Executive Director Mohamed Yahya partcipated in a telebriefing conference call
for the save darfur coalition
March 16, 2009
Save Darfur Coalition organized a telebriefing call today with various media to provide reporters with the most up-to-date statistics from the ground regarding how the expulsion of aid organizations is affecting Darfuris and what the U.S. government and world leaders must do to ensure the Sudanese government reinstates the licenses of expelled organizations.
Today's Call included:
* Joel Charny, Vice President for Policy, Refugees International: current situation on the ground for displaced Darfuris, numbers affected by the expulsion of aid orgs, what measures can be take to fill in the gaps
* Mohamed Yahya, Executive Director, Damanga Coalition for Freedom and Democracy: individual stories heard from the ground about how the absence of these orgs is affecting Darfuris
* Jerry Fowler, President, Save Darfur Coalition: policy response – what the U.S. government must do to pressure the Sudanese government to allow aid orgs back in to Darfur, what Save Darfur/activists are doing to push the administration
* John Prendergast, Co-founder, Enough Project (John Norris will also be on the call to answer reporter questions): Enough policy analysis, what must be done to ensure situation does not approach humanitarian catastrophe
NYT – Peter Baker
Financial Times – Barney Jopson
Bloomberg – Bill Varner
Bloomberg – Heba Aly
AP – Sarah El Deeb
AP – Matt Lee
CNN – Richard Roth
NPR – Michelle Keleman
Fox – Michael Johnson
VOA – Joe DeCapua
VOA – David Gollust
Al Jazeera English – Lysandra Ohrstrom
The National – James Reinl
USA Today - Ken Dilanian
SAVE DARFUR COALITION
Moderator: Michael Abramowitz
March 16, 2009
10:00 am CT
Operator: Ladies and gentlemen thank you for standing by and welcome to Save Darfur conference call.
All lines have been placed on mute to prevent any background noise. After the speakers’ remarks there will be a question and answer session. If you would like to ask a question during this time, simply press star then the number 1 on your telephone keypad. If you have already done so please press the pound key now, then press star 1 again to insure your question is registered. If you would like to withdraw your question, press the pound key.
Thank you. I would now like to turn the conference over to Mike Abramowitz. Please go ahead.
Michael Abramowitz: Good morning. Thank you all for being with us today. I’m Mike Abramowitz. I am the Director of the Committee on Conscience of the US Holocaust Museum. We have worked very closely over the years with Save Darfur in trying to address this very serious humanitarian situation in western Sudan.
And all of the people here today feel that the situation has really gotten quite grim over the last several weeks - and a very uncertain future. And we have a great group of experts here to talk about that.
This of course started with the indict - well the crisis has been ongoing for five or six years. But it has now taken a serious turn with the decision by the International Criminal Court in The Hague to issue an arrest warrant for the president of Sudan.
Since then President Bashir has expelled 13 aid organizations from Sudan. And today we have reports that he wants all the international aid groups to leave the country within a year, which would be a very serious situation indeed if that threat is carried out.
We have a group of people here today that will be able to talk about both the current situation, give us some kind of policy reaction to the recent ICC arrest warrant and also with some concrete ideas about where we should go from here.
And I would like to start by turning the...Well we’ll leave time for questions at the end. We’ll try to move through our experts quickly. And we’ll start with Joel Charny, who a vice present for policy at Refugees International who can give you a good overview of the current situation on the ground for displaced Darfurees; how many people have been affected by the expulsion of the aid groups; and what measures can be taken to fill in the gaps. Joel?
Joel Charny: Yes. Thanks Michael and thanks to all of you for joining the call.
The NGO expulsions are affecting critical food, health, shelter and water needs for between 1.1 and 1.5 million people depending on the sector. And I encourage you to imagine the effective internal - affected internal displacement camps with large towns in which, say, all hospitals have been closed and the water systems contaminated.
There are two immediate concerns.
One is an outbreak of meningitis in Kalma camp in south Darfur and the suspension of supplementary feeding for 7000 moderately and severely malnourished children.
More than 100,000 people need to be vaccinated against meningitis, but as of now there is no organization available to carry out the vaccination campaign.
