Wednesday, July 27, 2005
Brian Steidle, in his position as an unarmed military observer in Darfur, found himself becoming a witness to the destruction of civilians. Mr. Steidle did not have much in the way of equipment with him as an AU monitor, but he had a camera, and he took hundreds and hundreds of photographs.
When Mr. Steidle returned to the United States from Darfur earlier this year, he began to speak out using his photographs. He was the subject of a column by Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times. On March 20, 2005, he wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post (external link). “Innocence” appeared on all kinds of media outlets, including CNN and Night Line and the CBS News. He also just returned from a trip to Chad, where he visited refugee camps and met some of the people who had fled from Darfur. Mr. Steidle makes a presentation with photographs from both his time in Darfur and his more recent trip to Chad, and after that answers questions from the audience.
JERRY FOWLER: Good afternoon and welcome to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. My name is Jerry Fowler, and I am the Staff Director of the Museum’s Committee on Conscience. The mandate of the Committee on Conscience is to address contemporary genocide and threats of genocide. The genesis of the Committee on Conscience goes back to the original vision of creating a living memorial to victims of the Holocaust. When Elie Wiesel and the President’s Commission on the Holocaust recommended creation of a national memorial, they felt that it should be able to address contemporary genocide as a way of honoring the memory of those who perished and suffered in the Holocaust. In fact, what they told President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s is that, “A memorial unresponsive to the future would violate the memory of the past.” It would violate the memory that they sought to preserve if the memorial could not address contemporary genocide and try to play a role in preventing or stopping it, and that is what the purpose of the Committee on Conscience is.
For well over a year and a half now, we have been focused on a situation in the Darfur region of western Sudan. In July of last year, for the first time in the history of the Museum, we declared a genocide emergency, because of the serious nature of the crisis in Darfur, and our conclusion that there was probable cause to believe that genocide was being committed by the Government of Sudan against targeted groups in the Darfur region.
Today we are presenting the latest in an ongoing series of discussions related to the situation in Darfur. We are very pleased and privileged to have Brian Steidle as our speaker today. Brian is a former captain in the United States Marines, who, in September of last year, became an American representative on the Small African Union Monitoring Force that is supposed to be monitoring a cease fire in Darfur.
As Brian will tell you, one of their jokes was that their job was to look for the cease fire because they could not find any evidence of it. But, unfortunately, in that position, he found himself becoming a witness to the destruction of civilians and many of the practices that had previously caused us to think that genocide was occurring. Brian did not have much in the way of equipment with him as an AU monitor, but he had a camera, and he took hundreds and hundreds of photographs and he also brought back photographs that colleagues had taken.
When he returned to the United States from Darfur earlier this year, he began to speak out. He was the subject of a column by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times. “Innocence” appeared on all kinds of media outlets, including CNN and Night Line and the CBS News, and we were privileged to have him speak at the Museum a couple of months ago. We are shortly going to be releasing a video version of his presentation that day. Brian has graciously agreed to come back and to do a reprise of his presentation earlier this year. He also just returned from a trip to Chad, where he visited refugee camps and met some of the people who had fled from Darfur.
As most of you probably know, approximately two million people have been driven from their homes in Darfur. About 200,000 of those people have fled into neighboring Chad. The vast majority of the displaced are still in Darfur, where they are still at risk and where their lives are still hanging in the balance. The need for people to speak out, the need for attention to be paid to this crisis has not gone away. That is why we are particularly grateful that Brian has agreed to come here today and is continuing to use his voice to call attention to the crisis in Darfur. Brian is going to make a presentation with photographs from both his time in Darfur and his more recent trip to Chad, and then after that we will have time for questions from the audience. Without further ado, please join me in welcoming Brian Steidle.
BRIAN STEIDLE: As Jerry mentioned, my name is Brian Steidle and I was a monitor on the African Union’s monitoring teams, monitoring an apparent cease fire in Darfur. First of all, I want to start out by telling you about one of the first photographs that I ever took when I was in Sudan. I had been there a month already in Darfur trying to convince the African Union to allow me to take photographs. They thought that I was going to take my photographs and release them to the world. Well, that is exactly what I did.
I think it is more important to share with everyone the photographs and to see what is actually happening there. So that is what I ended up doing. One of the first photographs I took was after the attack on the Village of Alliet, which started on the 20th of October. The government was on a clearing road mission, which they often used as a guise to attack civilians, and after they attacked the Village of Alliet, we went to the closest village to the west of that, where there were a large number of refugees that had been huddling underneath a tree. There were about 200 of them and we had limited time on the ground because it was late in the day. The Chadian mediator and me, our job was to go find some of the wounded people, to interview them, to photograph them, and then come back and meet up with the rest of the team, who was interviewing some of the SLA and JEM, the Sudanese Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement members.
