Monday, October 16, 2006

DARFUR HERO: Eric Reeves. God save us if we don't follow his lead.

History will not say we had no examples, we-the-citizens that are so far neglecting to Protect our family Darfur.

Darfur Activist: Eric Reeves

The transcript of the "Cover Story" from this week's "Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly" (video linked from source page); thanks to Eugene...
RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY Cover Story Transcript: "Darfur Activist" Show #1007, PBS National Feed Date: October 13, 2006

BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: This week the United Nations humanitarian chief called on the international community to pressure the leaders of Sudan to accept UN peacekeepers in the troubled region of Darfur. The Sudanese have so far rebuffed the peacekeepers, while aid workers say the violence in and around refugee camps has gotten worse. Lucky Severson has the story today of an American scholar obsessed with the Darfur tragedy and the need to keep the world from forgetting it. His name is Eric Reeves.

Dr. ERIC REEVES (Professor, English Language and Literature, Smith College): Not only are cattle killed or looted, not only are people killed or made to flee, but water wells, precious in this very arid region, are poisoned. They are piled full of corpses.

LUCKY SEVERSON: Images of despair in Darfur in western Sudan -- moms and kids starving, sometimes raped and often murdered. They are victims of a civil war and of what the U.S. government is calling genocide. Few have heard of Eric Reeves, but he has been and early an unrelenting voice of alarm, determined not to let the world look the other way.

Dr. REEVES: These people are at the bottom of the geopolitical pecking order. They're black. They're poor. They're Muslim. They sit over no national resources. They have nothing going for them in the geostrategic scheme of things. But they are human beings, and they're suffering terribly, and they're being destroyed at an unconscionable rate.

SEVERSON: Reeves is an unlikely player in a modern day tragedy. He's a scholar of the Renaissance, a professor of literature at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. But when he speaks of suffering in Darfur, it is with the passion of a crusader.

Dr. REEVES: There are many people who believe that somehow African lives are less valuable. Human suffering is human suffering. Human destruction and loss is human destruction and loss. I refuse to accept that these lives are any less valuable than our lives.

SUSANNAH SIRKIN (Deputy Director, Physicians for Human Rights, pointing to map): Every single little red flame here is a destroyed village in Darfur.

SEVERSON: Susannah Sirkin is with the relief group, Physicians for Human Rights. She's worked with Reeves for years.

Ms. SIRKIN: He lives their lives from afar, and he is completely seized with their dilemma and with their tragedy, and as if it was his own life and his own family that is being attacked on a daily basis.

SEVERSON: Sirkin says when she first met Reeves, she was skeptical he had much to offer.

Ms. SIRKIN: His information is extraordinary. He has a vast network of informants and contacts and research sources and material, and it's enormously informative, and certainly it's also a voice of conscience for all of us.

SEVERSON: Reeves has spent so much time championing the cause of Darfur, he has had to take unpaid sabbaticals and refinance his house. But when he has the time, he keeps up his wood turning, in which he lathes beautiful objects of art that sell for hundreds of dollars, which he donates to relief agencies. He says his intense involvement has caused some strains with his family but that they fully support his work.

Professor Reeves has a history of activism. He could have dodged the draft for Vietnam but chose instead to be a conscientious objector. Over the years, he's given thousands of dollars to the international relief agency Doctors Without Borders -- enough to fund three cholera field hospitals at over $20,000 each. He found his calling in 1999 when the U.S. head of Doctors Without Borders lamented the world's short attention span when it comes to the misery and violence in Sudan. Reeves took that as a personal challenge.

Dr. REEVES: And I said something to the effect, well, I'll see what I can do about that. And I had no idea, honestly, no idea of what that meant at the time. But those were the words that I uttered, and I felt obliged to make good on them, and that's what the last eight years, I guess, have been about.

SEVERSON: He says at first it was difficult getting people to take him seriously, but he gradually built up a network of Web and media contacts. Now he sends out a 5,000-word Darfur update each week and peppers major papers relentlessly with op-ed pieces that are both authoritative and compassionate. He says the government in Khartoum has spent thousands of dollars to discredit his reports.

Dr. REEVES: They know who I am, and they don't like what I do, and they don't like people helping me.