The suspension of water chlorination means an increased risk of diarrheal diseases and cholera.
Now the UN agencies and the NGOs that are still allowed to work in Darfur are doing the best they can to assess the needs and make up for the services of the expelled organizations. But I think it’s obvious that the challenges are immense.
We should stress that the decision was taken abruptly - the decision to expel - without any contingency planning by the Sudanese government, and local officials were completely unaware that this decision was imminent. So the point being that there is no contingency plan at this point and everyone is scrambling around trying to fill the gaps as best they can.
Now in my view a large-scale movement towards Chad, while possible, would be ill advised due to the poor services in the Chad camps and the environmental stress that that region of Chad is already experiencing. Darfurees are aware of the poor conditions in Chad and I think will only go there as a last resort. So if we see large-scale movement towards Chad, I think that would definitely reflect the desperation that people are feeling in Darfur.
Michael Abramowitz: Thank you Joel. By the way, just for the group can you just tell people how many people are in camps in Darfur and how many are in Chad’s, just to get an idea of the order of magnitude?
Joel Charny: Yeah. The Chad population is much lower. It’s between 250 and 300,000 people, whereas the Darfur camp population is close to 3 million.
Michael Abramowitz: Okay. I would like to turn the phone- the call over to Mohamed Yahya - who is the Executive Director of the Damanga Coalition for Freedom and Democracy - who has been in touch with friends and others inside Darfur. Mohamed.
Mohamed Yahya: Thank you so much for support for this, Save Darfur, to facilitate this. And thank you for all participants.
I just would like to really share with you some of more, really, difficult concern that I get from the ground, especially from refugees in western Darfur and Al-Fasher and also south Darfur.
The major concerns for those people is...You know, it is about the shortage of water. The water is really very short right now, and they don’t have that much water. And especially in the area like Al-Fasher, which is very well known that there is a drought there and is very, you know, dry area, they share only one gallon, which is gallon...I don’t know, you know, it is about how many liters, but one gallon for whole family or five or six or seven members - and which is - might be less than a liter or two liters for a person.
That’s much difficult thing. And they don’t know how - for how long that is going to continue or...And their concern is that if from now - after a week if the situation goes this way, we might not - don’t have any water.
And in (Al-geneina town) area - which is two of camps (built) - like (Abuzaid ) camp and (Riyadh) camp, were caught by the government and burned them and killed so many people, as you know, last week.
With the rest of the camps like (Kerdang ), like (Al Damada), they are suffering so much on the shortage of food. And some of them told me that even they haven’t gotten their share of food even before the indictment of al-Bashir, before the arrest warrant was issued. And so many of them, they have a month they don’t get any food.
And right now all that is (unintelligible). And the head workers, as you know, after the expulsion and even those Sudanese who are working on a, you know, managing the stores they expelled. And again you read and the government members took, you know, all the stuffs and, you know, took over.
And the - one of the very difficult things that they told me is this: They see the food, the food that they used to get before, in the market. And they don’t have money to go to get that food from the market. They can’t pay that; of course, they don’t have money. And they don’t have ways to money share.
And that’s one of the very compelling and astounding stories I ever hear. And they said how much we all have forgotten. And it’s those aid workers who are not allowed to come back.
Even Chad, we are blocked. Unfortunately so many of them are tying to - as he said, Joel - they are not able to go to Chad because they are blocked.
And the last thing that they told me is that, “We need the peacekeepers to come. We need the - without peacekeepers the governments then will never allow just (unintelligible) for us. And this is very difficult, and we will die in less than a month. We will die in less than a month.” And repeated that three times, the refugee and (Achmet Ali).
(Achmet Ali), he is just for - I don’t want to mention. But anyway, that’s what he said. And he said, “Mohamed we will die. Absolutely we will die from now after months. And I think months also, that’s too much. But so many people will die.”
Michael Abramowitz: Thanks. Thank you Mohamed.
Seth Hajbi is a Middle East and Africa expert at Media Harvester. And he can talk a bit about what the public and policy reaction in the Middle East and Africa has been to the ICC arrest warrant and the situation in Darfur. Seth?
Seth Hajbi: Thank you Mike. Thank you, Save Darfur, for organizing this conference. And thank you to the participants, including the media.
