SUDAN WATCH: Lindsey Hilsum's World Exclusive Interview in Khartoum with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on 09 Oct 2008

Friday, October 17, 2008

Lindsey Hilsum's World Exclusive Interview in Khartoum with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on 09 Oct 2008

Lindsey Hilsum in Beijing

Photo: Lindsey Hilsum, international editor and China correspondent for Channel 4 News. Copy of Biography at Channel 4 News:
International editor Lindsey Hilsum is currently assigned as China correspondent and head of our Beijing bureau. She has covered China's environmental crisis, its relations with North Korea, and the Chinese gene therapy industry.

She is also our international editor. She won the 2005 Royal Television Society Journalist of the Year Award for her reporting from Fallujah and Beslan, amongst other stories.

She reported the 2003 war in Iraq from Baghdad for 10 weeks, and has returned to Iraq several times.

During the NATO Kosovo campaign she was in Belgrade; she has also spent extended periods in Zimbabwe and the Middle East.

She won the 2003 Royal Television Society Specialist Journalist of the Year award for her reports from the Palestinian refugee camp at Jenin, and has twice won awards from Amnesty, including one for her coverage of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

Previously she reported for the BBC, the Guardian and other newspapers from Africa and Latin America, where she was an aid worker for OXFAM and UNICEF.

She is a regular contributor to the New Statesman, the Observer and Granta.
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On October 09, in a world exclusive interview, Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir told Channel 4 News that evidence of war crime was fabricated

Lindsey Hilsum's World Exclusive Interview in Khartoum with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir
Lindsey Hilsum with Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir.

Photo from a report by Lindsey Hilsum for Channel 4 News, Thursday, 09 October 2008, entitled Sudan president: no mass rape. Copy:
He stands accused of committing genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity against African tribes in Darfur: yet the president of Sudan has told this programme he never ordered any killings or mass rapes.

Speaking to Channel 4 News in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, Omar al-Bashir claimed that the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in the Hague, who applied for an arrest warrant for the president three months ago, had fabricated his evidence.

Sudan's president and commander-in-chief, Omar al-Bashir, has exclusively told Channel 4 News that all the allegations of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes that have been made against him "are not correct" that "everything is fabricated and made up". He says that "no-one has more compassion for their people than we do in Sudan".

Denying mass rape and claiming that it "does not exist", Mr Bashir says that he will stand for re-election next year with the Sudanese people as "referee".

"The referee is the Sudanese people," he said. "They should decide if we are really criminals, or if we are leaders of the people who should govern them in the future."

Mr al-Bashir also said: "I issue a challenge: if I get less than 50 per cent of the people's votes in Darfur then truly I don't deserve to lead the country."

Yet the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court says President al-Bashir ordered his forces, both soldiers and militia known as Janjaweed, to murder and rape. A 112-page application has been compiled to indict him, which would make him the first serving head of state indicted by the International Criminal Court.

But Mr al-Bashir is resolute that these allegations are untrue and that "even in Darfur, you can say most of it is safe. There are no problems and life is very normal."

Mr al-Bashir is clear that "sources used by the ICC prosecutor are all hostile" telling the programme: "These allegations are not correct. Everything is fabricated and made up. Anything saying that we ordered killing people is untrue. The sources used by the ICC prosecutor are all hostile; they are from the rebels who revolted against the state."

On the allegations of mass rape, Mr al-Bashir says "mass rape does not exist" and that "the Darfurian society does not have rape."

"These are all false allegations," he said. "It's not in the culture of the Darfurians. The Darfurian society does not have rape. It's not in the tradition."

He added "The women inside the camps are under the influence of the rebels and some are even relatives of the rebels. That's why they make these claims."

Mr al-Bashir continued: "We are fully convinced that no rape took place. It might have happened at an individual level, but this is a normal crime that can happen in any country in the world. Mass rape does not exist."
Click here to watch the report.
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Read the full transcript of Lindsey Hilsum's interview with Omar al-Bashir, President of Sudan

Interview: Omar al-Bashir
By: Lindsey Hilsum
(ITV Channel 4 News, UK)
Published: Friday, 17 October 2008

LH: You've been in power almost 20 years. What have you achieved?

O al B: Since we came to power, we have had distinct goals - we have achieved peace in Sudan, especially South Sudan through the agreements we made.

Our second goal was national consensus and reconcilation. Now this is fully in practice, all political parties and entities are practicing their programmes with freedom and preparing themselves to participate in elections.

