On Saturday night, Mia Farrow spoke about her experiences in Darfur from the perspective of a UN Goodwill Ambassador who has visited the country twice, once in 2004 and once in the summer of 2006. She has spoken to groups around the world and has written many op-ed pieces on the subject. Her presentation was accompanied by a series of photos she had taken of the people of Darfur, bringing home the point that “the people of Darfur are not statistics, they are human beings.” Many of the activists in the audience requested copies of these breathtaking images to help their own relief efforts.
Photography by Miles Skorpen
She started her presentation with shocking statistics that are familiar to any student of the Darfur conflict between the Janjaweed militia, composed of nomadic Arab Muslim tribes, and the sedentary non-Arab Muslim tribes of the region. The Janjaweed militia has been supported by the Sudanese government. Since 2003, eighty to ninety percent of villages in Darfur have been bombed, five hundred thousand people have died, and 2.5 million refugees have been displaced, “overwhelmingly women and children.” Over one million of these are in areas that cannot be reached by humanitarian aid.
Throughout her speech, Farrow focused on the experiences of women in the conflict. She said that she got their trust by sending all of the men out of the room and telling them through her female translator that she had fourteen kids. “We talked about being a mom, we would start talking about our kids, I would say ‘I’m here to help. If you want me to carry back your story, I will be your messenger.'” One of the women Farrow spoke to gave her a pendant for her protection although she had almost nothing, and Farrow said that because of instances like these, “I owe them to do my very best to get protection… I’ve never met more courageous people.”
Farrow described the refugee camps as “cauldrons of despair and rage… I hadn’t known how many women were trying to commit suicide or how many babies born of rape they had killed.” At Comma Camp, there are ten reported rapes per day, and the woman “speak of their losses in quiet voices… rapes, skin brands, sliced tendons.” A ten-year-old girl was the oldest surviving member of her family. When the Janjaweed came, she covered the baby with her body to protect it and they were the only two to survive. “Since then, the baby has not made one sound.”
The material conditions at the camp are also horrifying. Farrow reported that rations had been cut in half, that clean water was in short supply, and that the average deforestation around refugee camps was up to ten miles, meaning that women had to walk over twenty miles to get firewood to cook their meals. The hospitals are overflowing.
There is a chance that even the small humanitarian infrastructure that exists will disappear. Since July, fourteen humanitarian workers have been killed. Farrow said that “if aid workers are forced to pull out there will be hundreds of thousands of deaths… if the lifeline collapses, the situation will spiral out of control.” There are currently fourteen thousand aid workers in the region, and Farrow said that “they’re showing that the world cares… they’re doing what the world has refused to do.”
When she came to Swarthmore, she had just returned from a trip to Eastern Chad, where janjaweed militia have been attacking for over a year. Farrow stated that “it is no longer possible to speak of Darfur without speaking of Chad.” Ninety thousand Chadians have been forced to leave their homes, and in Eastern Chad sixty villages have been burned since November 5th alone. The Chadian government has put emergency measures into place, but “the Chadian government is more concerned with itself than with citizens.” Protection has been placed around the president’s compound, but there is nothing in place to help the internally displaced.
She described the displaced as “a sea of humanity clustered under trees… they’re just stranded, they have no idea what to do next, and they’re still there now.” When she spoke with them, many of the displaced had not eaten in nine days or more. She said that “The level of despair was so profound… they’re losing their whole tribal way of life.”
Farrow said that on her June trip to Darfur, “everywhere I went they asked for protection… they would chant ‘UN! UN!’ begging for the UN to come in and save them.” Resolution 1706, which would provide for 22,500 UN troops and police officers to be deployed to Darfur, was passed by the United Nations Security Council on August 31, 2006. Farrow said that this Resolution “may be the only remaining hope,” but as of yet, “the international community has done nothing to enforce this resolution.”
Farrow claimed that Chinese oil needs are funding the actions of the Sudanese government. China has four billion dollars invested in Sudan and the vast majority of their weaponry is of Chinese origin. China also wields veto power on the Security Council, meaning that it has the power to reject any resolution that would hurt its interests in Sudan.
Farrow stated that “China is underwriting the first genocide of the twenty-first century.” Russia has also supplied Sudan with weaponry, and for Farrow one of the most pressing questions is “How can we generate action from not only United States leadership but also China and Russia?” Farrow also claimed that the people of Europe have been “largely indifferent,” even though France arguably has the capacity to step into eastern Chad, since it has airstrips and other resources there. She asserted that “the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference,” and urged the conference attendees to “wake other countries up.”
The United States has determined that genocide is taking place in the Sudan, but according to Farrow, Colin Powell stated that “this determination required no action on the part of the United States.” Ten thousand were killed in Kosovo before the government stepped in, but fifty times that many have been killed in Darfur. When a student asked why she thought this was, she said “Is it subconscious racism? That’s a serious cause, but one that I have to consider very seriously. Is it because Kosovo was in Europe? I don’t know why.”
Farrow’s audience at Swarthmore was different from the other audiences she has spoken to, composed as it was of a group of activists who are very well-educated about the conflict, and their first reaction at the end of the presentation was “Please use these pictures as a tool, please… show them to the people in Congress. Show them to the people with power.”
One student asked how other groups generally responded to the presentation, and she said “obviously compassion… sometimes just translated into regret, sometimes into action. Some people cry, others say ‘Africa–so many problems.’ What I generally see is people who are very very thoughtful. It’s hard to take it all in at once if you’ve never heard of it before.”
When one student asked about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, she estimated that “ninety-seven percent of the people in camps have it… I think I even have it from my visits there to some degree. People are seeing and enduring things that are beyond comprehension, and there’s no waking up from this nightmare.”
She urged the conference attendees to keep working. “If any of us does less than one hundred percent, then we are ourselves diminished.” Although sometimes the situation seems hopeless, she reminded the conference attendees to “imagine how many more would be dead if you hadn’t stepped forward… imagine if we didn’t. Maybe they’d all be dead.” She concluded by saying that “if you’re doing the right thing, eventually the right thing will happen, and you’ll be at peace with yourself, you’ll know you tried.”