For the past five, six years I actually have shifted my focused career onto the Middle East as well as African issues. And the last two or three years I have been working with Save Darfur as well as other international organizations monitoring what the media and the Arab countries - governments as well as the Arab public re - their reaction to Darfur, whether it’s actually even registering in their heads or if it’s in their radar.
Now before the announcement by the ICC of the indictment of al-Bashir, there was hardly any coverage. I mean I monitored over 15 to 16 newspapers’ Web sites as well as television Web sites, most of which would have one or no articles whatsoever even for a whole week.
Since the indictment...Actually a couple of days before the indictment and since the indictment, there were over 226 articles, which is an average of about four to five of each of these media outlets, talking about not necessarily the plight of Darfurees, the - what Joel as well as Mohamed mentioned, the difficulties faced on a daily basis.
They were discussing the unjust media - were discussing the unjust reaction or decision by the ICC to go after a sitting president for the first time, an Arab president. And they, you know, they tried to play the old Arab - Middle Eastern - African blame game that this is not to help the Darfurees; but it is to help the - you know, to subjugate and reintroduce a new kind of colonialism into the African and Arab mix.
The Arab governments’ reaction was tipped at first. It came about - two to three days afterwards many governments started expressing their opposition to the decision to indict al-Bashir and pushed for a - for the - to invoke Article 16 in order to postpone the decision or - to arrest al-Bashir. There was - pretty much could go from Morocco all the way to Dubai, and the reaction is the same.
They are opposed to this because it’s - he is - he - al-Bashir as a president is protected through international law as...And since he is a sitting president, he cannot be indicted. That was the line of argument of most of Arab countries.
Now the third - the (unintelligible) priorities of issues are public. Unfortunately Arab public has been manipulated to the point that they actually do not even know what Darfur is, whether there are actually even Arabs or Muslims or...Most of the people that...
I actually was in the region in the last three weeks. I just came back on Thursday. And the reaction I received - I saw amongst the elite - like the journalists, the Athenian leaders in Tunisia, that’s where I was - was appalling. I mean there was very little knowledge about what Darfur is and what the plight - how many people are involved in this crisis.
Despite all of this - bleak as I see it - Arab official as well as public reaction, there are a few sources actually of hope, one of which is from humanitarian organizations in Egypt such Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. And the other one is Arab Center for Independ- for the Independence of the Judiciary and Legal Profession. These have gone hard after al-Bashir. They want him to be arrested. They want him to be tried for the crimes he has committed.
There are also two other sources that I monitored.
(Allah Haram): They are - of that section often called for a...They are moderating their position from the - initial opposition to, “Well now we need to cooperate. We cannot ignore the international community.” They - their advice is, today, is not to ignore the international community and try to cooperate.
This also reflects - in my opinion, in my judgment, which is the last point that I want to mention - the Egyptian official position. Egypt is known in the region for cooperating with the international community. And there is a hope, at least amongst the elite or the people who want to see justice served, that Egypt would use its influence in Sudan as well as in - with the elite of Sudan to seek a - an adjustment in the Sudanese position and increase cooperation with the international community as well as the ICC - which means hopefully the removal of al-Bashir and ultimately his - him being brought to justice.
The last source that I found to be - in the media there, I heard that - to be very almost pro-Western position on this issue, is Asharq Alawsat. They do translate specific articles from Western media such as the New York Times, The Washington Post; and they are Op-Ed leaders. Most of them actually called for al-Bashir to be arrested or to be removed from power and for the Darfuree crisis to actually - to regain - or to gain its prominent position within Arab and African politics.
And they called the - a few of them called the situation appalling regarding the humanitarian crisis that they are going through. But also they described Arab reaction and Middle Eastern reaction to the - to this crisis appalling because there is not that much being done or said about it.
I - and my intervention with this - and I’m sorry for - if I took a little too longer than I should have.
Michael Abramowitz: Thank you very much Seth.
John Norris is the Executive Director of the Enough Project. And - looking for John and Jerry to tell us a little bit of what you think needs to be done to make sure the situation does not deteriorate even worse into a true humanitarian catastrophe.