We approached this large group of 200 people, mostly women and children, under this tree, and we said, “Is anyone here wounded,” and this one lady raised her hand and she said, “Over here.” We went over there and I expected to see a lady with a broken leg or a wounded hand or something. She held up her one year old child to me, who had been shot in the back -- entry wound to the top right, exit wound in the lower left -- and she held her up to me because she thought that I was a doctor, because I was a white male, as they refer to as a khawadja, or a foreigner in their country. She thought that I was going to be able to treat her child, and I was not. I took my picture, went back, and wrote my reports. That is all I did for six months.
In the end, I decided that it was more important for the world to see -- for you to see -- what is happening there than for me to continue writing my reports.
Without further ado, I want to take you through some photographs, and I want to bring up a couple of points -- three points that I have been trying to bring up since I started speaking out.
First, I want to talk about the fact that this is ongoing right now as we sit in this room. What I want everybody to do is turn around, just look around the room, see how many people are here in this room. They say the death rate right now makes it no longer a humanitarian crisis, because less than 10,000 people a month are dying. Before we leave this room, as many people as are in here right now will be dead in Darfur. That is how many people will die before we leave this room today. It is still ongoing, whether the fighting has decreased or not, which I will talk a little bit about later.
The second thing is that this is a government-sponsored military operation, with the sole purpose of wiping out an ethnic group. They are there to wipe out the African tribes that live in Darfur, and I have evidence of that which I will show you.
The third thing is that I believe that this can be stopped, or I would not be standing here. I believe that we, as the American people, as the people of the world, if we choose to do what is right, we can stop what is going on. We have yet to do that, so that is why I am still talking.
I want to walk you through a little bit right now about the parties to the conflict, the people that are involved. First, the SLA (Sudanese Liberation Army) and the JEM (Justice and Equality Movement) are the rebel movements. They are fighting against the government because there is unequal involvement in the governments. There is no development in their areas. These are the people who have been targeted by the Sudanese Government and are trying to fight back.
Next, there is the Sudanese Government, the Government of Sudan, or the GOS. They are, in large areas, recruited from outside the area, so they do not have ethnic tribes fighting the same ethnic tribes. The majority of people we saw fighting in Darfur are from the Blue Nile region or from the south of Sudan.
Then there are the Janjaweed. Janjaweed, literally translated means, “the devil on a horse” or “the devil on horseback.” The two members on either the left and the right, this gentleman here and this gentleman here, are Janjaweed. They come from Arab tribes, mainly nomadic, that are recruited by the government as natural enemies of the African tribes. For thousands and thousands of years, they have competed over the land and they have found ways, through tribal meetings, to get along and to allow the people of Sudan, the Africans and the Arabs, who are nomads, to get along. The Sudanese Government, however, chose them as a natural enemy of the African tribes, has trained them, equipped them, and they are now trying to wipe out the Africans. As you can see in this photograph here, this gentleman here is heavily armed, and this here is a bottle of petrol that he uses to burn villages after the attack.
The Sudanese Government, obviously, is well equipped. They use helicopter gun ships. This one here is an MI-24 gun ship, and they use these in nearly every single attack on the villages. The way we knew an attack was first happening was because the cell phone systems would go down. All of a sudden, you would pick up your cell phone and there would be no signal on it, and that is because the Sudatel, that the Sudanese Government controls, all the cell phone towers, are turned off by the Sudanese Government so that no one can communicate and no one can warn the people that an attack is coming. They may launch the helicopter gun ships. The helicopter gun ships go out and completely raze these villages. These are impacts from the helicopter gun ships; the Sudanese Government says these attacks do not occur. Here is shrapnel from the helicopter gun ships. This is in the Village of Marla. The previous one was in the Village of Amma Kasara.
We went up to a village and there was no shrapnel, none whatsoever, and we knew there had been helicopter gun ships, because there had been wounds, which I will describe to you in a minute, the slide after this, from flechettes, which is a brutal weapon. We asked all the villagers, “Is there any shrapnel around? Is there any evidence of helicopter gun ships?” They said, “Just give us a minute.” We went into a meeting in this tent and we came back out and there was this pile sitting out in front of the door, and all the refugees had gathered it up because they know that the Sudanese Government, after attacking a village, collects most of their shrapnel and the shells from their weapons, so that there cannot be any evidence, so we cannot write a report that says, “Yes, in fact, they did use helicopter gun ships.”
This here is a flechette. The matchbox is just for scale. These things are called flechettes. In French, I believe it means, “Pointed arrow.” Each helicopter gun ship has four rocket pods and each rocket pod about 20 rockets, and each rocket about 500 of these. When they fire them, they fire them on civilians and they come out like a shotgun round of these small little nails, pointed with a fin on the back so that the pointy end hits first, and they go right through people. They do not destroy huts, they do not destroy vehicles, they do not destroy any type of military target, except for people in the villages, and, when they first start the attack, the entire village is populated with civilians.
