIES: Yeah, people have told us. I mean, we're obviously not an
investigative organization. People have told us they do have suspects, but we
haven't seen very much progression along those lines. But this is on a
background of many, many, many attacks on aide workers in the last year or two
in Afghanistan, and very few of them have been follow-upped in a judicial
sense. So it's not just what's happening to the case of our people who were
murdered but also many other cases.
The difficulty we have brings up--a much greater question is how can you work
independently in the current world situation with the war on terror or so on?
And the difficulty is that as an independent actor, we rely for our security
on the fact that people on both sides of the war understand who we are and
understand that we're only there to help people. We're not part of the fight.
Currently in Afghanistan, we have on the one side, the coalition who has
coopted humanitarians, and they said, `Yes, we are part of the humanitarian
response. We are humanitarians,' and they're denying us our independence, I
suppose. And the other side of the conflict is you have people who've
targeted us. So on both sides it's been very difficult for us to work.
And I can give you--an example of that loss of independent space to work is
the--earlier this year, the coalition forces handed out leaflets to people in
Afghanistan saying, `If you don't hand in al-Qaeda, if you don't hand in
Taliban leaders, your aid will be cut off.' And that message, conditioning aid
on military or political desires makes our position almost impossible. It's
very hard for us to go the next day and say, `Yes, we want to give you aid.'
They say, `No, are you part of this coalition? Are you part of the people who
bombed here last year?' `No, we're not. We're not with us or against us.
We're right in the middle and that's where we want to stay.'
DAVIES: You, I assume, protested this to the coalition government?
Dr. GILLIES: Yes, very strongly, and they said, `We're sorry. It was a
mistake. It was the people on the ground that made that mistake.' But it's
happened time and again. And when there's this mixing, blurring of the lines,
it's very difficult for us to define who we are and also define our security
boundaries, saying we are not part of one of the warring parties. We are
completely independent of this.
DAVIES: Secretary of State Colin Powell said in addressing this issue of
humanitarian relief in 2001, he said--and this was a quote, "Just as surely as
our diplomats and military, American non-governmental organizations are out
there serving and sacrificing on the front lines of freedom. These
non-governmental organizations are such a force multiplier for us, such an
important part of our combat team." What did you think when you heard those
Dr. GILLIES: Where we're a GRAS organization, we're very upset by that
statement. It's very hard for us to explain to people on the field,
intelligent people in the field, our patients and so on, that when we're
described as force multipliers or part of the war against terror or whatever,
that no, we're not. We're actually independent actors. It affects our
security and affects our ability to access different areas and help people.
And there was a--I was reading in The New York Times a couple of days ago, and
there was an article which suggested the United States government was
preparing a list of militia leaders relying in Darfur, relying on information
culled from private release organizations working there. Now I can assure
you, Doctors Without Borders is certainly not compiling information on militia
leaders. And for the government to come out and say this and say this to a
journalist, it, again, puts us at great security risks and makes it very
difficult for us to get on with our work. If different parts of the warring
factions feel we're not independent, it's very hard for us to work without
changing the way we work and, again, working non-independently. And it's
incredibly disappointing for the people of Afghanistan that people who have
come to help them from overseas just cannot get there anymore.
DAVIES: Well, Rowan Gillies, thanks so much for speaking with us.
Dr. GILLIES: It was a pleasure.
DAVIES: Rowan Gillies is international president of Doctors Without Borders.
DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
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