John Norris: Yes. This is John. I think President Bashir has really cast the crisis in very sharp and very bright lines at this point. The international community now has a fundamental issue and problem to deal with.
It has a president that has been credibly charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity who responded to those charges by moving to not only cut off immediate humanitarian assistance to more than a million people but today announcing that he hopes to see all the international NGOs kicked out of Sudan - causing immense hardship to the people of Sudan - and very likely taking steps that would unravel the hard-fought comprehensive peace agreement between North and South Sudan.
So I think it is evident that President Bashir is in a mood to escalate. He is willing to inflict incredibly steep costs on the people of Sudan. That - he is not particularly interested in a viable peace process at this point. And I think what we are really seeing is a very stern test, not only for the new Obama administration but for the Security Council and even for those states that are Sudan’s erstwhile allies - and even for the people that are in President Bashir’s own political party.
I think, as we have seen, that there has been a lot of voices in the Arab press that say this is unacceptable. We have a statement out from the elders - or from Kofi Annan, Desmond Tutu - saying that this is absolutely unacceptable.
And I think it is time for a concerted practical diplomatic effort to make clear to Khartoum that this is unacceptable behavior, that there will be a cost for it and that the international community will not stand idly by and watch perhaps up to a million people face a profound humanitarian emergency.
You know, obviously I think there is a robust debate going on about how best to achieve those goals and how to get there. But I think one of the things that is really important to understand is that some of those states that have traditionally backed Khartoum and backed President Bashir, such as China...If they continue to back such reckless irresponsible behavior, they are sowing the seeds for greater instability in Sudan.
So they are sowing the seeds for greater unpredictability for their own economic interests as they go forward and really pushing the international community or some coalition of like-minded nations to a point where it may have no choice but to mount some kind of humanitarian intervention in some form.
So I think really it’s incumbent upon not only those people who have long objected to President Bashir’s behaviors, but to those people who have often cast themselves as somewhat reluctant allies to Bashir, to make clear - at UN headquarters in New York, at the African Union, at the Arab League, elsewhere in diplomatic capitals - that this is not a productive course for Sudan.
And that there needs to be a viable overall process that leads to a lasting peace for Sudan, allows the displaced and refugees to return home, allows humanitarian assistance to flow, allows the peacekeeping force on the ground to actually protect civilians and do its work.
And this is a real challenge for the Obama administration. And I think in some ways President Bashir has miscalculated very, very badly by thinking that the world will not respond to such draconian tactics against the people of Sudan. Thanks.
Michael Abramowitz: Thank you John. Thank you John.
Jerry Fowler is the president of the Save Darfur Coalition. Jerry?
Jerry Fowler: Thank you Mike. And thanks to everyone for being on.
I’ll be fairly quick. I would just emphasize - picking up on what John Norris just said, and what Mohamed and Joel in particular said - that the scale and scope of the looming catastrophe is so significant and of such a magnitude that we need presidential engagement, direct presidential engagement.
The president’s statement on Tuesday when he met with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was a good first step; but it’s past time for some next steps.
First, I think the president needs to be making phone calls to key African and Arab leaders. These countries in particular that John described as reluctant allies of Khartoum, I think presidential engagement with these leaders can make a difference in isolating Khartoum and putting pressure on Bashir to reverse course.
Second, the president obviously can’t do it by himself. He needs an envoy who owns this issue - who has the stature, mandate and authority - to drive Sudan policy and to do the day-to-day diplomacy. If the administration is not ready to appoint the envoy, then there needs to be a temporary owner; someone who is already onboard needs to drop what he or she is doing and focus on this crisis. Because it’s not going to wait.
We understand the administration is undertaking a policy review on Sudan. That’s very important. That’s very heartening. But obviously the situation on the ground is not waiting for the policy review to be concluded. And so the administration can’t wait to conclude it to get in gear on this.
There are people all over the country who are raising voices - their voices. Just right now outside, for example, the federal center - the federal building in LA, there are people who have been there full time basically since last week.
I think I would just leave with a question: Why is there a disconnect between how passionately and articulately candidate Obama addressed the issue of Darfur and said that the genocide there is a stain on our souls, and what President Obama is doing and saying now with millions of lives at stake? We need presidential engagement, and we need it now.