This is Mihad. Now, the last time I spoke here, I only showed a few photographs of some of the atrocities that I have seen, and there are a few people that said, “Well, we do not get enough evidence from that.” I have included a few more this time. The next few slides are quite graphic, but they get across the point of what is happening to the people of Sudan.
This is a small, three to four year old boy, who had been smashed in the face with a brick.
This gentleman here sexually assaulted, executed.
This gentleman was castrated and left to bleed in the field.
These people have their ears cut off, their eyes plucked out, and a few of them had their noses removed as souvenirs.
This is a machete wound. And sometimes when they conduct the burning, the people get trapped in the huts. So they lock them in the huts and they are burnt alive. After the initial attack and once the people have been driven out, they start the burning process, and some of this, as I mentioned before, has occurred in the first attack, but the majority of it has occurred afterwards.
This one here, a Janjaweed member and his camel, another one here and his camel, just began burning the Village of Um Ziefa, and we happened to be flying over in our helicopter right when it was occurring. This is the first hut that they began burning. As you can see in this far right corner up here, there is a member of the Janjaweed running away because it was too hot.
In another village, the Janjaweed leader told us, when we met with him, that he had had 15 animals stolen from him. He did not specify whether it was cattle or camels. In return, he went out and burnt 15 villages, and this is one of the villages that he burnt.
This is the Village of Labado, a village of 20,000 people that has been burnt to the ground. It took them more than a week to burn this village.
Here is a close-up. Sudanese Government soldiers are in the center, sorting through some of the ashes, trying to salvage whatever they can.
One of the excuses they always use is that the rounds that they fire start the grass on fire and it begins to burn the huts, but from there the wind just carries it and causes the flames to spread. If you look here, however, these trees are burnt. These over here are burnt, the majority of them are. These in the middle are not. There is no grass in the middle. There is nothing to carry the fire from one side of the road to the other. This is a deliberate burning process. When the people return, they have nothing. This was someone’s home.
After most of the initial burning, they usually try to save the food stores and the stores of goods for last, and then they go in and they shoot all the locks off the stores. These here were little market stores, selling batteries, pasta and things like that. The Sudanese Government soldiers come in and loot everything of value.
This gentleman here standing behind the post is in Sudanese Government uniform, looting out of the store in the Village of Amma Kasara. All of this that you see in this picture here are Janjaweed families that are dividing up the loot that was taken from Um Ziefa, the burning that I showed you that was just started. These are the families of the Janjaweed that are dividing up the belongings of the Africans that they just burnt out of their homes: “You get his bed, I will take his camel, and you take that mat.”
After the looting and the majority of the burning, they go back in and they specifically target the food stores. This here is a store of peanuts, or ground nuts, as they refer to it, and the Sudanese Government soldier here on the right side of the frame is burning it. When they come back, not only do they not have a home, they do not have any goods or food to even survive. Therefore, they cannot return.
Then you have the refugees. In this village here of Minawashee, there is an influx of 7,000 refugees in a matter of two or three days because of all the burning that had occurred around the area. This is where they live. This is a refugee camp, not an organized refugee camp, but just a refugee camp that the refugees themselves put up. It looks like a trash dump. The structures are made from small sticks and they fix whatever they can on top of it -- grass mats, plastic bags, garbage -- whatever they can find to shelter themselves from the wind and the sun and, now that the rains have started, from the rain.
The Government of Sudan did a survey of this refugee camp and they said that there were 500 people that lived in this camp. Knowing that each one of these small little domes here that you see houses probably three, four, and sometimes even seven or twelve individuals, you can look at this photograph and you can easily see that there is more than 500 people that live there. The Sudanese Government said that there were 500 refugees. They had the aid organizations build a new camp for 500 people. Then they went in and they drove everybody out at 2:00 in the morning. They drove their vehicles over their huts.
These people had snuck in the back side and the policemen, in blue, and the military, in green, were going up to go beat them because they were trying to salvage what they could from their refugee camp, after the government had already attacked their village, killed their family, burnt their house down. They lived in this place, and then they are pushed out with nothing. Then the Sudanese Government came in and bulldozed over the entire camp and burned it, displacing an additional 4,500 people.
The people that escape Sudan and get to Chad have this to look forward to. This camp has been established for about two years. After living in these white tents, which look brown here because they are completely covered with dust, they begin building these little mud walls around their compounds, making an ad hoc village. This camp here has around 12 to 15,000 refugees in it. As you can see, it stretches all the way up to the horizon and down and around. All these people have been pushed out of their homes. Every single one of them has a story like Mihad Hamid. Every single one of these people has a member of their family who had been killed, every single one of them.
