Filmmaker, writer and human rights activist. She is the co-producer of the documentary film Darfur Diaries: Message from Home and co-author of the book Darfur Diaries: Stories of Survival.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the Sudanese government for Sunday’s air raids against three villages in North Darfur that killed fourteen civilians and injured several others. Antonov bombers targeted a marketplace, water installations and a village school that was holding classes. We speak to filmmaker, activist and writer Jen Marlowe of Darfur Diaries, an independent American project that helped raise funds to restart the school last year. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the Sudanese government for Sunday’s air raids against three villages in North Darfur that killed fourteen civilians and injured several others. Antonov bombers targeted a marketplace, water installations and a village school that was holding classes. Eleven people in the village of Shegeg Karo were killed, six of them children between the ages of five and eleven. The bombs also destroyed half the village’s water supply.
Sunday’s attack is the deadliest by an Antonov bomber in eight years. Although it was condemned by the United Nations, UNAMID, the UN peacekeeping operation in Darfur, and the International Committee of the Red Cross were not at the village even forty-eight hours later. Critically injured children had to wait for over three days before receiving medical attention.
The school that was bombed Sunday had been re-launched just last year after a gap of several years, when it had stopped functioning because of the war. Darfur Diaries is an independent American project that helped raise funds to restart the school. The project came out of a film and a book by the same name by activists and filmmakers Aisha Bain, Jen Marlowe and Adam Shapiro.
I turn now to the film for a moment. This is how Dero, a young resident of Shegeg Karo, talked about the school back in 2004.
DERO: There are no school here in Shegeg Karo. There are people, more than 3,000, here without any school or any hospital. You see now, no. This school, we put it and we run — after I left secondary school, I can’t go to university. I return back here to build this — you see this, over there — school to run it by effort. No one pay to me. I try to call people to pay to their children to I teach them. I teach them three years without any salary, any pay. But after three years, it happened, this war. And now we stopped. I stopped to teaching.
AMY GOODMAN: A scene from the film Darfur Diaries: Message from Home about the school that was bombed on Sunday.
Jen Marlowe from the Darfur Diaries project joins us now from Seattle, Washington. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Jen.
JEN MARLOWE: Thanks, Amy. Thank you for covering this story.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us exactly what you understand happened?
JEN MARLOWE: Yeah, absolutely. Dero, who you just ran a clip of, he called me. It was Sunday morning, Seattle time. Phone woke me up. I answered the phone. And he called me with the news that the school in Shegeg Karo had, just a few hours earlier, been attacked, been bombed by an Antonov plane. And at that time, they weren’t sure how many children had been killed, but that children had been killed. And he called me back soon afterwards to say that it was six children and also that the market had been attacked, as well — five other people killed in the market — and that one of the two water sources in Shegeg Karo, one of the two pumps, had also been destroyed.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain exactly who did it.
JEN MARLOWE: Antonov aircraft are only flown by the Sudanese government. It was a school and a village attacked by the government of Sudan.
AMY GOODMAN: What are Antonov bombers?
JEN MARLOWE: Antonov bombers are a very inaccurate form of aircraft. I mean, they — absolutely no precision guiding the bombs. I mean, they’re Russian-made aircraft, and the bombs are literally rolled out of a hatch in the back of the aircraft. And that’s one of the reasons why it’s really unusual for an Antonov attack to have this level of casualty, because they are so inaccurate. The last time, as I think you mentioned when you were introducing the segment, the last time that there was a hit like this with this kind of civilian casualty from one Antonov attack wasn’t since a school in Kordofan in 2000.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the school, Jen? You visited it several years ago.
JEN MARLOWE: Yeah, Adam and Aisha and I were there. We were in Shegeg Karo with Dero in 2004. He showed us the school he had built, which at that time wasn’t functioning. Dero had stopped teaching when the conflict started, because he was worried that if he gathered children in one place, you know, that they could be a target and that — and he would feel responsible. And, you know, Dero’s dream was to continue the education in Shegeg Karo and beyond. And that’s actually what we found from Darfur, is that we met — everywhere we went, in Darfur and in the refugee camps in Chad, that one of their highest priorities was education for their children. And so, that was one of the reasons why we were so excited when we realized we had the opportunity to re-launch the school with Dero.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you did it through funds of your film and book, Darfur Diaries?