Michael Abramowitz: All right. Thank you for - to our panelists. We’d throw the open - throw the call open to questions from journalists. And maybe the operator can take a few - can put people in line. (April)?
Operator: Sure thing. And as a reminder, if you would like to ask a question press star then the number 1 on your telephone keypad.
We’ll pause for just a moment to compile the Q&A roster.
The first question comes from Peter Baker with the New York Times.
Peter Baker: Hi guys. Thanks for doing this call.
Why do you - I’d like to turn the question around to Jerry. Why do you think there is a disconnect? What do you think is happening that is preventing anything more - serious engagements or public outrage, at least, on the subject from the Obama administration?
Jerry Fowler: Well I wish I had a good answer for it. I think part of it is the tendency in government to want to have everything aligned before you move forward. And I can appreciate that.
But they have start - they have been faced - they have been confronted with a crisis now where things are moving very quickly. And it demands a response.
But I don’t have a good answer for why these people, who - all of whom care about Darfur - we know that from their previous records - have not engaged, you know, in a more urgent and public way.
Peter Baker: Is there a debate, do you think, within the administration about that?
Jerry Fowler: Well that would be a good question to ask them. I’m not sure. I’m sure that are...I know there are discussions going on. I know people at the staff level are working on this. But to the extent that there is a debate, as I said - and this is part of the policy review - the world is not waiting for it. Bashir is trying to establish a new worse status quo than the status quo that existed before last Wednesday, which by itself was unacceptable and unsustainable.
And now, you know, I think the challenge for the administration - and as John Norris said this is the first real international test for the administration - is to take back the initiative and not let Bashir succeed in creating a new worse status quo.
Peter Baker: Thank you.
Michael Abramowitz: Next question please?
Operator: Next question comes from the line of Bill Varner.
Bill Varner: Hi. Thank you.
Any one of you, I guess; I’ll address it to Jerry I guess. React to the latest news about Sudan planning to take over all humanitarian aid workers in the community within a year and drive out the rest of the 70-plus things. What are the consequences of that? And, you know, why - what are the prospects that they - the government could actually do anything significant in terms of - or would do anything significant in terms of delivering aid?
Jerry Fowler: I think I’ll throw that to Joel to address what the humanitarian consequences of that would be. But I think it would be catastrophic.
Joel Charny: Yeah. I mean - Joel Charny from Refugees International.
You know, Sudan is a country that - between war and climatic factors - has been experiencing, you know, food shortages and humanitarian difficulties now for several decades. And, you know, the network of international agencies there is expensive - is extensive. And it’s delivering badly needed support to the Sudanese people, not only in Darfur but in Eastern Sudan and in Southern Sudan.
And, you know, the...I actually think...I mean I - maybe you make mistakes, underestimating the Sudanese government and President Bashir. But I - that’s - the impact of that would be so negative that I actually find it difficult to believe that that’s not just a rhetorical statement.
I mean I read the article. And, you know, he says, “Well the Ethiopians have managed to do that.” And that’s actually not true. Ethiopia still has an extensive network of international organizations working inside the country.
And I just think...I mean I think Bashir is playing politics at this point. And I think if you really push and expelled all agencies a year from now, you know, the consequences would be catastrophic to the point of making Sudan virtually ungovernable.
I would further add that the government of South Sudan has extended an invitation to the expelled agencies from Darfur to work in the south. And I don’t think the government of South Sudan would go along with such an expulsion.
So the effect of the expulsion would be felt in the northern and western part of the country. But Bashir would not be able to carry that for all of Sudan.
Michael Abramowitz: Thank you Joel. Next question please?
Operator: The next question comes from Sara Eldeeb with the Associated Press.
Sara Eldeeb: Hi. I think I’ll start with a question about the new declaration. I think we got an answer from Joel now. But I was just wondering, how do you think this can actually take place? Do you think...I mean this is a pretty specific question. Do you think the fund - the funders, the people paying the money for these programs, would actually stay on if such a decision is taken?
And then given the circumstances the aid groups have been working in in the past couple of weeks, let’s say, since the decision from the ICC, how do you imagine they could continue to work in such an environment? I mean there is already talk of security for them. There is - they have been pretty tightlipped about what they do. How do you think they can do anything that can actually reach to the Darfurees?
