Last Updated February 11, 2008

President Jimmy Carter’s speech on Elders mission in Sudan/Darfur

1 p.m. , October 24, 2007
Abramson Family Recital Hall, Katzen Arts Center
American University
As Delivered

Well as both Neil and Bob pointed out, Bob and I have known each other a long time, and I would say that over the years he's gotten both, uh, more verbose and also more complimentary. My family is deeply immersed in the Peace Corps. I've just finished writing a biography of my mother, uh, which will be published next, uh, Mother's day. She was in the Peace Corps when she was 70 years old, and her great-grandson was also in the Peace Corps. And we celebrated the 25 th anniversary of the Peace Corps, in which Bob also served, and he was gonna introduce me, I made the main speech. And I remember that Bob got up and his only introduction was, “Now I want to introduce Jimmy Carter, without whom, the Carter Center would not have its first name.” And he sat down, so I got up and then tried to make my speech.

Well, it's good both being the president, and also being, uh, surviving the White House. I was one of the youngest ones who did survive the White House. Well, I think the best way to put this into perspective is to refer to a cartoon that was in the New Yorker magazine last year. This little boy is looking up at his father, and he says, “Daddy, when I grow up, I wanna be a former president.” Well, it's a good life, and one of the things that has made it good for me is since we've left the White House, we've organized the Carter Center , and the book that Bob just pointed out is kind of a history of the 25 years of the Carter Center . We have programs in 71 nations around the world, the poorest, more destitute, needy, forgotten people on earth. 35 of those countries are in Africa , and that's where we do the vast majority of our work. We negotiate peace agreements, we monitor elections, we deal with diseases, and we also teach people how to grow more food grain. My wife is a, I would say, an international leader in promoting mental health. So that's what we, what we, what we do these days.

In addition, beginning in July, I was asked to participate in an unprecedented, exciting, promising, hopeful new organization, that's called The Elders. It's comprised of a group of pretty much political has-beens. Uh, We have people who have served in positions of great authority and influence and power, some of us. I've been the president of the United States of America, another member is Kofi Annan, the former secretary general of the United Nations, Mary Robinson, who has been the president of Ireland and was the first United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights, Nelson Mandela, who, as you know, has been the president of South Africa; his wife, Graca Machel, who has had, who has been two first ladies, one she was the first lady of Mozambique and then later the first lady of South Africa; Archbishop Desmond Tutu; the former president of, uh, of Brazil Cardoso, and so forth. And we have an honorary member, the 13 th member of the Elders, Aung Sun Suu Kyi, who is now, now confined, as you know, under house arrest or worse in Burma or Myanmar . So that describes a make up of the so-called Elders. We are very grateful that in this first phase of our evolution, of birth, that American University has played the key role. Not only has the university loaned us, loaned The Elders, Dr. Pastor, who has been the acting CEO on matters that we are addressing of a conflict nature around the world, but also the staff here have been just absolutely superb in their service and I want to thank them personally before I go further.

The Elders have taken on, after two meetings in South Africa , tentatively but not insubstantially, four major projects in conflicts. One I've already mentioned and that's Myanmar or Burma . Another one is Zimbabwe , which as you know, is basically going down the drain, and needs to have some change back to its former economic prosperity but with freedom for the people who live there. The Mid-East, that I might describe a little more briefly in the future, but also the Sudan-Darfur issue. We decided to have the first expedition for the Elders to take place in Sudan , with special effort in the northwestern part of Sudan known as Darfur .

I have been going to Sudan aggressively and regularly almost every year or more, since 1988. When we first began to try to negotiate a peace agreement between the government of Sudan , primarily a Muslim government, in Khartoum , and revolutionaries fighting under John Garang, a Christian, with a doctorate, by the way, from Iowa State University , in the south. Many of the people in the three southern provinces were Christians, others were just non-Muslims, were animists, and so forth, so forth with native preferences. But the big argument was of whether the Sharia law, the Islamic law, would apply uniformly over the entire country, or just in the provinces that were predominantly Muslim. And That was the intransigent issue with which we couldn't deal. That dragged on for a number years, and over 2 million people died. And we were making good progress, and then President Clinton's administration took over, and he and his associates abandoned all the efforts to negotiate peace and decided instead to try to overthrow the government in Khartoum .