These are some of the people we met on our recent trip to Chad. This is the only clothes he has, no shoes, no nothing. He gets sorghum every day for the last two years. These children here, each one of them had both parents killed. They are orphans. We just walked up to a group of kids playing and we asked one of the elders there, “Can you give us some children? We would like to talk to some children who have lost members of their family.” He said, “Every single one of them.” We said, “How about ones that had just lost their mother or their father,” and he said, “Hold on a minute,” and he went through and he pulled this out of a group of about 50 kids who were playing there. But every single one of those kids there had a member killed, either an uncle or a sister or a brother or an aunt or a mother, every one, every single one of them did.
Now, in Chad, even though they are safe from attacks from the Sudanese Government, they still have a lot of things to worry about. One of the things is water. The rains in the north of the country, where the refugee camps are, there are places where it has not rained in two years. Now that they have had an influx of 200,000 refugees to put that extra strain on that water resource, the water table in some places dropped as much as 17 meters, so they do not have water.
On World Refugee Day, when we were there, they had a water truck that pulled up as part of a prize for the refugees because it was their day, and they opened up this one tap here and chaos ensued. All they wanted was a drink of water. They just wanted to feel the water, to get wet.
One of he other problems that they have is firewood. Because of the extra strain on the resources around the area, most of the area around the camps, as you can see in the background here, do not have any trees left, or very few trees that they can use for firewood. The refugees have organized, through the NGOs, to have trucks like this to go out once a month and collect firewood from outside the area, 10, 15 miles away. Then they would come back and the women here divide it up into their little piles. Each family gets their pile and it is supposed to last them a month. Now, considering they cook on this three times a day, this little stack of wood, surprisingly, lasts12 days. But for the rest of the month, they have nothing to cook on. So they eat just sorghum with water, if they have water.
So I am showing you the fact that this is ongoing. I have showed you that this is military sponsored. Now, the last one is the fact that I believe that we can do something to stop this. There are many things that we can do. Those who like to support legislation in Congress, there are acts up right now before the House and the Senate. I think that the power lies with you, because I cannot make the choice. I cannot say, “I am going to help these people. I am going to get NATO involved and I am going to do this.” I cannot do that. Neither can your Congressmen and your Senators, unless you are behind them.
There are a number of things we can do. As Jerry was mentioning to me today when I was talking to him, one of the things is trying to encourage your Congressmen and your Senators to call the White House every day or once a week or once a month at least, and say, “We want something to be done about Darfur. We want these people to have another chance at life. We want them to be able to return, the two-plus million people that have been displaced from their homes, to return, to be able to rebuild their lives.”
We can urge the government to put more pressure on countries that do economic trade with Sudan, such as China and Russia. We can put more pressure on the European Union to have their companies which do economic trade, as a whole, the European Union, with Sudan, say, “You know what, Sudan? This is not really safe for us. We are not going to be involved in this” or “If you do not straighten this out, we are going to pull our resources from you,” because it should not be about money. It should be about saving lives.
Those are a few things. Some of the other things, the more immediate ways to help, there are a lot of these organizations that are helping these individuals on the ground, organizations that are providing food, that are providing water, organizations like the Committee on Conscience, who are trying to do advocacy work around Washington. Those groups can be supported in many different ways. So I am going to ask you, please, let’s not fail these people. They deserve a chance just as much as we do. Thanks.
JERRY FOWLER: Thank you. We are going to have time for questions. We actually have a microphone up here at the foot of this aisle, if you could proceed to the microphone to ask the questions.
But I wanted to start, Brian, and just try to get an idea of, when you would go back at the end of the day after you saw someone like Mihad, especially children who had been attacked, what was that like? How did that feel?
BRIAN STEIDLE: Helpless. You wanted to help out as much as you could. You kept having to try to tell yourself that these reports that we are writing are helping, that somebody is going to do something, that the United States Government--you know, I know we are a good country.
I know the countries of the world, the United Nations, NATO, the European Union; I know that they know that this is going on. We are writing these reports and they are going to them, and you just continuously had to tell yourself that what you were doing was right and that it was good and that it was helping these people out, and you had to do that every day. All of us did.
We would think, “Yeah, we are doing well. We are doing good work. Yeah. Thanks a lot, guys.” But after six months, we said, “Nothing I am doing here is making any difference whatsoever,” and that is why I returned.
JERRY FOWLER: You were just in Chad talking to refugees, and we had talked about this before, and I was in Chad, as well, within the last few weeks, and one thing that struck me is that whenever you would ask the refugees about the African Union, they did not really feel that the African Union was ever going to be able to create security or do the job of creating the conditions for them to go back to their homes.
BRIAN STEIDLE: Exactly. I did not tell any of the refugees that I had previously worked for the African Union for that reason. They feel that the African Union is not doing anything. They feel that they are an arm of the Sudanese Government, because they have been there for such a long time and they have not been able to do anything.