And then I think this question is to Jerry and John, if possible. What are the options that are being discussed? What do you think is the scenario from now on?
And the last question though: Why do you think al-Bashir is doing this? And Joel said he is playing politics. What do you think is in his mind? Knowing him, what do you think he is trying to get at? Is it just fiery statements and he doesn’t really mean to back them up with actions? Or he is bargaining for something, holding everyone hostage to this?
And then one quick - one specific question to Joel: You said something about the - how many are waiting for vaccinations. I missed that; if you can please repeat, I’d like to use your figures.
Joel Charny: Okay. I’ll take the...This is Joel again. I take the humanitarian questions and then turn it over to my colleagues.
On the meningitis outbreak, the estimate is that 100,000 people need to be vaccinated. And that’s in Kalma camp and one other camp.
And basically MSF - the Médecins Sans Frontières, I’m not sure which section - was responsible for health services in those camps. And there is simply no agency to replace them at this point.
So the figure is 100 - at least 100,000 people who need to be vaccinated.
Now on the response to an expulsion, I mean I don’t think there is any way that the donors would go along with that. I mean what Bashir is implying basically is that Sudanese nongovernmental organizations and the Sudanese government would be able to make up for all the programs of the international community. And, you know, A, that’s not feasible; and B, the political environment that that would create would make it, I think, untenable for most of the major funders to continue their support.
So it would be an immense dilemma. And, you know, we just cannot get to that point. Because, you know, you’d say it’s just a tremendous dilemma in terms of, you know, do you let people suffer? In other words, do you deny funding and let people suffer? Or, you know, do you simply have to walk away knowing that the integrity of the whole humanitarian effort has been compromised?
And I mean I really do think that most donors from, you know, Western industrial countries would walk at that point. You know, would donors from, you know, the Gulf and, you know, from China be able to make up the difference? I’m not sure.
Now in terms of the working environment, I’m glad you’ve brought that up because in the brief two minutes I had I wasn’t able to address that.
But I want to be clear for everyone on the call that, you know, there have really been a lot of hostile acts organized by the Sudanese government against the NGO community in the context of the expulsion orders. You know, assets of the NGOs have been confiscated. You know, offices have been broken into.
Extortionist demands have been made on staff in terms of, you know, paying for salaries of local staff and, you know, special permits needed to leave the country and so on. I mean I am hard pressed to think of an environment that’s more negative for nongovernmental work than that in Sudan over the last week.
So as you say, the agencies are really under a lot of pressure. And it really poses a dilemma. Because, you know, for the agencies that can still work, they want to stay and continue to work - understandably. Yet at the same time there has to be community solidarity given the attack that these 13 agencies are under - not to mention two or three Sudanese organizations whose activities are also under threat.
So, you know, this is where...I mean this gets into the, you know, the policy response that’s needed. But the situation is completely untenable. And we cannot see NGOs just sit out there, you know, kind of by themselves and bear the brunt of this assault from the Sudanese government.
Michael Abramowitz: Thank you. Maybe - John Norris, maybe you can talk a little bit about the political questions there about why President Bashir is doing this.
John Norris: Sure. And I think there is a couple of things, really, driving his strategy at this point. And we certainly shouldn’t underestimate his ability to make it up as he goes along.
And I think with some of the recent announcements we have seen key members of his own party, key ministers, have not been consulted. So I think he is in a very reactive mode right now. And what is driving his thinking more than anything is desperately trying to figure out a way to hold onto power.
The decision to expel NGOs from Darfur and elsewhere I think is not only driven by a desire to put pressure on the international community and to be provocative. But I think he is also looking toward potential national elections and looking at those displaced camps as places where there is an awful lot of votes that would most certainly never go to him. And efforts to disperse these communities and make their lives more miserable makes it more likely that he can essentially neutralize that as a voting block.
I think he is also nervous about his standing within his own party. There has been lots of very forceful statements from different members of the NCP. But, you know, I think that should be taken with a very heavy grain of salt; that’s bluster. They are all going to swear their allegiance to this guy.