The third goal was the salvation of our ecoomy. When we came to power, we were in a very poor economic position; we were one of the five poorest countries in the world. Now we have a growing, viable economy that is recording high rates of growth.

LH: But hanging over you is that you may be indicted for genocide. You said in Ghana [at the ACP meeting] that if this happens, there will be no peace, while the further deployment of UN troops and aid will be held up. That sounds like blackmail.

O al B: First that isn't exactly what I said in Ghana. We agreed to negotiate with rebel groups who refused peace, but any measure like that taken by the ICC, encourages them not to attend peace talks. This was evident in their rejection and lack of interest in making peace as long as we are facing these charges

LH: It's not just a question of peace but of justice. These allegations of genocide, war crimes against humanity, war crimes - the prosecutor quotes recorded and written and words of yours calling for forces to take no prisoners, and for a scorched earth campaign..

O al B:These allegations are not correct. Everything is fabricated and made up. Anything saying that we ordered killing people is untrue. The sources used by the ICC prosecutor are all hostile; they are from the rebels who revolted against the state.

LH: You say the sources are rebel groups, but the atrocities are well documented. I've been there, I've seen the burnt villages, the women who have been raped, the thousands living in terror in the camps.

O al B: It's true that many people are living in camps. After the rebels were defeated in the field, many entered the displaced people's camps. They are managing the camps, and they direct the people who meet visitors and dictate what they should say.

It's very normal for people to be displaced from areas of operations and to flee. The question is where did these people move to? They moved into places where there are Sudanese armed forces, police and security because they were sure that they would find safety there.

Is it rational for people to flee and look for security in the very place where they find the same forces that were carrying out mass murder and rape? When these people went to Nyala, El Fasher and Geneina, there were no humanitarian organisations or African Union or UN, rather there were Sudan Armed forces and police.

LH: There wasn't much protection for people in Kalma attacked by Sudanese forces in August. There's not much protection for women who run gauntlet of janjaweed whenever they go to look for firewood...

O al B:When it comes to mass rape, there is no document or evidence, just accusations. Anything which claims these things are documented is untrue.

But if we are talking about Kalma, in Kalma there were arms inside the camp. The crime of murder was committed inside the camp. We agreed that the operation would be made in collaboration between government forces and UNAMID, but at the last moment the UNAMID mentioned that they had received orders not to be involved.

They knew when the forces moved because the informatiom had leaked. A number of citizens confronted the forces. Behind them, there were armed men and the shooting started from inside the camp. Some soliders when shot at, automatically retaliated and casualties occurred.

But after this incident, a shot was fired at a UN plane from within the camp, and it was brought down. This is a displaced people's camp, not a rebel camp, and arms are not allowed inside. Arms should be removed from the camps.

LH: So you shot at people in the camp because you believed there were rebels behind them...?

O al B: That's not what I said. The casualties were in the crossfire.

LH: I'm interested that you deny that there's been mass rape. Because this is something that not just the rebels are saying.

What we see is the UN, the Ministry of Health people, we see women turning up with evidence of rape at healthcare facilities. We see children with this. And they all tell the same story, that it's usually janjaweed, sometimes government of Sudan troops. Are you really denying this, are you really saying that women of Sudan are lying?


O al B: The women inside the camps are under the influence of the rebels and some are even relatives of the rebels. That's why they make these claims.

Now there are scientific methods that can reveal who are the fathers of these children which are born. We are fully convinced that no rape took place. It might have happened at an individual level, but this is a normal crime that can happen in any country in the world. Mass rape does not exist.

LH: So you're going to take DNA of the janjaweed...?

O al B: You can bring any accused, and take his DNA.

LH: They don't know who did it, individual, Just know the janjaweed

O al B: These are all false allegations. It's not in the culture of the Darfurians. The Darfurian society does not have rape. It's not in the tradition.

LH: Do you have no pity?

O al B: No-one has more compassion for their people than we do in Sudan. We have been fighting rebels and in any country where people raise arms against the government, they are to be fought.

In fact, people who fight now are classified as terrorists even those who are resisting foreign occupation like in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and so on.

If we had no mercy, those displaced people wouldn't have come to the government areas. They wouldn't have been received and cared for until the humanitarian organisations arrived.

LH: Do you take responsibilty for action of the armed forces of Sudan including the janjaweed?

