American actress Mia Farrow, known predominantly for her film career
involving over 50 films such as Rosemary's Baby and a handful of Woody Allen classics,
was in town last week on a campaign to raise awareness about the atrocities that
have been on-going in the Darfur region of Sudan in Africa. Her Dream for Darfur
campaign has been stopping in places where mass murder has taken place to honor victims
and survivors. She spoke to Post publisher & editor-in-chief Michael Hayes about
why she was in Cambodia.
Actress Mia Farrow and a policeman face off outside Tuol Sleng. She and Center for Social Development director Theary Seng were prevented from delivering flowers to honor Cambodia’s Killing Fields victims and survivors on January 20.
Post: Why are you here in Cambodia?
Farrow: We came to Cambodia as it was the last on our list of countries or communities
that has experienced genocide or mass atrocities.
We lit a symbolic torch on the Darfur-Chad border several months ago and then took
it to Rwanda and there the Rwandan survivors participated and really shaped a ceremony
there that was meaningful to that. It was extraordinarily powerful. The US ambassador
attended and Congressman Donald Payne, one of our finest, spoke as did the head of
the survivors group there. Hundreds of Rwandans were there and they passed the flame
from survivor to survivor all the way from the school where a massacre occurred-I
think 5,000 people were killed-to a grave site which had been a garbage dump where
perhaps a 100,000 died.
We went to Armenia, Sarajevo, Berlin and here we are in Cambodia.
I'll speak for myself. I gave up on governments addressing the issue of genocide.
My government, the United Nations and all the nations of the world abandoned the
Rwandans, abandoned the people of Sarajevo, abandoned the people of Cambodia in their
darkest hours. They were abandoned. And so we were hoping to gather a constituency
of... what more powerful civic base could there be in the world then that of the
survivors....We wanted to journey into communities that have experienced genocide
to gather a civic base to position itself towards ending the on-going genocide in
Post: Was this your idea?
Farrow: It wasn't my idea...we conspired to do this. Last March, together with my
son, I wrote a piece called "Genocide Olympics" and that sort of triggered
a lot of things. Among those things was Dream for Darfur because "Genocide Olympics"
seemed a very provocative title and perhaps misrepresented what we really hoped for...
The piece "Genocide Olympics" made the link, I think, for the American
public between what is happening to the people in Darfur and China's complicity on
that-the fact that China is basically underwriting the atrocities in Darfur to the
tune of roughly $2 billion a year going into Khartoum's coffers. Some 70 percent
of that, according to Human Rights Watch, is used in the expensive business of genocide's
unique style-the purchase of Antonov bombers, attack helicopters, the steady flow
of arms and ammunition, all of which is used against a civilian population in Darfur.
And this for a country that has no self-defense need for any armed force.
Mia Farrow in Phnom Penh where she honored genocide victims.
Post: How has your experience been here in Phnom Penh?
I understand you had some
problems this morning.
Farrow: First of all, the people of Phnom Penh have been extraordinarily supportive
in all kinds of ways...The trouble we experienced this morning...none of it come
from the people themselves. Our intention was to have a ceremony which is again is
to light the flame. Each time we say this prayer...It's intended to represent those
who perished, all those who were lost but also to celebrate the courage of those
who survived, and the commitment that we share for an end to mass atrocities everywhere.
So far our flame lighting ceremonies have gone very smoothly and very movingly. The
reasons are best known to themselves. Our permission to have this ceremony on the
sight of the memorial was revoked. Yesterday we found that out....So we restructured
our ceremony to eliminate the flame and make the flame a flower. As we were not allowed
on the premises of the genocide museum we would leave our flowers just to honor the
victims and the survivors, but then the streets were cordoned off so it was impossible
to get anywhere near the genocide museum. ...So, I don't know, there were 60-80 armed
police everywhere. So we came with our flowers and we had thought that we would just
put them at the feet of the soldiers but Theary [Seng], I mean it is after all her
family that was lost here, [she] did not want to put the flowers on the ground, did
not want to see them trampled, so we stood there for perhaps 40 minutes while she
spoke to the officers, the policemen saying 'Look then, we just want to put our flowers
outside the memorial. We were forbidden to go within the memorial but we won't we
will leave them at the gate. I don't want flowers to honor my parents left trampled
on the ground.'
