Americans should guard everything they cherish, especially human rights, the executive director of Amnesty International USA told an Eckerd College audience Thursday night.
That means realizing why the world admires the United States, said William Schulz.
It's not because of military might. And it's not because of economic power.
"It's the vision this nation seeks to embody of a society that respects immigrants, that protects minorities and guarantees due process even to the most heinous one among us," he said.
His voice rising and then falling, Schulz reminded the audience of more than 300 what would happen if America lost sight of its vision.
"Betray that vision, and we betray the most powerful resource America has," Schulz said. "Betray that vision, and no one will say kaddish over our graves."
He then lowered his voice almost to a whisper. "They will dance on them."
Schulz's talk was the first in the Carnegie Council Series of lectures at Eckerd, sponsored by the college and Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs. Schultz, the author of Tainted Legacy: 9/11 and the Ruin of Human Rights, used his speech to discuss the balance between Americans' right to security and the right to liberty.
Just three days ago, Schulz was in Sudan, gathering information and hearing first-hand accounts of atrocities from people living in camps and villages in western and southern Darfur.
The seven-day visit confirmed attacks on villages across the country, he said. Men were singled out, leaving the women to bury their sons and husbands. Their thatched-roof homes were burned to the ground, and their cattle and donkeys stolen.
Since last spring, at least 50,000 people have been killed in the fighting between the Arab Janjaweed militia and Darfur's black African population.
Sudan has long been embroiled in conflict. The latest conflict took root when the Janjaweed, loosely translated as men with guns on horses, were asked by the government to quell an uprising in south Darfur, one of the country's poorest regions. People living in south Darfur revolted in an attempt to gain better resources.
The result has devastated the region. In south Darfur alone 80 villages _ some with as few 100 residents and others with as many as 1,000 _ have been destroyed by the Janjaweed since last spring. More than 1.2-million fled their homes.
Humanitarian agencies are trying to help, but poor transportation has slowed efforts.
Schulz fears many more lives will be lost if the fighting persists.
The camps will explode in violence because people will be so frustrated living in unsanitary conditions, or the Janjaweed will attack the camps, Shulz said. The last scenario focuses on the international community, which he said will tire of providing endless humanitarian assistance. As a result, more people will start to starve or die of diseases.
But Amnesty International hasn't given up yet.
"We intend to do everything we can to continue to expose what's happening," Schulz said, "so that no one in the world, including the Sudanese government, can claim that they don't know what's going on."
Times Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.