IMAGINE, for a moment, you are the head of the United Nations in Sudan. You’re in your office in Khartoum. It’s large, elegant and air-conditioned. Flags and portraits line the walls. The windows are bullet- proof.
You know that outside, guards man a secure perimeter fence.
It’s just after lunch and you slide into your comfortable leather armchair and wonder what to do with the afternoon.
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Then, your Sudanese assistant enters and says there’s a young woman banging at the compound gates demanding to see you.
Against your assistant’s advice, you let her in and over the next 30 minutes – sitting on the floor, having refused a chair – she tells you her story: In intimate, graphic and unrelenting detail.
She has travelled 1,000km across the desert to inform you of rape being committed on a mass scale: about 200 women gang raped and mostly murdered by Sudanese government soldiers and paramilitaries.
She herself was raped in front of her parents, her children and her entire village.
And she wants to know what you plan to do about it.
That was the scenario that faced Dr Mukesh Kapila in March 2004 – and it changed his life.
He said: “That was the moment when I flipped and I decided I would, instead of occupying my high office and doing my diplomatic stuff, speak out and talk to the world about what was going on in Darfur.
“It totally changed my life.”
Having spent three months trying and failing to get anyone in authority to listen to his concerns, Dr Kapila went public, giving an interview to the Today programme, on BBC Radio 4.
Suddenly, Darfur dominated headlines across the globe.
“The whole world went mad,” he says.
But Dr Kapila himself did not last much longer in Sudan. The Sudanese government called his reports “a heap of lies”, and he was transferred out of the country within weeks – only 13 months into a 24-month assignment.
The Sudan crisis resulted in the deaths of up to 500,000 people, the destruction of 400 villages and up to 2.5 million people forced to flee their homes.
Dr Kapila recalls flying over the country and seeing one village quietly getting on with life while its neighbour was torched to the ground.
LAST July, South Sudan declared independence.
However, the new neighbours are still engaged in bloody conflict. Reports claim 100 still die every day, 2.7 million remain internally displaced and 4.7 million rely on humanitarian aid.
The Nuba Mountains, in the border region, remain hotly disputed.
Speaking during a lecture at Durham University, Dr Kapila, who last visited the area in April, calls the situation an ongoing genocide.
Women are being raped, the same old commanders are dropping bombs and famine is stalking the land, he says.
However, whereas in 2003-04, the attacks were crude, now they are backed by sophisticated weaponry, including land mines.
“It’s everything Darfur was, but worse,” he says.
“This is the price you pay when you ignore the situation or make shabby deals. There’s no solution until there’s justice and accountability.”
Of Indian extraction with a pacifist tendency, Dr Kapila admits he has moved “360 degrees”
in his attitudes to violence.
Sudan needs regime change, he says, adding: “If we cannot do this through any other means, it will have to be through armed struggle.
“No genocide has ever been brought to an end by anything other than armed means.”
He says that similarly, in Syria, there will be no solution until the government or the rebels are victorious.
“I’m totally against violence. But I’ve moved 360 degrees to believing when you confront evil and horror, it is a duty not to let the suffering continue, but to use the means at your disposal to overcome that horror.”
If his views sound harsh, remember they come from a man who has worked in nearly every major war zone over the past 20 years or more.
In 1994, he was one of the first to see the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide. After that, he vowed that never again would such atrocities be allowed to happen on his patch.
Speaking to students in his role as special representative on crimes against humanity for the Aegis Trust, which works to prevent international genocide, he has three points to make.
First, genocide is not an extreme variety of ordinary violence that can be treated rationally; it is a deliberate act that must be cut out like a cancer.
Second, the responsibility for doing so is personal.
“People like (former UN secretary general) Kofi Annan should be put in front of the International Criminal Court (ICC),” saying those who stand by and abuse their high office of trust should be held to account. “The failure to exercise that power is a heinous crime.
“Whether Tony Blair should be before the ICC for Iraq, I don’t know,” he adds, mischievously.
And third, protecting human rights costs – sometimes lives.
After hearing the horrifying story of his Sudanese visitor, he asked her to stay in the security of the UN compound overnight and relay it to others the next day.
She refused, saying she needed to contact her family, but pledged to return.
She was never seen again.
For more information, visit aegistrust.org or follow Mukesh Kapila at twitter.com/ mukeshkapila