JEN MARLOWE: Part of the proceeds from the film and book are going to fund — and we’re funding four schools right now. Shegeg Karo is one of four schools we’re funding, three of them in villages where we filmed. But there’s also been a lot of fundraising events that different people have helped us with, that schools helped us with. Actually, Alice Walker gave us our first donation to launch the school project in its very beginning. And our first school was in Muzbat village that we started funding. And then the funds that allowed us to launch the Shegeg Karo school were raised in a fundraiser we did with Mia Farrow, and that fundraiser was May 4, 2007, which was exactly one year to the date before the school was bombed, which was May 4, 2008.
AMY GOODMAN: Jen Marlowe, Darfur hasn’t been very much in the news. What do you think has to happen right now?
JEN MARLOWE: Well, I mean, that’s a big question, if you’re talking about what has to happen right now in terms of this village or Darfur in general. For this village, I think one of the things that needs to happen is, you know, there’s still two critically injured children. They did finally get the medical help that they needed, but only after the villagers themselves drove them four hours over grueling desert terrain to seek treatment for them. No help came to the village.
AMY GOODMAN: You described in an article in The Nation this little girl with a broken back, and they had to decide whether to wait or whether to take her on a cart and drive this number of hours.
JEN MARLOWE: They waited for forty-eight hours. They believed her back was broken, and there was another young boy around fourteen years old who they believed his arm and leg were broken. And after forty-eight hours of no help at all arriving — and this is in an area of the world with one of the largest humanitarian operations and the largest peacekeeping mission in the world, is in Darfur — they loaded those kids up on a car and drove them over four hours of jolting, jolting terrain, and they ended up meeting the ICRC then in a village that took them about four hours to drive there.
And the little girl’s back is not broken, is what we learned. It is badly injured. But she — her leg was amputated. Her leg was broken and was amputated. And the boy’s leg was amputated, as well. And we can only speculate. We don’t know whether or not their legs could have been saved if medical care had arrived in a timely fashion.
AMY GOODMAN: And then that larger question of what you think needs to happen for Darfur now?
JEN MARLOWE: There’s so many ways to address that question. One of the things that has been frustrating to me, you know, working on this issue now for four years is how much — first of all, how much Darfur is looked at in isolation. And although the groundswell of activists that have risen up around Darfur, there’s a lot that they’ve done that has been very constructive and helpful and positive, but some of the things that are frustrating for me to look at is how they’re looking at Darfur in this isolated spotlight, as if Darfur exists without a context. What’s happening in Darfur has a much larger context, a geographic context, a historical, a political context. It’s connected to what’s been going on in South Sudan for decades. I was just back. I was in South Sudan this past summer shooting a new film. The South is very likely on the slow slide back toward civil war. So, first of all, I think one thing is, we have to remove this spotlight that has started to focus on Darfur and replace it with a floodlight and look how it’s connected to what’s happening in neighboring Chad, Central African Republic, South Sudan, the region as a whole.
And I think another thing is that — and this is connected to what happened in Shegeg Karo, and I think it’s connected to Darfur as a whole — there’s a lot of drumbeat that we hear from the activist movements of — you know, of Save Darfur and, you know, calls of “genocide, genocide” and of slaughter, and a lot of inflation of what happens day-to-day in Darfur. And unfortunately, because of that, then when there really is a massacre, when there really is slaughter, it gets lost. It gets lost, because people assume that, look, what happened on Sunday is a daily occurrence in Darfur. I think there needs to continue to be a very sustained international diplomatic effort. There needs to be — there was a lot of emphasis put on getting UNAMID in there. UNAMID is the hybrid force between the United Nations and the African Union. And for several years, that was the whole emphasis of the international community, was pushing to get UNAMID in there, as if that would be some kind of cure-all, that as soon as UN troops are on the ground, that everything would be fine. And unless UNAMID is able — there had been no real game plan about how UNAMID was going to be able to be effective, how they were going to be able to — how they were going to be able to fulfill their mission, their mandate, of protecting civilians. So those are some of the huge questions that I think what happened on Sunday brings into stark relief and need to be addressed.
AMY GOODMAN: Jen Marlowe, I want to thank you very much for being with us, filmmaker, co-producer of the film Darfur Diaries: Message from Home and co-author of the book Darfur Diaries: Stories of Survival.