And when the troubled election of 2000 took place in Florida—I'm not departing from the subject, although you might think I am—I was as troubled as all the other democrats, knowing that Al Gore won both in the whole nation and also in Florida, but when the Supreme Court ruled, then President Bush was authorized to be sworn in. My wife and I decided to go to Washington , to attend his inauguration. I think it's accurate to say that we were the only two voluntary democrats on the reviewing stand. But after he was sworn in, it was obvious that he and his father and his mother and his wife, all agreed that they were grateful that my wife and I came. So he took me aside and asked if there's anything he could do for me, and I said yes, I only have one request and it's probably the only request I'll ever make to you while you're in office, and that is to try to bring peace to Sudan. And he did. He did the best he could. And he appointed former Senator John Danforth from Missouri , who took charge of the negotiation, and they finally concluded what's presently known as a comprehensive peace agreement between the north and the south. And it has resulted in, in effect, sustained but fragile ceasefire, with no more battles going on. And this opened up the opportunity by the way, for the Carter Center to go in the south and to carry out some of our projects in health and agricultural.

That comprehensive peace agreement has, in effect, divided the nation of Sudan between the North, operating out of Khartoum headed by Al-Bashir, the president, on the one hand, and the south headed by Salva Kiir, who is also the vice president of the entire country. So there's a problem there, although, it's peaceful. In that, those two leaders and their followers feel like the entire nation has been divided up between the two of them, and they may be reluctant in the future to carry out one aspect of the comprehensive peace agreement and that is to have honest, open democratic elections in 2009, because they may not want to face the prospect of opposition forces acquiring some of their power, maybe the ultimate power, in the country. In the mean time though, this entire situation on the comprehensive peace agreement has been greatly confused by the discovery of oil. In the past, when I first began to go to Sudan , there was no question about where the border was between North and south. The north had 7 provinces, the south had 3 provinces, and that was it. But in the mean time, oil has been discovered, right on the border line. And now every square meter of the territory instead of being worthless desert has become precious as a future supplier of oil. And that has caused a great deal of problems between the North and South and so far it's on the verge of breaking down.

While we were there in Sudan Dr. Pastor arranged for us to meet twice with al-Bashir, the president of the entire country, and to meet with the president of southern Sudan and also the vice president of the entire country Salva Kiir and his cabinet leaders and key leaders in the South. Two days after we left Sudan , the Southern group convened and decided to withdraw their ministers from the so called unity government, although vice president Salva Kiir decided to retain his position there. So this has sent a warning signal that unless the North does go forward with all the facets of the comprehensive peace agreement that war might again erupt and destroy the entire country as it was in the past.

I haven't yet even mentioned Darfur but now I want to come to Darfur . A number of years ago, some Darfuris or Darfurians-I'll say Darfuris- decided in looking at the South that they had the right to rebel as well, because the South was gaining all these great benefits because they had had a successful revolution. And in order to put down this insipient revolution, the president of Sudan al-Bashir authorized his Arab Muslim associates in Darfur called Janjaweed to attack the rebels, most of whom were black citizens, all of whom, by the way, are Muslims. And the Janjaweed perpetrated horrible atrocities against the black people who lived in the villages and had their herds and so forth. So the Janjaweed not only helped to stamp down the revolution unsuccessfully but they also saw this as an opportunity to take the choice water holes and the choice villages and the choice grazing lands and in the process I would estimate 200 thousand people were killed and about 2.2 million others were forced into displaced persons camps.

You notice I don't use the word refugee camps because a refugee is someone who is outside his or her own country in a camp in an adjacent nation. A displaced person is equally affected, having been forced from their own home, but they live within the country that was their native land.

We decided to go to Darfur as a project of the Elders and the more we prepared to get there, the more we saw that the comprehensive peace agreement and the Darfur peace agreement were inseparable. The Darfur peace agreement was negotiated a couple years ago in Abuja in nearby Nigeria where three rebel groups met with the representatives of the central government and negotiated. And at the end of the negotiation one of the rebel groups signed the Darfur peace agreement; the other two rebel groups refused to sign it. So you can see the fragile nature of the Darfur peace agreement in its very initial stages.