SEVERSON: For years, the Sudanese government has attempted to cleanse the country of unwanted ethnic and religious groups. It began in the oil regions of southern Sudan, where the targets were Christians like Panther Alier.

PANTHER ALIER: The attack was in my village. The houses were set on fire. People were shot dead. I saw people falling down, so my life was in great danger.

SEVERSON: Today in Darfur it is the Arabs, the janjaweed militia who are killing the black Africans. To them it is a war over scarce resources like water. But to the Khartoum government it is a chance to exploit traditional differences among tribes.

Ms. SIRKIN: The tribes that we're talking about that have been attacked are settled people. They're farmers. They have lived on their land and in these villages for generations. They're very attached to their homes, and they are being attacked by and large by nomadic people who have cattle.

SEVERSON: The nomads who are seeking to expand their grazing land include the janjaweed militia, which is sponsored by the Arab government in Khartoum. Reeves says the aim of the government is to destroy every living thing in Darfur that could possibly support the rebel groups fighting for a greater role in the Sudanese government. And, he says, they've been successful.

Dr. REEVES: By my calculations, some half-a-million people have already died from the direct and indirect consequences of genocidal warfare.

SEVERSON: Reeves was one of the first to label the violence in Darfur as genocide. His estimates of casualties are high compared to some others, but he stands by them and says it's important not to underestimate the bloodletting.

Dr. REEVES: Because if we don't understand how many people have died, we won't have a good understanding or an adequate understanding of how many people are at risk and are likely to die.

SEVERSON: And it's not only those who die, it's the two million people who have had their villages razed and have been forced to live in the squalor of refugee camps. And then there is what he calls the systematic rape of Darfur women.

Dr. REEVES: Rape is used as a terrible weapon of war. All the evidence suggests there have been tens of thousands of rapes committed against women and girls, girls as young as eight years old.

SEVERSON: It is not that the world has sat idly by. The African Union has 7,000 troops in Darfur, but most everyone agrees they are underfunded, undermanned, and powerless to stop the carnage.

Dr. REEVES: These people in the camps say to all who will listen, "If we are abandoned, if we are left with only the African Union force, we will be slaughtered." They know it.

SEVERSON: Critics say the Bush administration has done more than most European countries, but not enough. In September, President Bush lobbied to send over 22,000 UN troops to Darfur, something Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir has repeatedly refused to agree to.

CONDELEEZA RICE (U.S. Secretary of State, speaking at press conference): None of us want to see this situation in Darfur continue and/or worsen.

SEVERSON: Reeves and other relief officials say the administration needs to pressure China, a major oil customer of Sudan, not to veto the deployment of UN troops.

Mr. ALIER: It's a matter of life, and some members on the Security Council don't understand that. For them it is a matter of oil and economy.

SEVERSON: It's not that there haven't been rallies and demonstrations with religious leaders and celebrities like George Clooney trying to spread the word.

Ms. SIRKIN: No one can say they didn't know, because everyone knows.

SEVERSON: Among those most engaged and enraged about Darfur are the young.

UNIDENTIFIED YOUNG MAN: What's at stake is our humanity. If we don't respond to genocide, what does that really say about us?

SEVERSON: Panther wears a Save Darfur bracelet to remind him constantly.

Mr. ALIER. I always have it. I sleep with it. I always have it, and I will always have it until the issue is solved.

SEVERSON: The only time Eric Reeves has been in Darfur was in 2003, and when he returned he thought he had an infection, but doctors discovered leukemia.

Ms. SIRKIN: I visited Eric in the hospital when he was receiving chemotherapy, and he was, every single day, working on Darfur. When I happened to see him he had IV lines in his arms, but he was on the phone talking about the crisis in Sudan with a radio reporter, and he had his laptop in front of him, and he was typing up his regular missives on Sudan.

Dr. REEVES: I live day-to-day with the knowledge of how much people are suffering and how many people are being destroyed because of who they are. This is intolerable, and it never leaves me.

SEVERSON: The last we heard, Eric Reeves's leukemia is in remission, but not his indignation.

For RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, I'm Lucky Severson, Northampton, Massachusetts.

ABERNETHY: Reeves told Lucky, "I have no gift of faith, although I admire those who do." His motivation is moral outrage. He said, "I can't stand to see human suffering."

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