George Clooney is one of the few celebrities whom I take seriously -- not just because he's focused his advocacy efforts on Sudan but for reasons of consistency and his ability to stay on message. In January 2011, my wife and I were made international observers for the Sudanese referendum for independence. George Clooney was there, along with ex-president Jimmy Carter, undertaking important analysis on what would become a process that ushered in the world's newest nation.
This week Clooney proudly accompanied his father to the gates of the Sudanese embassy in Washington. Asked by authorities to move on, he refused, and in the process he was arrested. I know that arresting a superstar is a lot like asking a millionaire to pay a traffic ticket, but he had made his point, effectively drawing attention once again to a region of the world for which many have lost focus. I've been to those particular gates myself, occasionally witnessing the arrests of NGO leaders and member of the Congressional Black Caucus who had chained themselves to the gates to symbolize those trapped in slavery and human rights violations in Sudan.
George Clooney has just returned from the Nuba Mountain region of Sudan, where he noted that, despite the successful referendum of last year, the northern government of Omar al-Bashir was still at it, bombing, raiding and brutalizing people on a significant enough scale to confirm his indictment as a war criminal by the International Criminal Court. Sadly, African Union leaders fail to take such charges seriously, refusing to apprehend Bashir any time he travels the continent -- a reality that clearly enrages Clooney.
But that's not what ultimately irks the Hollywood celebrity. He continues to express frustration that the West and the UN continue to watch from a distance the slow obliteration of Nuba Mountain people from Western Sudan. We pass resolutions such as the Responsibility to Protect specifically designed for such situations -- something mostly recently employed in Libya. All Clooney is asking President Obama is for the provision of protected humanitarian corridors to deliver crucial supplies to those most in need of food and medicines. That's easier said than done, but the actor is only asking that we live up to our own resolutions.
A unique problem results in such situations with the infusion of a celebrity the likes of George Clooney. Even as he presented his testimony to the Congressional committee last week, his voice could barely rise above the sound of the hundreds of camera shutters clicking in a kind of pandemonium. By the time the actor had finished his submission, the atrocities in Sudan had become front-page news.
That's good -- to a point. The difficulty becomes the rush to judgement, the belief that Sudan has fallen back into desperate times, when in fact the precarious peace is yet holding in most regions of the south. Despite remarkable odds, and with much of the world having moved on from the successful referendum moment, the leaders of the Republic of South Sudan are yet managing to hold together a precarious peace, despite marauding militias, Bashir's forces, and tribal conflict within the south itself. The challenges before the southern tribes is absolutely massive, but then again they had faced decades of a brutal civil war and they have endured too much to just let it all slip away easily. The fact the South Sudanese peace has survived this long still surprises many keen international observers and experts.
But George Clooney's job has never been to tout a fragile peace; instead it is to remind the world that Omar al-Bashir is a leopard who spots remain unchanged, a pariah who lives off the devastation of others. He makes Joseph Kony appear like a toy soldier. In this the actor has performed his role with a sense of urgency and acuity.
It's always saddened me that people of high celebrity get such instant access when those living and serving on the ground for endless hours each day can hardly get an interview with government officials. Nevertheless it is the way of our modern world, and given that reality we could do a lot worse than having a dedicated humanitarian like Clooney raising the alarm bells. He is effectively stating that this whole scenario isn't about him but the tortured souls of Sudan - a humble trait that qualifies him for moments such as these.