And then she said 'Could just Mia and I , two women, go? You can escort us if you
like to leave our flowers there and we would gather them in a bouquet and take them
there.' But all of this was denied and in the end we gathered the flowers-a big handful-and
gave them to one of the policeman and we left.
There was a press conference afterward and someone said 'Did you feel you failed?'
And Theary most openly said 'No'. And I think all of us shared this, not at all,
because it isn't about success or failure. We came to honor the victims and the survivors
and that is a matter of the heart and we did that. We did that.
Post: On the bigger picture concerning Darfur, how do you assess whether you are
making a difference?
Farrow: We would assess it by whether the people on the ground, in Darfur, are actually
experiencing any relief, and they are not. If anything things are worse. So what
we know that the UN peace force was deployed but you know that it was reduced from
the prescribed number. UNAMID. Just last week, I think, it deployed. But not the
27,000 recommended in previous resolution nor the 26,000 in UN Resolution 1769 but
rather some...I don't even think the 9,000 are there yet which is a scant expansion
of the UN force of 7,000 that is there, so unsupported and, not their fault, but
ineptly. They were under supported in every way and really there was just a change
The government of Sudan has ...I mean if you look at that UN Resolution 1769, and
I looked at three incarnations of it, and you can see where some of its sharpest
teeth were removed, at leaving the composition and capabilities in the hands of the
government of Sudan. And they have used that to make sure that this force is not
as effective as it could be. And you have heard Jean-Marie Vahannah (sp?) say 'Do
we send in a force that is not capable even of protecting itself, let alone the people?'
Post: So the original numbers of 26,000, were those not offered by UN member states
or did Sudan say no?
Farrow: They were offered...It was in the resolution that said it should be a predominantly
African [operation]...The government of Sudan has insisted that it be exclusively
African. And that of course limited the numbers. Countries that have volunteered-Sweden,
Norway, others-have been refused, denied access. So what we're really left with...I
think the only countries that are in are Egypt, perhaps Pakistan. I'm not sure. I'm
not on steady ground here but only two countries other than African countries were
accepted. But I don't think the people of Darfur have been super happy about Arab
countries coming in since the perpetrators have been Arab.
Post: Suppose readers learn of your presence here, and say 'Geez, I want to do
something.' What would you tell them to do?
Farrow: I'm not Cambodian and...I wouldn't presume to say what the Cambodians should
do...I would say support our humanitarians who are risking their lives every day
to do what the world has turned away from, sustaining the lives of over four million
people, two and a half million in camps, others exist in makeshift camps across Darfur,
unable to sustain themselves. There is no protection for them and there is no protection
for the aid workers. Attacks upon aid workers have risen 150 percent in the last
12 months, so those who are there dedicating ...their days and hours and resources
to sustaining these fragile lives are really to be supported... but I don't know
what Cambodia can do in terms of what political weight you may or may not have.
We do know, there is of course a partnership with China, and this is the moment to
say 'Please China, do everything in your power. Use your extraordinary leverage with
your close business partner, Sudan, to bring an end to the suffering, to stop the
aerial bombardment of civilians and admit the peacekeeping force, of the sort outlined
in the Resolution that they themselves signed, without the blockade.' And the blockades
are enormous. Just for you, I mean it's water rights, it's where they can have their
barricades, restrictions on what sort of vessels can land at Port Sudan, what sort
of vessels can land at A-Fashir. There's a lack of helicopters, which is an appalling
lack of support of the international community. But Khartoum retains control of communications...all
these things make it very difficult for the force to be effective.