Subsequently, the United Nations Security Council, reluctantly and as a low priority, began to deal with the Darfur issue. And they established a somewhat- a peace keeping force that comprises almost exclusively African troops with the promise that they would be adequately supplied with material: with uniforms, with tents, with weapons, with ammunition, with vehicles, with fuel and that sort of thing. That has not occurred. It's only partially equipped and still is a very minor factor in the Darfur area assigned the major task of preserving the peace and protecting the people who are still innocent. A later development was that they would be given a heavy equipment trove of supplies which would involve tanks and personnel carriers and some helicopters and so forth so that they could be much more effective in preserving the peace and protecting innocent people from attack. That was basically the situation when we, when we arrived.

The United Nations has also decided that the UN and the African Union would convene a peace session, a conference, in Libya, in Tripoli, Libya, on the 27 th of this month, which is just a few days from now you see, between the government on the one hand and the rebel groups on the other who are willing to participate. This has created an exacerbating factor, in that in order to try to go to the peace talks, the rebel groups have proliferated. Instead of having 3 originally, we heard a month or 2 ahead of time there were 6, by the time we left there were 28 different rebel groups all struggling for some authenticity, their authenticity coming from one factor: their military prowess. So how strong they were with the barrel of a gun, an AK 47 shaped their degree of respect. And so that created some serious problems. One was that these different rapidly multiplying rebel groups began to attack one another in order to become more powerful and more influential, and better armed. And they also began to rob everyone that they possibly could who might have food, or money, or weapons, or ammunitions, or vehicles, or fuel. And that's the situation now.

Unfortunately, there's not presently much hope that the negotiations or discussions in Tripoli , Libya , on the 27 th will be successful because some major rebel groups have announced that they are going to boycott the talks, but in the meantime, the central government says that they will participate across the table from any rebel group that does decide to come. But as you can well see, the rebel groups, at best, would just represent their own military force with very little support from the civilian population who are depending upon protection and a peaceful arrangement.

There is also a promise from the United Nations to have a hybrid peace keeping force that would comprise about 26 thousand people, most of whom would come from the African nations. But the understanding is, not completely accepted by al-Bashir, that the others, who couldn't be supplied by the African nations in an effective force, would be replaced by troops from other countries, from European countries, and from Mid East countries, and also from eastern Asian countries who would come and supplement the African force.

So at this moment, the Elders are deeply committed to continue our efforts there, to understand and to add our voice and our support to the process. And I cannot give you at this time a prediction of what is going to happen. I would say that our number one hope is that the comprehensive peace agreement between North and South can be maintained to prevent the entire nation breaking out into another war. One facet of that, as I mentioned earlier, is the scheduled elections to be taking place in 2009 with a so-called census to begin in February of this coming year, 2008. And when we were there, both al-Bashir in Khartoum and Salva Kiir in the South both agreed that the Carter Center , not associated with the Elders, would be invited to help conduct the election process. And we are now exploring at the Carter Center the possibility of that, how much it would cost, and whether or not both sides are sincerely, would be willing to have international observers at the election, with the suspicion, which I'm repeating, that neither the North or the South really wants to have an honest and fair and open election because they might lose power. It's a very confused issue.

The other thing that should be pointed out at a high level is the adverse effect on neighboring countries, where both refugees and warring parties go over into Chad and into Central African Republic and disturb the situation there. There are refugees living outside Darfur in Chad and also in the other countries there, plus a very few refugees living in Sudan from adjacent nations. So it's a very complex issue, but extremely important. And in addition to preserving the integrity of the central, of the comprehensive peace agreement, we want to make sure that we do everything possible to minimize the attacks on innocent civilians both in and out of displaced persons camps.

It's now almost impossible, for instance, to live under those conditions. Not only are the housing and food and education and health capabilities in the displaced person camps at a very low level of standard, but also some of the displaced persons don't even live in camps. The village to which Bob referred where I happened to go had an original population of 16 thousand with very limited water and very limited firewood on which to sustain themselves. They have been inundated by 53 thousand more displaced persons who have moved in and now live among the original inhabitants. And they have been extremely generous in sharing what they have with the displaced persons who have moved in with them. We pumped water out of one of their rare water holes and we also attended school where the displaced persons' children and also the native children are learning together. So it's a complex and troubling situation, and we hope that the elders at least can induce the international community to maintain an intense interest there and to punish, with threats and also with other means, any organized group or leader who might threaten either the Darfur peace agreement or the comprehensive peace agreement. I'm sure I haven't confused you at all, with that description, but now in order to clarify any questions that I might have raised in your minds, I'd be glad to answer a few questions that you might propose. (Applause)