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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 July, 2005, 21:20 GMT 22:20 UK
Kofi Annan interview transcript
The following is an edited transcript of Fergal Keane's interview with Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General recorded as part of Panorama's "'Never Again'", first broadcast 3 July 2005 on BBC One.

FERGAL KEANE: Secretary General, thank you very much for your time. Can I just ask you, when were you first aware of the scale and the kind of atrocities that were taking place in Darfur?

KOFI ANNAN: I think we knew that there were difficulties and in fact my humanitarian coordinator, Jan Egeland, had been following it very closely and we did┐ he did spoke out, we spoke out and mentioned to the council also that there could be major difficulties coming up that was at the very early stages. I think the International Committee was slow getting in but we were aware.

FERGAL KEANE: In December you yourself gave a public warning fairly early on. What was it that prompted you to.. because it was fairly strong, you talked about a catastrophe that was coming. Why did you feel it was important at that early stage to come out and to...

FERGAL KEANE: I think we felt that we were not being heard and that I needed to raise the level of the discussion and raise awareness to try and mobilise support and attention.

FERGAL KEANE: How successful were you?

KOFI ANNAN: Not too successful at the beginning (laugh) but I think later on it became much more dramatic.

FERGAL KEANE: In April 2004 on the anniversary of the Rwandan genocide you came out and said that you felt a feeling of foreboding

KOFI ANNAN: Yes, now you know for all of us who lived through the Rwandan tragedy, when you see the sort of situation you look back and in Rwanda there was a sense and book and articles were written that the international community did not act because they did not know, or because the head of peacekeeping, which was myself, didn't tell them. I was often in the Council. In fact there were members of the Council who had more information than we had. And so for one to write a book saying that they didn't act because they did not have the information, and I often asked, okay, let's assume they didn't know. When they had the information what did they do? Government sent in planes to evacuate their nationals and let the killing go on.

FERGAL KEANE: And for you emotionally watching Darfur on that tenth anniversary, I just wonder what you were feeling?

KOFI ANNAN: Are we going to repeat what happened in Rwanda? Is it going to be another Rwanda? And can we.. if that is it, can we sit back and not act?

FERGAL KEANE: You say you had some success in raising the profile but the UN didn't really do anything of substance. Did you really feel you were heard?

KOFI ANNAN: I think it's one thing to be heard and another thing to have the political will to act. I think I was heard. It took some time for political will to develop, and that is the key. It is the will to act and will to seize the seriousness of the problem.

FERGAL KEANE: Why did it take so long?

KOFI ANNAN: I think the Council, as you know, discussed this issue on many occasions and for a long time and there were divisions in the Council but... you know... and so it took them a while to get the resolutions passed, but quite apart from the council we also need support from the donor community to be able to act on behalf of the needy, of the displaced, and the refugees. Eventually money did come in, as we speak I just came back from Sudan, I was brought in Darfur and in the South, went to Jouba and to Rumbic. We are still short of money. We are short of money in Darfur for the humanitarian effort and we are short of money in the south and I think the south is a bit forgotten because attention shifted to Darfur, and we have spontaneous return of the refugees and after the rainy season we are probably going to have to evacuate several million Sudanese back home, and we are going to need serious resources and of course we are going to now begin actively to work with the donor community.

FERGAL KEANE: You yourself called the failure to act on Darfur - and this was only a few months ago - you called it pathetic and inexcusable. What did you mean by that?

KOFI ANNAN: Well, what I meant is that we have been through this sort of thing, we were discussing in this house a report that I had put out where the concept of the responsibility to protect was very much on the table. It's a new norm that has developed that governments have their responsibility to protect their citizens, and if a government is unable or unwilling to do that, then the international community does have responsibility to step in, particularly in situations where there are gross and systematic violations of human rights, and the Council can take initiatives.. it can take all kinds of actions and as a last resort authorise the use of force. So it was in this climate where we were making and discussing these issues and we saw what was going on in Darfur and we were not getting energetic enough action to help.

FERGAL KEANE: Somebody said to me recently, he's a lifetime observer with Africa: "If it wasn't for Iraq, something could have been done about Darfur. But the fact that so much energy had been sucked up by the Iraqi conflict and there was such ill will if you like, after the Iraq conflict, it was never going to happen, and African yet again suffered because of the greater political issues."

KOFI ANNAN: Well we do have difficult raising resources to help to deal with African crises. We do have difficulty sometimes focusing attention on these issues, we have what we call the forgotten or hidden crisis, most of them are in Africa whether it's in Northern Uganda or elsewhere, and when we make our appeals for some of these Africa crises we are lucky if we get 15% of what we need, and of course, when you look around the world today, there are so many operations. Iraq of course absorbs quite a lot of resources and then you have the operations in West Africa, Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, so we are┐ and even we as the UN have deployed up to 70,000 troops as we speak.

