Farrow, a UNICEF goodwill ambassador who has traveled to Sudan more than a dozen times, presented images from her trips and told stories about the people she has met, including villagers displaced from their homes in the Darfur region.
While Darfur may have receded from the headlines, Farrow said that aerial attacks and ground assaults on its people continue, under the direction of the Sudanese government in Khartoum.
“In fact, with attention now focused on [South Sudan], the violence in Darfur has escalated to a point that we have not seen since 2003 or 2004,” Farrow said. “Just since December, at least 14 villages have been attacked; 70,000 to 100,000 people have been displaced and have fled, joining the 2.7 million already homeless. … These are the victims of our indifference.”
Farrow conceded that her talk included “a mass of some pretty depressing statistics,” but she urged those in attendance to avoid feelings of hopelessness or helplessness. “They are luxuries that I don’t think we’re entitled to, in the face of the kind of courage and perseverance of the people I’ve come to know [in Sudan],” she said.
Payne, a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, devoted his comments primarily to the history of Sudan and recent political developments in South Sudan, where citizens overwhelmingly voted in January to separate from Sudan and create an independent nation. The decision will go into effect in July, though many disputes remain, including how to divide oil revenues and whether or not the region of Abyei will be included in the new Republic of South Sudan.
Payne said that South Sudan has endured a disproportionate share of the country’s suffering since colonial times. While some have questioned whether the region has the resources to build its own nation, Payne stressed that there was little doubt among those who voted on the January referendum: More than 97 percent of registered voters participated, and of those, 98.8 percent voted for separation.
“I think the people in the South are certainly ready for the challenge,” he said. “They’re very determined people.”