As I mentioned, these things are still going on. Just Monday, the Sudanese Government attacked three different villages south of Al Fashir, and razed them to the ground. These things are still happening and the African Union is not capable of stopping them, nor do they have the mandate to stop them. Their mandate is simply to monitor the cease fire, to document what is happening, to write their reports and send them up so that other countries can try to put pressure on the Sudanese Government to have them stop what they are doing, but they do not have the mandate to step in the middle and say, “Okay, you over there, stop what is going on.” They do not have the capability to do that.
JERRY FOWLER: At the same time, we have heard from both African officials and military officials associated with the African Union force that they feel if they have more people, that they do not necessarily need a different mandate, that they can be in places, and that through their presence, they can provide security. They have taken steps around camps to protect women who are going out to collect firewood, who otherwise would be subject to assault.
We held a session last week that specifically looked at the African Union and at least one American military expert said that he thought that if the African Union force did expand to 12,000, as it is supposed to, that that would be able to establish security, even without a new mandate.
BRIAN STEIDLE: I think that it would definitely lend more security to the region than there is now, but you are still not going to be able to stop the Sudanese Government when they do it in your face.
In the Village of Labado, which I showed you, 20,000 people were burned out of that village. I stood on the edge of that village next to the Sudanese general who was in charge of attacking the village. I stood there with him, no further than Jerry is away from me now, and stood there while his troops went into town, burning, looting and shooting people, and we, as the African Union, could do nothing about it. We had troops there with us, albeit they were not enough, but we had 300 or so that could have been brought out to try to persuade him otherwise, but it was never done, because they do not have the mandate to protect civilians.
As mentioned last week, if a member of the African Union sees a woman being assaulted, then they can jump in the way and stop it. I saw many examples of when that could have been done and it was not done, because the African Union does not have the mandate to do it.
I do not think even with 12,000 troops on the ground that they can cover that area. It is an area the size of Texas. They cannot cover that vast of an area with only 12,000 troops and have a constant presence. They are based in eight different bases and not everywhere at all times. I think there needs to be a stronger step taken, perhaps support from NATO, not necessarily through troops, but through vehicular support, electronic warfare, and the use of satellites. There are many different tools that NATO and the western world have, our militaries have, that can loan those resources to the African Union to have them assist, to allow them to do their mission better and cover more ground, and I think that that would help, but I think there needs to be something more.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:
QUESTION: Could you walk us through what a map of Darfur would look like? I know there are some groups that are not involved. Then could you talk about driving through Darfur? Would you see a burnt village that was African next to an Arab one that might still be there? Is there more damage along the roads? You talked a little bit about the government trying to clear roads and access. Could you walk us through what that visually looks like on the landscape and the extent and systematic picture of the destruction?
BRIAN STEIDLE: Definitely. As you mention, a Zaghawa village can be next to a Fur village, next to a Masaalit village. There are many different tribes in Darfur and because the villages have lived side by side for thousands of years and when it comes down to the fighting and the targeting by the Sudanese Government, they do not target the Arab villages. They target the African villages. So that does occur in some areas.
The roads are one of the excuses that the Sudanese Government uses to clear large areas of land. They used it stretching from Nyala, which is in south Darfur, down to the southeast. They used that railroad and a road to the north of it as an excuse to clear it, because they said that there were bandits along it. They said, “There are bandits. We need to find these bandits to make our country safe and we are going to clear the road from here to Khartoum,” which is several hundred kilometers away, and they did. They went down that road and systematically attacked every single African village that was along it and burnt them to the ground. They spared the Arab villages that were along the area. They are clearing large areas of land so that these Arab tribes can graze their camels and graze their cattle in these areas that used to be farms.
QUESTION: I am a student at the University of Toronto, and I have two separate questions. You talked about what we can do and about talking to Congress about supporting legislation about Darfur. I am wondering what your feelings are on the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act.
Part two. You talked about how you do not think that just having more troops for the African Union -- 12,000 -- is enough. What do you think the chances are of increasing the mandate of the African Union for civilian protection?
BRIAN STEIDLE: There is a lot of good stuff in the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act, but I do not necessarily think that that is an end-all solution. I think if that bill passes, we are still going to be sitting here in this auditorium two months from now listening to somebody else speak about Darfur. It is not strong enough. There needs to be more support and more direct pressure on the Sudanese Government and more support for the African Union or those countries that are willing to intervene in order to stop what is going on there.
More pressure on the Sudanese Government is the way it is going to happen, and that is not going to happen necessarily from an act through Congress. It is going to happen from President Bush and from Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. That is where it is going to happen. It is going to happen as a result of pressure from other countries that are involved in dealing with Sudan such as China and Russia, two of the biggest dealers with Sudan. If pressure directly from their President, from the President of China, is put onto the President of Sudan, I believe that there probably will be some curbing to their actions, but that is what it is going to take. It is going to take something much stronger than the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act.