O al B: Any armed forces are governed by law. This law defines exactly who is responsible for any operation carried out. If a commander exceeds his limits of responsibility, the law is there to hold him accountable. Of course, these responsiblities are shared. We are not leading or commanding forces in the field. We give general instructions or orders, which the forces carry out.

LH: Two significant people in conflict, your former Minister of Interior Ahmad Haroun and a janjaweed commander Ali Khusyab, have been indicted. You said you won't hand them over to the ICC? Why not? Let them defend themselves.

O al B: We have a competent and qualified judicial system. It has a history and has set judicial precedents that have tried commanders of police and security.

We are not members of the Rome Protocol, but we assure you that there's no-one above the law. If there is anyone who has accusations against Ahmad Haroun and Ali Khusayb the prosecution is there, the judiciary is there, and there is no impunity for anyone who commits a crime.

LH: It's a bit embarrassing, isn't it, to have a head of state who faces indictment, possible indictment? It means you might not be able to travel to various countries... Are you really going to stand for election next year, do you think you can stay? Or do you think it would be for the good of the country, better to step down now?

O al B: First of all, we are facing a challenge and the referee is the Sudanese people. They should decide if we are really criminals, or if we are leaders of the people who should govern them in the future. I issue a challenge: if I get less than 50 per cent of the people's votes in Darfur then truly I don't deserve to lead the country.

LH: They're now saying this ship carrying tanks and other weapons hijacked by pirates off coast of Somalia was carrying weapons for the GOSS, previously your enemies now part of your government. What's your reaction?

O al B: There were conflicting reports. Acually I met the Kenyan Foreign Minister in Accra and he assured me that this shipment of arms was for Kenya. Of course, the media says otherwise. Now we are talking to our brother in Southern Sudan to see the truth about it.

LH: There's worry about the war in the south re-starting. Darfur, Kordofan, Blue Nile, Nuba Mountains... There are a lot of unhappy, restless people in Sudan. This country is boiling. How are you going to deal with that? How do you see it in five years time?

O al B: I'm very keen to show that this thing of the country boiling is untrue. We have no problems in Blue Nile, or Nuba Mountains. Everything is fine. The implementation of the peace agreement with the south is fine.

Now even in Darfur, you can say most of it is safe. There are no problems and life is very normal. In the media it's boiling, but in the field it's not.
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Lindsey Hilsum describes the experience of interviewing the man "who has presided over terrible atrocities in Darfur"

Al-Bashir: a big man of Africa?
By: Lindsey Hilsum
(ITV Channel 4 News, UK)
Published: Tuesday, 14 October 2008

When Mugabe walks into a room, he fills it. Likewise Museveni or Obasanjo. Malign or benign, these are the Big Men of Africa, men with a presence and stature.

But when Omar al-Bashir, President of Sudan, walked into the room where I was to interview him in Khartoum last week, nothing in the atmosphere changed. He scarcely filled his suit, let alone anything larger.

Yet he has his place in history: the first serving head of state threatened with indictment by the International Criminal Court.

I had met him before. Back in 1989, when he seized power in a bloodless coup, I flew to Khartoum from Kenya where I was living and managed to secure the first interview with, as he was then, Brigadier Omar al Bashir.

What he said seems unremarkable now, but I recall how he signaled that the interview was over - he got up from behind his desk, went over to the television, turned it on, sat down and started to watch the cartoons.

I was unimpressed. He'll never last, I thought.

Nineteen years later he's still in power, which makes his utter lack of charisma even more remarkable.

Well, nineteen years later he's still in power, which makes his utter lack of charisma even more remarkable. He rarely talks to foreign journalists, and while in our first encounter he spoke English, these days he hides behind an interpreter.

We had secured the interview through an American woman, Christine Dolan, who had good contacts in Sudan dating back twenty years.

Somehow, she had managed to persuade people close to the President that at this time, as he stands accused of "masterminding" genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur, it would be good if he told his side of the story.

We were taken to a compound in central Khartoum where he apparently lives, and ushered into a receiving room full of oversized, overstuffed armchairs covered in white chinz patterned with rosebuds. His press secretary brought in a national flag, and positioned it next to the chair where the president would sit.

I've met many of the foot-soldiers of genocide, and interviewed several leaders accused of what's regarded as the worst of all crimes, including Radovan Karadzic of Republika Srpska, now awaiting trial in the Hague, and the former Prime Minister of Rwanda, Jean Kambanda, still serving a sentence for his role in the mass killings in 1994.