FERGAL KEANE: Ideally what would you like to have seen done to stop the atrocities in Darfur?

KOFI ANNAN: I think we could have sent a very strong message right from the beginning and taken action to indicate that the international community were serious about helping the people of Darfur and were sending a warning to.. a signal to the government that you have the responsibility to protect the people and you should do it or we will have to take other measures, and we may have to do things that you may not like. But that signal I don't think went┐ went as early as it should have.

FERGAL KEANE: People looking at this as it developed would suggest it wasn't just the failure at the beginning but again and again...

KOFI ANNAN: ... and again, and again.

FERGAL KEANE: Do you think there's justice in that criticism?

KOFI ANNAN: I think yes, there's a measure of justification in that because it wasn't only just a humanitarian aspect but also trying to get even assistance to the people in terms of security. In the end the African Union stepped in and decided to send in troops they have, but they need support, they need logistical support, they need financial support. Last week I was in Addis Ababa co-chairing a meeting with chair person of the African Union to raise money and logistical support for the African Union force and we got about 300 million in kind and in cash which I hope will allow them to expand the force from about 2000 to 8000.

FERGAL KEANE: When you say a tougher signal should have been sent earlier, do you mean that a resolution, a tough resolution, warning of the possibility of sanctions, among other things, should have been on the table?

KOFI ANNAN: There are some other means that the international community has to send a signal and show the seriousness. But even if one didn't start with that, governments with influence should have not only spoken up but sent envoys to Khartoum to really sit with the government and discuss this issue.

FERGAL KEANE: How do you possibly persuade people persuade people that the word 'never again' means anything when this happens?

KOFI ANNAN: Now you're raising a good question and it has happened, in fact I recall about two years ago a young Rwandan woman asked me: "Mr Secretary General could you assure me that we can never have another disaster like we had in Rwanda?" I had to tell her honestly I cannot give her that assurance. I hoped we wouldn't but I had to tell her I couldn't because, as I said, you need that political will and the determination to┐ I think we have the means, we have the resources, what is often lacking is the will to act. I hope the word 'never again' is not meaningless. I hope as we as a community and as a civilisation move forward we will be able to understand that we live in one world, in a one interconnected world, and we cannot in fact afford to let states fail or get into hopeless conflict without any attention being paid to it. I think Afghanistan is a good example. We had a failed state in Afghanistan which became a haven for terrorists. They trained people and we saw the results, and so it should be our concern, even if one looks at it from narrow national self-interest.

FERGAL KEANE: If Darfur proves anything though, it's that we are back to the world of national interest. Somebody in the United States said to me, a prominent figure in the United States said: "We can't police everywhere, and really what happens in these African countries is their business."

KOFI ANNAN: There's quite a bit of that, yes, there is quite a bit┐ I mean the issue of national interest has always been there. But the question is, how prominent it becomes in certain situations. But you are looking at situations where governments will move very promptly if it is something that affects their national interest. In some cases they bring the problem to the UN, they give us a mandate not necessarily matched by resources required, so you have a mandate with resources which are not commensurate but then they can say to the public and to themselves we've done something, we've taken the issue to the UN and UN is dealing with it, and then of course the UN gets blamed if things go wrong and you don't hear from the member states.

FERGAL KEANE: Is it your fundamental view that when you analyse what's happening in Darfur that the real failure in all of this has been one of political will on the part of the members of the Security Council?

KOFI ANNAN: I think it's part of that but there are also complications in that in the post Iraq war environment governments have become very cautious and the Sudanese Government right from the beginning said if one is going to bring in forces, and they want to create a second Iraq, let them come, and I think that also made quite a lot of governments nervous and they agreed eventually to accept African troops and then everybody said we are going to rely on the Africans to do it, but we also all knew that they had limited capacity and it will require.. they would require considerable support.

FERGAL KEANE: And that never came.

KOFI ANNAN: No.. you know.. they got some support but not nearly as much, and now we are beginning to get them some more.

FERGAL KEANE: My final question. When people look back at the history of this time as they looked back at what happened in Rwanda, how will they judge the way the world responded to the tragedy of Darfur, to the cries of its people for help? It's going to be a pretty damning judgement isn't it?

KOFI ANNAN: Quite likely. Quite likely that we were slow, hesitant, uncaring and that we have learnt nothing from Rwanda.

FERGAL KEANE: Thank you.

KOFI ANNAN: Thank you very much.

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