For part two about increasing the mandate. I do not think it will ever happen because the African Union does not have a chapter seven like the United Nations has. They are not able to just say, “We are going to pass a chapter seven and we are going to come in and we are going to do this.” They are there because the Sudanese Government allows them to be there. Any time they want to increase their numbers that are on the ground or make any change to their mandate, they have to get prior approval from the Sudanese Government. That, to me, is completely backwards. They should be there because they want to help out and not because they need approval from the Sudanese Government, the ones that are committing these atrocities. I do not think that they will ever have that agreement, because that would be the Sudanese Government allowing them to attack them. It does not make any sense for the Sudanese Government to allow something like that to happen. I do not believe they will get an expanded mandate, unless it is through the Untied Nations passing a chapter seven and pulling the African Union underneath, blue-halting them. Several different things are being thrown around, but that is the only way I think it will work.
JERRY FOWLER: There were examples, though, even while you were there, of the African Union, in spite of not having an explicit mandate to position itself to protect civilians, where they were doing just that. I know one of the stories you told was of one of the last villages on the road, and the African Union actually positioning a force between the militias and the military, on the one hand, and the village on the other. Could you explain that?
BRIAN STEIDLE: After the attack on Labado, the Sudanese Government told us, their general told us, “We are going this way and the next village on the list is Muhajeryia. We understand there might be some bandits there.” He knew that was a rebel stronghold, even though he told us that there were no rebels there. We knew that there had to be something drastic that was done to stop this next fight. This was an SLA/JEM stronghold in south Darfur, the last one. The JEM had imported more than 4,000 troops from northern Sudan. So there are probably 25,000 rebels in and around this village, and they said, “We are not leaving. This is it. This is our last stand. We will all die here,” and they would have died there, because the Sudanese Government has tanks, helicopters, vehicles, much larger weapons, and unlimited ammunition, whereas the rebels do not.
We knew that we had to stop the attack. So we put in 35 protection force soldiers. Protection force soldiers, as I mentioned before, do not have a mandate to protect the civilians. They do have a mandate to protect civilian contractors that are working on the ground building camps and us and the monitoring teams. We put them there with a contracting team that was building a more permanent camp. There were 35 soldiers in the Village of Muhajeryia, and after a week, the Government of Sudan did not advance on the village. Then we put 70 protection force soldiers and a ten-man monitoring team in Labado, the village that was completely gone, as you saw from the photographs, to monitor what this Government of Sudan force of 3,000 was doing. After about a week of working with the Government of Sudan through the African Union, we were able to negotiate that they withdraw from their position, and within a week after that, 3,000 people returned to the Village of Labado to start rebuilding their lives.
I spoke to some State Department officials about a month ago. They said that about 10,000 people have now returned to try to start to rebuild what they have. That is one example of where the African Union has done a great job to stop fighting and to be able to have people return. But that was a direct result of the commander that was on the ground. If they get more commanders like that -- area commanders that have the permission from higher up in the African Union to do things like that -- yes, I think that those types of operations can be repeated.
When you are talking about 75 percent of the villages in Darfur that are now gone, razed to the ground, you are going to need a lot of people. You are going to need to corral these Janjaweed up. They are going to be disarmed, or they are going to continuously attack when the people come back. The civilians do not feel safe in that village unless the African Union is there, but the African Union has other jobs to do. Once they have to leave, half the people in the village then return to hiding in the bush. It is going to take a constant presence until the Janjaweed are gone and trust is reestablished with the government.
QUESTION: Could you talk a little bit more about the purpose of your recent trip to Chad and what kind of initiatives you are planning?
BRIAN STEIDLE: The most recent trip I just took to Chad was in conjunction with my sister, who runs an organization called Global Grassroots. Her mission is to find socially entrepreneurial people on the ground, specifically in these refugee camps, that are trying to solve their own problems using innovative ways.
We located four projects that she is going to be assisting and funding. One was a gentleman who wanted to start a school cafeteria. He wants to start a school cafeteria in his refugee camp to increase the attendance of the people, the kids who come to school, and, also, to keep them there, because the kids leave to go home to eat and then they do not come back to school. He figured if there was a school cafeteria that fed the children, he could make sure the children are being fed and he could increase attendance. Working with him, we said, “That is a great idea, but how are you going to fund this? What is the sustainability of this?” He wants to open a market or store, from which all the profits from the sale of his goods go to funding the school cafeteria. He needs around $5,000 to build a store, fully stock it, and then get the initial investment of the food, before he can run it himself. He needs an initial investment of $5,000 and then he can go ahead and run the school cafeteria in his refugee camp.
Another idea is a library. One gentleman came up with an idea of reading pages from the refugee law that he was able to salvage when his place was burnt. He wants to establish these libraries, as he calls them, all over the camps, in different locations where people gather -- at the meat market, the normal market, the water sources -- to read to them about refugee laws, human rights, and women’s rights. We are hoping to be able to fund this initiative and to allow this man to build his libraries.
