Searching For Jacob

Scott Pelley Reports On The Genocide In Darfur

CBS All Access
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This segment was originally broadcast on Oct. 22, 2006. It was updated on July 16, 2008.

It hardly seems possible, but the genocide in Darfur continues. Correspondent Scott Pelley first reported this story two years ago, as the government in Sudan launched a new offensive of ethnic cleansing.

Today, more than 300,000 people are dead and more than two million are refugees in the Sahara.

To understand what is happening in Darfur, 60 Minutes came upon on the story of a boy named Jacob. We know him only because his name is on schoolbooks found in the ashes of his home. Jacob's village was wiped out. Our team saw his books in a museum. We didn't know whether Jacob was alive or whether we could find him, but we decided to try. Our search turned into a remarkable journey into a place we were forbidden to travel, looking for a boy swept up in the 21st century's first genocide.

The search for Jacob began at the United States Holocaust Memorial in Washington D.C. Dedicated to never letting genocide happen again, it now finds itself with fresh evidence in a new exhibit.

John Prendergast brought the remains from Jacob's village to Washington and to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. In the Clinton White House, he led a team that imposed economic sanctions on Sudan. Now, he's with something called the "Enough Project", pressing for action in Darfur.

"We found in a book bag, a series of notebooks," Prendergast explains. "Clearly the kid who was doing math and spelling homework and the teacher has corrected it with a red pen."

The kid, Jacob, must have been 16 when his village was destroyed. 60 Minutes packed his books and left on a 7,000-mile journey.

One reason the Sudanese government is getting away with murder is that the scene of the crime is about as far away as a place can be. 60 Minutes hired a bush plane to drop the team in Chad along the Sudanese border. There was no runway, just rocks marking a strip in the Sahara. There are no roads either. We crossed with Jacob's books during the rainy season, when all the rain of the year falls in just a few weeks. But this wasn't the hard part.

Our problem was, Jacob's story starts in a place we were forbidden to go. Darfur is occupied by government troops. Jacob's town, Hangala, is 50 miles inside. The U.S. State Department warned 60 Minutes not to try to go there.

If our team could get to Hangala, rebels who call themselves the National Redemption Front could help. It's their families who are being massacred, and they agreed to give us cover to Hangala.

And so 60 Minutes crossed the border. We asked the Sudanese government for permission to come into Darfur but we didn't get it, which was no surprise - the Sudanese have been trying to keep reporters and other observers out of this area. They've intensified that effort lately. In just the last few weeks two journalists have been captured making this run.

You can look at it this way: back in 1944, the Germans didn't want anybody coming in and seeing their death camps. Today in Sudan, the government doesn't want anybody coming in and seeing what amount to death villages.

It's a five hour trip, but in the rainy season the gun trucks sank to their axels. We dug them out, and did it again every hour or so. In time, we picked up speed, and it was a good thing. Five hours turned to 12. By the time the group reached Hangala, there were 45 minutes of daylight left. The rebels put scouts on the high ground and surrounded the village.

Before the attack, Hangala was a typical village, with a population of roughly 500; afterwards, the entire village was burned down.

Asked why the entire village was destroyed, Prendergast says it's a message. "It's a message to non-Arab people in Darfur. 'We do not want you in Darfur.'"

It's a message delivered by Sudanese troops and a racist Arab militia called the Janjaweed.