But I think it really does put a lot of pressure on the party. And I think more moderate voices, different voices within the party, are increasingly seeing Bashir as more of a liability than an asset.
I think the third thing that Bashir is really trying to do - and Jerry rightly mentioned this in his comments - is - I think he’s trying to make the situation so bad that the international community - as it’s done so often in the past with Sudan - essentially waves the white flag and says, “Okay. We’ll give in. We’ll suspend the arrest warrant for a year. Just let humanitarian assistance start flowing again,” and get back to a status quo that was unacceptable to begin with: that there was already a not-very-effective peacekeeping force on the ground or already a very difficult humanitarian situation, no real prospects for serious peace negotiations.
And that’s a status quo that Bashir would love to achieve over the long haul. And that simply is unacceptable. And I think any approach by the administration or by the Security Council that simply reverts to a very, very bad status quo would rightly be seen as a failure.
Joel Charny: And could I just add...This is Joel again. I want to piggyback on that comment and just stress - at the risk of inappropriately speaking for the NGO community at large - the humanitarian organizations do not in any way want that outcome or that linkage. We don’t want our renewed access in Darfur to be tied in any way to a decision to - you know, related to rescinding the indictment of Bashir.
I mean we want the issue of humanitarian access to be fought on principle around the importance of humanitarian need in Darfur. So, you know, we don’t want to be part of any dealmaking. We want to be able to return to Darfur on our own terms to respond to the immense need that’s there based on humanitarian principle and humanitarian action - not on political dealmaking.
Michael Abramowitz: Okay. Why don’t we keep going with some questions? We’ve got a few more minutes.
Operator: Once again if you would like to ask a question, press star then the number 1 on your telephone keypad.
Your next question comes from Ken Dilanian with USA Today.
Ken Dilanian: Hi folks. I apologize; I came into the call a little late. But I just want to ask if other - if others on the call agree with sentiments expressed by Jerry, which is that, you know, that President Obama’s response has been inadequate thus far and it has not matched his campaign rhetoric or the rhetoric of Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden during the campaign.
John Norris: This is John Norris. I don’t know if...I think that is paraphrasing Jerry, that I’m not sure he would put quotation marks around inadequate.
I think the real question for all of us is...Certainly in the Bush administration we saw a lot of tough rhetoric and a lot of posturing without real policy follow-through.
And I think the real crux of the question now: Is the administration doing the right things behind the scenes, trying to galvanize an effective response, getting its ducks in a row and then pushing forward with a very tough position? Or is it going to be willing to accept talking about the situation and seeing if that’s enough? And I think that is a real decision moment for the new president.
Michael Abramowitz: Thank you. I think we have time for one more question. (April)?
Operator: And your next question comes from the line of James Reinl with The National.
James Reinl: Hi there. Thank you. Yeah, I’m - my question is on a kind of legal issue. And it follows on from what John Norris was saying about kind of humanitarian intervention.
I’m wondering, under, you know, conditions that we’ve got - interventions, international humanitarian law. What are the mechanisms by which Sudan can be forced to permit the expelled aid workers to return and continue their work? And I’m interested in...Is anyone calling for this? And does anyone think that it’s likely that Sudan can be forced to allow aid workers in?
Jerry Fowler: Does - well- this is Jerry. I already responded in the first instance. I think that the call now if for diplomatic pressure and diplomatic isolation of Khartoum to force a reversal of this decision. And I think we are still a long way from having any kind of international consensus behind more direct intervention.
Michael Abramowitz: All right. We actually have time for one more question. I think there was one more question, if the person wanted to ask that?
Operator: Your next question comes from Elizabeth Blackney of Blog Talk Radio.
Elizabeth Blackney: ...and the length of the call.
My question is back on the Obama administration. He’s appointed two rather high-profile (unintelligible) from - that have spoken out and have done an enormous amount of work in the human rights arena: both Susan Rice and certainly Samantha Power. What do you think is the holdup in him appointing one of those two ladies to have Darfur in their portfolio or bring someone else in? Because Samantha’s lifework has been dedicated to this issue. So what do you think the holdup is?
John Norris: This is John Norris. I - from my understanding I think it is very much in their portfolios right now. And then obviously I can’t speak for the administration, and they can give you this on the record.