There is another gentleman who wants to start a video library in one of the camps. He wants to have a grinding mill to produce money to pay for the petrol for his generator. This can power his TV and his VCR to show educational videos to the children.
There is a group of women who want to start a co-operative making pasta. They will make pasta to sell so that they can buy more than one pair of clothes or shoes.
All of these projects, through Global Grassroots, have to be sustainable, and they have to teach something to people.
The women’s project is going to take on five apprenticeships and they are going to teach them how to make pasta, all the other ones being educational things. All of the projects have to, of some sort, teach equal rights for women or teach about women’s rights in these situations. Those are criteria that my sister set up through Global Grassroots.
The other part of our trip was to gather some more stories from the refugees and testimonials from many of the people to put together into a documentary, which hopefully will be coming out in the fall. HBO and some private donors did some of the funding for the first trip so we would be able to do some filming while we were there. Hopefully we will be able to get that out to raise awareness more worldwide than just small speeches around Washington.
QUESTION: As far as what needs to be done, as far as the security aspect of this, I see that there are multiple different opinions. Roméo Dallaire, for example, recently changed his opinion. He initially was saying 40,000 troops were necessary and recently, within the last month, he said does not feel that there should be anything other than the African Union involved because of the change in situation, because so many villages have already been destroyed.
Now the issue is security for the camps. The International Crisis Group, as well as Eric Reeves, feels that there should be a bridge gap measure with the NATO troops involved until the African Union is brought up to adequate strength and logistics.
As someone who would want to advocate, what should I do? It does not seem as if it is specific enough as far as what do you advocate. What is that you are looking for?
I see a lot of public apathy. I think that even though the media has not adequately reported this, there still is tremendous public apathy and I think that it is going to be very difficult to get effective political action. It already has taken too long. Your pictures and your issues were reported by Nicholas Kristof, and I have not seen a huge outpouring, either coverage by the media or from groups. Writing to Congress has been done. It really did not do that much as far as the Darfur Accountability Act. It did not fully pass. It passed, but it was watered down. It is sort of a bottoms-up approach.
Is it possible to identify the particular individuals that have the power to actually do something and to appeal to their humanity; not to their political acumen and not to their political needs, but to their humanity? I am not talking about just America; Canada, other powers, the European powers, Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, et cetera. How is that to be done? How can we mobilize the people that truly are committed to this?
BRIAN STEIDLE: Each person needs to do a little bit of their own research and determine what they feel would work best. There are some people that say to be strong-fisted, roll in with NATO, 25,000 troops, and just solve this real quick. Would that solve the problem? Yes, it would. Would bringing in NATO troops now to bridge this gap until the African Union can build up solve it? It might. I do not know whether the African Union is capable of doing it on their own.
I do not really know where to go to get the most definite answer. You can go to people like you mentioned, Eric Reeves, John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group, listen to people like myself speak, and listen to what we all have to say and make your own decisions. There are so many different options out there for solving a problem like this, and that is just it, that there are so many different options out there for solving a problem like this, and yet we are doing none of them.
Any one of those things, whether we increase the African Union to 7,000, 12,000, 17,000, 20,000, two months from now, will that solve the problem? Yes. It is a huge influx of people and it probably would solve the problem, temporarily. If we bring in NATO, will that solve the problem? Yes, it will probably solve the problem. Forty thousand, I usually say--I have said 20 to 40,000 before, and I think that all depends on what capabilities they have. If it is just African Union the way they are, I think it is going to take 20 to 40,000.
If we lend them help like we are already through NATO transport, if we lend them more help by providing more money to them, if we give them more help by electronic warfare and vehicles -- the Canadian Government is giving a large number of armored vehicles to the African Union to use -- if those things are continued, those decrease the amount of troops that are needed on the ground and decrease the time that it is going to take to solve this issue.
There are many different solutions and I do not have a definite answer for where you can go to get the correct solution, but I think that to talk about advocacy and where we can put our pressure, you are right. There are people in this world that can solve those problems, and I think that President Bush and Condoleezza Rice are two of them. I think if it was on the top of their agenda every single day, briefed to the White House what was going on and that this issue was really a top priority for them, and then I think it would be solved, but it is not, and I think that is exactly what we need to do. We need to cater to their humanity, make them look these people in the eye and say, “Look at this. We can stop this. Let’s do it.” I think that is what it is going to take, but I do not know how to do it. If I knew how to do it, I would be doing it right now.
The only way I know how to do it is to reach each one of you, one by one. I think that is what it is going to take, it is one by one by one until it can finally spread to everybody and everybody can say, “Now we need to actually do something about this.” I am sorry; I do not have a definite answer for you. I do not know how to reach the leaders of Europe. I do not even know how to reach President Bush. If I did, I would.
