The opportunity to prevent a man-made disaster in Sudan is quickly fading, but strong diplomacy can make a difference, warned actor George Clooney in a Today show interview with NBC’s Ann Curry this morning:
“If I said to you right now that there’s gonna be an earthquake, that 200,000 people are going to be killed, what would you do? Well this isn’t a natural disaster this is man-made. It can be stopped.”
Clooney and Curry recently returned from week-long trip to South Sudan, a Texas-sized region of Africa that will face a vote for independence in less than three months. Preparations for the vote are critically behind and have the potential to return Sudan—a country that has already from suffered two-decades of war and mass atrocities in its volatile western region of Darfur—back to violence.
Resumption of war is not inevitable, says Clooney, who believes that robust diplomacy now can secure peace for the region.
I think [war] can be stopped. [W]e stopped it in 2005, we stopped the North-South war that lasted 20 years and cost two and a half million people’s lives and we stopped it with diplomacy. We didn’t stop it with soldiers, we stopped it with diplomacy. So yes, if we get involved now, we have a shot.
The actor and humanitarian, accompanied by Curry and Enough Co-Founder John Prendergast, traveled by boat up the Nile River to speak with displaced people in the tense town of Malakal and to the region of Abyei, a small parcel of disputed land that lies between North and South Sudan. Like South Sudan, Abyei is entitled to a referendum, one that will determine whether the region goes to the North or the South. Preparations for this vote have been held up by a heated deadlock between the North and South Sudanese governments; talks recently mediated by the U.S. have ground to a halt.
In Abyei, Clooney and Curry met with survivors of the violence that broke out in the region in 2008, when the Sudanese army and affiliated militias burned Abyei town to the ground. Most analysts believe that if conflict erupts, Abyei is where it will start.
Surveying the Abyei landscape from the back of a truck, Clooney asked Curry in a segment shown on the Today show, “What would you do?”
Curry responded, “I’d take my kids and get out of here.”
The group also stopped in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, at the same time that the U.N. Security Council delegation arrived on a trip to press the Sudanese parties to hold credible and peaceful votes. There, the group sat down with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir.
“What’s important” is that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the CIA, and even President Barack Obama all recognize the threat, Clooney said. “Everyone acknowledges that this is what is going to take place if someone doesn’t moderate, and mediate. That’s not just my saying it, that’s everyone saying it. I’m just trying to say it as loud as possible.”
The actor asked the public to help build the political will for diplomacy in Sudan by going to www.sudanactionnow.org. Sudan Now’s website offers the tools to send a letter to President Obama asking him to follow through on his administration’s pledges to stay engaged in Sudan, especially in the realm of peacemaking, protection of civilians, and diplomatic pressure.
“We give a billion dollars a year, nearly a billion dollars a year, in the Sudan to protect and help people after these tragedies. We are going to be involved one way or another. We’re going to be there,” said Clooney. “It would be a lot better without spending a single dime, without costing American lives, to get in there now, with robust diplomacy, hardcore diplomacy.”
The full Today show segment is available here.