But I think that Samantha has been very involved in doing the policy review that is ongoing. And obviously Susan Rice who has been very - forceful advocate on these issues, is I’m sure spending probably every waking moment dealing with this issue at the Security Council.
What we have pushed for collectively as organizations has been the appointment of a very senior special envoy, as we’ve seen with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Middle East - Dennis Ross as well on kind of Iranian-related issues. And I think - what we have suggested is that it really is best done by somebody who has this as their full-time position.
And obviously given that Samantha has a line position at the NSE, Susan Rice has an awful lot of other responsibilities at the UN, I think we are heartened that they are clearly involved in these issues. But we would still like to see a special envoy on top of that.
Michael Abramowitz: Okay. I understand there might be a follow-up question that’s designed by a Bloomberg reporter. Feel free to ask that question at this point.
Operator: I have a question from Bill Varner.
Bill Varner: The US, Britain and France basically say - when you ask them about, you know, the Security Council action - they say, “Well, the Security Council is divided. China would block anything. There is no use really pushing. We don’t think there is necessarily any use pushing for a resolution demanding they go back.”
They are just saying, you know, the old tensions within the Council - mainly in this case fueled by China and others on the Council - leaves them sort of feeling a bit - a little powerless; and it really isn’t worth their while or diplomatically sound judgment to push ahead.
What do you think of that rationale?
Joel Charny: I’m not going to defend the thinking, but I am going to defend the reality. And that’s what I’m...
Bill Varner: Who is this? I’m sorry.
Joel Charny: This is Joel Charny...
Bill Varner: Okay.
Joel Charny: ...of Refugees International. I was...I’m not going to necessarily defend the approach. But I’m going to defend the analysis, and that’s what I was thinking in response to the earlier question.
I mean for example, let - if we play this out, if Bashir doesn’t back down and there begins to be, you know, documented large-scale suffering in Darfur as a result of this decision, let’s say the meningitis outbreak is not controlled - or, you know, you can trace actual deaths to the lack of clean water and so on.
I mean at that point, you start thinking about invoking the responsibility to protect. Now to get action under the responsibility to protect internationally, you know, short of a coalition of the willing the best authorization is through the - indeed, through the Security Council.
And I simply cannot see the Security Council authorizing a humanitarian intervention in Darfur. And that, I think, accounts for something of the outrageousness and kind of a sense of impunity that Bashir and the government of Sudan is feeling right now.
I mean it’s just very difficult to contemplate a scenario in which we are rushing international assistance into Darfur against the will of the Sudanese government. And that’s the leverage that they have ultimately. And that’s what - that’s why, I think, diplomacy and political action and somehow getting Bashir to back down through a combination of forces hopefully including Arab governments as well as China - I mean I think that’s the only realistic way forward.
I don’t see a humanitarian intervention in Darfur. The best - I mean the only other option is - if people start pouring into Chad - to make sure that there is adequate humanitarian assistance and response in Chad. But, you know, sort of driving a humanitarian intervention into Darfur, I just don’t see that.
Michael Abramowitz: Jerry, do you want to say anything to conclude?
Jerry Fowler: Well I would just add to that.
I think that the situation of China, they’ve been fairly supportive of Khartoum.
Bill Varner: Who is this, please?
Jerry Fowler: This is Jerry Fowler from the Save Darfur Coalition.
But I think China does not want to be out of step with the African countries as a whole. And that’s why I think that diplomacy directed at the African countries, many of whom have been reluctant allies as John Norris said at the beginning, of Khartoum, others of whom have gone along with a consensus that they were not comfortable with - there is room to shift their positions to reorient them.
At the same time, the Arab League, I think many countries there behind the scenes are very uncomfortable with what - with the course that Khartoum has taken.
And so that’s why a direct and vigorous and sustained and urgent engagement by the United States, including the president, can shift the diplomatic dynamics in a very important way.
Michael Abramowitz: So I want to thank everyone for listening in on the call. We really appreciate it. So that’s it.
Joel Charny: Thank you.
Jerry Fowler: Thanks all. ‘Bye.
Operator: ...today’s conference call. You may now disconnect.