“I’m not a policy maker. All I do is public opinion.” With a shrug, Academy Award-winning actor and humanitarian George Clooney understated his commitment to, interest in, and impact on trying to end decades of war crimes in Sudan.
Clooney and John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, had flown overnight to New York City, after breaking the law to drive six hours into the Nuba Mountain region between the two Sudans. They filmed scenes that Sudan’s president, Umar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, doesn’t want the world to see, video which was posted on the Council on Foreign Relations website.
Using the playbook that activists say al-Bashir perfected in Darfur—fear, rape, starvation, and the indiscriminate bombing of civilians whose major crimes are their color, ethnicity, and geography—the Sudan forces are removing the people of the Nuba Mountains from land they’ve farmed for 1,000 years. The biggest difference from Darfur, said Omer Ismail, founder of the Sudan Democratic Forum, is that al-Bashir is not allowing the displaced men, women, and mostly children to form refugee or displacement camps that could focus the attention of the United Nations.
Instead, as Clooney’s and Prendergast’s film shows, the people are hiding in caves, trying to escape rockets and airplanes and unexploded bombs. They can point to areas, some close to schools, in which mass graves with as many as 100 bodies are buried.
Attempting to document the atrocities and provide evidence in the International Criminal Court investigation in Sudan, the two Americans cite the photos that they’ve been able to capture by way of their Satellite Sentinel Project, a collaboration by the Enough Project, the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, and DigitalGlobe.
Today, Clooney and Prendergast are taking their observations to U.S. President Barack Obama and they’re optimistic that the President will be receptive. They say both Republicans and Democrats are united in their horror about the ethnic cleansing going on in Sudan and they think this may be a moment in which doing the “right” thing could have beneficial economic consequences.
Upset by the bombing from the north, South Sudan has closed its oil production facilities, cutting off six percent of the oil that China—yes, China—relies on. The resulting shortage in the world oil market is helping to drive up gas prices across the United States as well as in China.
“China has always vetoed efforts to stop the conflict in Sudan, but now, we may have a shot of getting the Chinese to work together with the United States, to benefit both of us,” said Clooney. The North Sudanese forces, Clooney said, have even bombed a Chinese-built oil facility, increasing the chances that the Chinese government might be receptive, should President Obama send a high level envoy, someone like United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, to help craft a joint, comprehensive solution to the intractable conflict between the two Sudans.
In September of 2010, Prendergast said, President Obama “waded into the quagmire” and personally lobbied 40 heads of state at the United Nations to force the Sudan government to hold a referendum on time that separated the two sections of the country. “The coming cataclysm requires President Obama’s similar first hand involvement to work with the Chinese,” he said.
At least, that is their hope as Clooney and Prendergast undertake today’s chapter in their effort to influence public opinion and save lives in the Sudanese region.