John Hefferman joined Mia Farrow, actress and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, at a virtual 3-D event in the online community, Second Life (SL), to discuss and answer questions about the situation in Darfur and Chad. Also speaking were the following Voices on Genocide Prevention interviewees: Ron Haviv, award-winning photojournalist whose images are part of the event, and Ronan Farrow, UNICEF Spokesperson for Youth in Sudan and representative of the Genocide Intervention Network. The program was moderated by Bill Lichtenstein, president of Lichtenstein Creative Media, and Senior Executive Producer of the national, weekly public radio series The Infinite Mind.
Good afternoon everybody. I’m Bill Lichtenstein, president of Lichtenstein Creative Media and I want to welcome you to the Infinite Mind Virtual Broadcast Center here in Second Life. This landmark event is being sponsored by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and is an example of what we at LC Media call the “new public media.” Here you can actually walk through your computer screen and enter the program to experience it for yourself. And there is no situation in the world more in need of our attention and help than the ongoing genocide in Darfur, which we have come together today to hear about, and to find out what we can do to stop the killing.
We gather today to hear from four leading observers and activists who have worked tirelessly to let the world know firsthand what they have seen in Darfur through their eloquent words, their writings, and their photographs. Let me begin by turning the virtual floor over to John Heffernan. John is director of the Genocide Prevention Initiative for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Committee on Conscience, and has traveled extensively throughout the Sudan and the region. John co-authored the 2006 report “Darfur: Assault on Survival” for Physicians for Human Rights.
Bill, thank you very much. Here at the Museum we seek to honor the memory of the Holocaust by teaching millions of people about the dangers of unchecked hatred, antisemitism, and of course, genocide. We want to make that phrase “Never again” meaningful. Since the summer of 2004, the Museum has declared that genocide emergency in Darfur because of the overwhelming evidence of an organized attempt to effect group annihilation. Once again, people are being targeted for who they are. Since the winter of 2003, over 400,000 people have died, 2.5 million people are homeless, 3,000 non-Arab villages have been destroyed. The security situation has gotten so bad that humanitarian organizations are actually pulling out of Darfur. And everything that sustains people has been destroyed. Their livestock, their homes. And then these people have been forced or driven into a desert deathtrap where they can’t survive without outside assistance, and this outside assistance has been systematically blocked by the Sudanese government.
As the situation has continued to deteriorate in Darfur, we at the Museum felt like we needed to make a bold statement. And so what we did, working with an organization called Darfur Darfur, is that we projected the images of Darfur, faces of Darfurians, and we’ve projected it onto the facade of the [Museum] building for six days from evening until 12 o’clock at night. We will continue to draw attention to the situation in Darfur until we reach that critical mass, that temperature level that actually will ignite some type of action, the action that’s needed to stop this ongoing genocide in Darfur. Thank you very much.
Thank you very much for the work that you’re doing. And next, Mia Farrow needs no introduction. She’s an award-winning actress and a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, and she has been a compelling outspoken voice regarding the genocide in Darfur since she made the first of several visits to the region in 2004. And she plans to return to the region in February 2007. Her op-ed articles on the crisis in newspapers nationwide have stirred the public’s conscience, as have her photographs of the refugee camps. I’d like to introduce Mia Farrow.
Thank you very much. Hello everybody. As John has said, in the face of the first genocide of this century, knowing full well what is required to halt the slaughter, we have, as a community, been unwilling to take the necessary actions. This is a defining moment for all of us within the human family. I have been to Darfur twice, and more recently, just last November, into eastern Chad, along Darfur’s border with Chad, where almost 300,000 people have fled. In the week that I was there, 60 villages were burned. Hundreds were killed. Every tree practically had people under it, people just dazed, completely traumatized, hungry, no one was feeding them, and worse, terrified.
I will go to a woman named Halima, who I met, and her baby son. She describes the moment when her son was pulled from her back. She told me how she had fought, how she did her utmost to hold on to her baby, but he was torn from her arms anyway and killed with a bayonet. Three of her five children were killed that day, and her husband too, and Halima clasped my two hands and pleaded with me, she said, “Tell people what is happening here. Tell them we need help.” The mantra within our family is that “with knowledge comes responsibility,” and on that premise we’re here today to share knowledge and acknowledge our shared sense of responsibility and move forward more effectively as a group, as a community, and as members of the human family.
Thank you very much. Our next guest, Ron Haviv, is an award-winning photojournalist whose images of Darfur are part of the virtual exhibit that you see behind me, Darfur Darfur. Ron has made one trip to Darfur and one trip to Chad.