QUESTION: Pardon me for being cynical, but it seems to me that if this was politically viable, then something would be done. It seems to me that perhaps, and this is just speculation, but since it is an Arab-backed government, we may be abstaining for that reason.
BRIAN STEIDLE: If it was politically viable, we would get in it, but I think we need to put politics aside in an issue like this and just look at the people that are being slaughtered because of who they are. There are a lot of things that are involved. Do we have an economic interest in Sudan? Some say yes, because there is oil. I say no, because all the oil reserves have been found. All the areas have been explored for oil and they are all in control, majority, by Chinese companies.
They say that there is an interest because of the intelligence that Sudan can give to the United States, and apparently we are cooperating or Sudan is cooperating with us on intelligence issues. The CIA flew the head of Sudanese Intelligence to the United States about two months ago for some talks. There are a number of things that prevent the Administration, I believe, from getting fully involved in it.
Is it going to make your gas cheaper? No. Is it going to make your lives better? No. Is it going to make your house prices more? No. It is not going to do any of that. It is not going to change your lives one bit, except for to know that you did the right thing. That is where we need to hit it, because it is not politics, it is not economics, it is just doing the right thing, and helping out people who cannot help themselves. That should be more reason than politics and economics any day of the week, and that is what I hope our country will do.
QUESTION: First, I would like to commend your efforts. Second, what has been the response of local grassroots organizations, in Sudan and the surrounding countries? Can you describe their efforts?
BRIAN STEIDLE: The Sudanese Government has a branch of their government called HAC, which is a humanitarian assistance coordinator, which does not do much of anything except for restrict movement of NGOs.
In Chad, there is an NGO called Secutive, which has done quite a bit of work in the camps. They run a number of the camps, and I have been very impressed with Chad, the Chadian Government, Chadian organizations, and everyone in Chad, in opening up their arms and trying to help out the Sudanese people in any way they possibly can.
Besides that, I have not really seen much. When I just in Chad, we interviewed some people, and we said, “Who can help you? Who is going to solve this issue for you?” They said, “We are here as Muslims and we are trying to get help from our Muslim brothers and they are doing nothing.” He said, “You do not see any help from Saudi Arabia. You do not see any help from Egypt, from Libya, from all these other countries.” He said, “You do not see any help from them whatsoever.” He goes, “And we are Muslim.” He says, “Our government is killing us and we do not see any help from them.” He said, “We do not see much help from the European Union. We do not see much help from the United Nations. The only people that we have hope in are the United States. They are the only people that can help us and do this issue and solve this and help us return and help us continue to live,” and this was before he even knew I was an American. We heard that repeated over and over and over again, that their only hope lies in America. That is it. Condoleezza Rice’s trip there was a huge morale booster for everyone in the camps. But if we do not do anything, it does not mean anything at all, and I hope we can take the next step and do something.
QUESTION: I just wanted to ask about John Garang, the rebel leader who recently joined the government. How has his joining the Arab Government impacted the situation in Darfur? Do the people there have hope? Do they have hope for his joining the government and what sort of impact do you think he might have just from his position right now?
BRIAN STEIDLE: The people that I talked to before he actually joined, when everyone knew that he was still going to join, the people that I talked to in the SLA and the JEM do not have any faith in him whatsoever. They say that he is the same as everyone else, that he is just as corrupt as the Sudanese Government, and they do not believe that he will assist in any way.
I am not totally aligned with their view. John Garang, I think, can lend new freshness to the Government of Sudan. I think that he can also help persuade the Government of Sudan. I do not think he has been given enough powers, as he should have, in the government. Tah is still there, Bashir is still there, and they will continue to do what they do, even though he is the first vice president.
JERRY FOWLER: Just by way of a little bit of explanation, because not everyone may follow all of this as closely, there is a longstanding civil war in the south of Sudan and the leader of the rebels in the south was this fellow named John Garang. Probably as a result of United States diplomacy and regional diplomacy, the war in the south, as opposed to the west where Darfur is, was brought to an end officially on January 9, with a peace agreement that is called the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The central provision was to create a government of national unity that would bring the southern rebels into the government and, in particular, make John Garang the leader of the southern rebels -- the first vice president of the country -- and this happened on July 9, just a couple of weeks ago.
I happened to be in refugee camps on July 10, the next day, and all the refugees were talking about this and they were actually quite excited. They were not really sure who John Garang was exactly, but they knew that he was not a member o the Arab elite who have traditionally run the country and who are responsible for the attacks on civilians in Darfur. They are thinking that this might make a difference. There actually was a certain amount of enthusiasm among the refugees that I talked to, but it was based, I think, more on desperate hope.
Thank you for coming, Brian. Please join me in thanking Brian, and thanks to all of you for coming.