A small, plump balding man, he seems less like a mastermind and more like a railway clerk.

On these occasions, I felt that frisson of fear which goes with the company of someone you know is responsible for more than murder.

But with Omar al-Bashir - nothing. A small, plump balding man, he seems less like a mastermind and more like a railway clerk.

He smiled. He was not to be drawn. Mass rape in Darfur? It doesn't happen. Are the women who say they've been raped lying then? They're relatives of the rebels. What is his personal responsibility for the crimes and cruelty which have occurred? This is war, these things happen.

I chipped away at the wall but couldn't even blister the paint. It was an unsatisfying encounter with a man who, at the very least, has presided over terrible atrocities, but refuses to acknowledge that anything is wrong.

At the end, he agreed that we could travel to Darfur for a day to "see for ourselves". Well, I've seen for myself before and I knew that no government-organised trip would take us where we needed to go, to see what we needed to see and talk to those who would tell the truth. But I would go nonetheless.

The President eased himself out of his arm chair and stood up to leave.

"Life is very normal in Darfur," he said, and for a brief moment I felt a certain menace in his words.
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Backgrounder: Omar al-Bashir (By Lindsey Hilsum)

Omar al-Bashir is the president of Sudan, and infamously known for being the first standing head of state that the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has accused of genocide, crimes agianst humanity and war crimes.

Three judges are now considering the request for prosecution made by the ICC Chief Prosector, Luis Moreno Ocamop, in July 2008. They are likely to decide within the next two months if the 64 year old president should stand trial.

Accusations of mass killings by militia, known as janjaweed, as well as wholesale rape and the forced removal of millions of Zaghawa, Massalit and Fur people from their traditional lands, form the basis for the charges against the Sudanese president. He denies any responsibility.

Bashir came to power in 1989, when as a Sudanese army colonel, he launched a coup which ousted the elected government of Sadeq al-Mahdi. Initially, he suspended political parties but later reinstated them and has remained in power by playing different factions against each other. In 1993, he dissolved the military junta, appointing himself civilian president.

The main challenge of Bashir's first decade and a half in power was trying to end the civil war between Sudan's north and south, estimated to have killed almost two million people. By the time that conflict was under control, in 2005, another was underway in Darfur, in the west of Sudan.

The Darfur conflict began when rebels took up arms against the marginalisation of Africans, and the domination of the government by an Arabised elite. Bashir is accused of sanctioning a vicious military response to stop the revolt, targetting civilians.

Initially, Bashir imposed some elements of Islamic law on the country. His rule has been characterised by economic expansion, as the the oil industry has been developed, notably by Chinese companies. While Sudan has a semi federal system, Bashir's government has resisted calls for greater representation of Darfur people in the central government in Khartoum.

If the judges approve the Mr Ocampo's request for prosecution, Bashir is extremely unlikely to be forced to go to The Hague to face trial in the near future. While the regime he heads is not strong, opposition forces are divided, and there is no apparent immediate threat to his rule.

Bashir was in the British tabloids last year when he intervened to pardon Gillian Gibbons, a British teacher imprisoned for insulting Islam by naming a school teddy bear Muhammad.

Click here to watch the edited interview.
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Lindsey Hilsum's World Exclusive Interview in Khartoum with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir

Photo: Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir during interview with Channel 4 News on October 09, 2008. Source: Sudan Tribune report Friday, 10 October 2008, entitled Sudan president says only DNA test can prove rape in Darfur.
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Footnote

Sudan Watch Ed: Immediately after watching the interview on televison, I spent a few hours drafting some commentary on it for Sudan Watch. Unfortunately, the draft sat in the folder that was accidentally deleted by a BT IT engineer. To date, I have been unable to rewrite the commentary, so I have filed Lindsey's reports here above for revisiting at a later date.

Falklands

Photo: Lindsey Hilsum in the Falklands. 
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UPDATE - SATURDAY 18 OCTOBER 2008

Note this excerpt from a post at MiaFarrow.org Friday, October 17, 2008 featuring Lindsey Hilsum's commentary (referred to, in the post, as a blog) entitled "Al-Bashir: a big man of Africa?" (see copy here above):
The blog of the reporter who describes what it felt like to interview Omar Al-Bashir. Link to the TV interview posted below

It was strangely nothing-y... I felt that I should have felt more, if you know what I mean, but he was such a blank space there was nothing to be felt. V weird.
Here's the blog:

Best wishes,
Lindsey

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