Thank you. One of the things that’s quite amazing about Darfur is that you’re basically witnessing a whole society completely falling apart, and one of the things that’s causing this destruction is very brutal methods of fighting, brutal methods of attacking your enemies, and one of the things that has become an amazingly powerful weapon is that of rape, and it was quite sad to speak to numerous women but even sadder to speak to young girls, some as young as 12 years old, that were telling me about what had happened to them, how they had been attacked by militias and how they had been raped. And these young girls are often attacked when they go out to collect firewood from the camps, in order to have fire to cook the food that has been given to them by the world community. And it’s an incredibly sad reason why they’re going, because the men of the family are not able to go, because they know that if they get caught by the militias they will be killed. The women don’t go because they know for sure that they’re going to be raped, and so they send their young children in the hope that nothing will happen to them.
And to hear these stories from these young girls and to see the effect on them as they’re struggling to survive from this atrocious act but also trying to be children and also trying to be supportive of their family. And the dignity in which they hold themselves is quite remarkable, and for me what remains the most visible image of the people of Darfur, even when they’re struggling to survive daily, or even by the moment, they are very proud people, very gentle people, and people who truly are sort of incredulous as to what has happened to them and why the world has not done more to stop and help them.
Thank you Ron. And finally, I’d like to introduce Ronan Farrow, who at a relatively young age has had a career that would make most much older political activists very jealous. His writings on Darfur have appeared in Newsday, the International Herald Tribune, and the Wall Street Journal. Since 2001 Ronan Farrow has worked as a UNICEF spokesperson for youth, and as a representative for the Genocide Intervention Network, and, in his spare time, he’s attending Yale Law School. He’s here today to talk about what he has seen and, most importantly, what people can do to help make a difference.
Thank you very much, and thank you for coming, everyone. A lot of you already know this, and for those of you who have been going to rallies, writing letters, sending in money, I would only say, go ahead and keep it up. It really does make a difference that people are keeping up the noise on this. One thing we’ve seen in the U.S. is an aggressive divestment campaign. Students have urged their universities, now a total of 27 universities have divested from companies that are doing business with the government of Sudan, primarily Chinese oil companies. There is divestment legislation pending in a dozen states. Six states have already passed legislation ensuring that their pension funds aren’t supporting the genocidal regime in Sudan.
Genocide Intervention Network, which is a student group I work with, has a Web site: www.darfurscores.org, which grades congressmen and senators on their performance on Darfur legislation. So everyone in the audience, check the site, see how your home representatives fare, and then write them to either commend them or express your disapproval. The astonishing thing is this tactic really appears to be working. We’ve had several senators, including Joe Lieberman here in Connecticut where I’m from mention their genocide intervention scores in some speeches. So I think that’s a real way to generate traction.
I’d also say on the political front, push local and national media outlets to cover Darfur more. Ron Haviv is part of a depressingly small minority that has actually been covering Darfur. There have been some amazing journalists doing a courageous job of bringing back images and stories, but far too few. The second prong of trying to bring help to the people in Darfur is to support humanitarian operations on which millions of Darfurian lives depend and will continue to depend until some kind of security solution is in place. There is a list if you go to www.genocideintervention.net of organizations that you can contribute to. You know, in a climate when an issue like Darfur has so much competition for the attention of our leadership and is so much at risk of slipping under the radar, it really does make a difference that people are keeping up the noise on this.
Thank you, Ronan, very much, and thank you again to our guests, and most of all to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and its Committee on Conscience for sponsoring today’s event. Thank you all very much for coming, and encourage you to do what you can to help stop the genocide. Thank you.
Discussion Questions for viewing Crisis in Darfur, Live from Second Life.
- In the summer of 2004, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum declared a “Genocide Emergency” in Darfur. What criteria does John Heffernan cite as the reason for the museum making this declaration?
Learn more about events taking place in Darfur here.
- What does Mr. Heffernan believe is needed in order to “ignite action” to end the genocide in Darfur? How do you think this can this be achieved?
Learn how you can draw attention to events in Darfur and help ignite action here.
- Mia Farrow shares the story of a woman named Halima. What is it that Halima asked Ms. Farrow to do? What does it mean that “with knowledge comes responsibility?”
Stay informed about Darfur and genocide prevention here.
- Ron Haviv explains that a particularly brutal weapon in the Darfur conflict has been rape. According to Haviv, young girls have been particularly vulnerable to rape by the Janjaweed militias. Why is this?
Learn more about the conflict’s impact on children here.
- Ronan Farrow discusses several things that people can do to pressure corporations, the U.S. government, and the media in an attempt to end the suffering in Darfur. Describe the different methods and campaigns that Farrow identifies. Which of these methods do you think would be most effective? Why? Which ones would be easiest for you to engage in as a leader or participant? Map out a plan and commit to it.
Learn more about what you can do here and here.
- Ronan Farrow also argues that until there is meaningful intervention, stability and peace in the Darfur region, people must provide increased support to humanitarian aid organizations working there.
Learn more about how to support these organizations through the Genocide Intervention Network.