Academy Award winner George Clooney has decided to use his celebrity to speak out on the carnage in Sudan.
Days after returning from a trip to the Darfur region of Sudan, Clooney spoke at the National Press Club in Washington Thursday alongside Sens. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan., to urge a greater focus on the people of the troubled area.
"There are innocent people in harm's way in the most brutal of fashions," said Clooney of the crisis in Darfur. "Everyone has a good reason not to act … but the one thing we cannot do is turn our heads and look away."
Since 2003, tens of thousands of people have been killed in Darfur by the Sudanese military and the government-sponsored militia known as the Janjaweed. Villages have been set ablaze, women have been raped and property has been seized. Roughly 2 million have been forced to flee their homes and thousands die each month due to inadequate food, water and medical care.
While the ongoing conflict in Darfur tends to be portrayed as primarily an ethnic one, the crisis, in fact, involves several interrelated struggles. One is between government forces and rebels, another is between the Janjaweed militia and innocent civilians, and the last involves tensions within each of the communities in the region.
In a poignant tale about Darfur's continued plight for aid, Clooney said he was approached by a young girl who asked him, "'When will you come back? When will you stop this?'"
"Soon," he assured her. But as if already doubtful that help was on the way, Clooney said she replied: "That's what you always say."
"We're not using our weight politically and diplomatically in the international community," he lamented.
There is not enough time to ask and hope for troop commitments from other nations, he explained. There is simply "a raw, humanitarian appeal to be made in this situation."
Echoing Clooney's sentiments about the cost of standing idly by in the face of suffering, Brownback quoted Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel: "What hurts victims most is not the cruelty of the oppressor, but the silence of the bystander."
"George Clooney is giving a voice to people without a voice," Brownback stated, "because with that voice, they die. They die."
Brownback said that like Clooney and his father, people should take "impact trips" to educate themselves about the systemic problems plaguing those in far-flung lands.
"Go to Kigali, Rwanda, instead of Paris or London," Brownback said. "Pick your spot" and learn about it, he urged.
Noting that he himself was "late to the game in Africa," Clooney said there has also been a dearth of exposure on what has become the first genocide of the 21st century.
"It's been hard to find stories about genocide," Clooney said, "because it's not sexy." That needs to change, he said, because "we need to step up and say 'genocide'" is taking place.
The actor and director will certainly bring more attention to the issue when he participates in the Save the Darfur Coalition's rally on the National Mall, taking place April 30.
By Jennifer Hoar