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Why Clooney Was Arrested: Building a Politics of Peace in Sudan

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Earlier today, I joined fellow human rights activists, faith leaders and members of the Sudanese diaspora in pressing the U.S. government to redouble its advocacy on human rights and civilian protection in Sudan. A couple of hours later, the D.C. Metro police arrested George Clooney. Fresh off his latest round of Oscar nominations, Clooney stood in front of the Sudanese embassy on Massachusetts Avenue, highlighting the urgency of Sudan's current crisis. Facing a groundswell of protestors, Clooney drew the crowd's attention towards Khartoum's harrowing, unrelenting atrocities against civilians, as well as the Sudanese regime's restrictions on humanitarian access.

Sudan's current conflict emerged last May, following the failure of South Kordofan's popular consultation process and the electoral victory of Ahmed Harun, an indicted war criminal and architect of Sudanese counterinsurgency policy in Darfur. The conflict has spread to the neighboring Blue Nile, where, in September, state Governor Malik Agar initiated insurgency operations against Sudanese armed forces. Atrocities are rampant, with Khartoum's military launching targeted aerial and ground attacks on civilian populations, including ethnic minority groups. United Nations authorities, journalists, and representatives of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) have reported instances of mass rape, population displacement and extrajudicial killings.

Sudan's border-state conflicts, however, date much further back than September, South Sudan's July independence, or the 2005 signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between Sudan and the SPLM. The central government in Khartoum has persistently marginalized Sudanese minorities within the state's periphery regions, denying a myriad of ethnic groups access to political authority, economic resources, and social recognition. An inclusive peace has thus far evaded Sudan: When the international community responds to Sudan's atrocities, they fail to address the need for sustained dialogue and national-level mediation between Khartoum's ruling center and its marginalized populations.

Last week, Rep. Jim McGovern introduced the Sudan Peace, Security and Accountability Act, which provides a comprehensive framework for U.S. human rights policy in Sudan. In addition to indicating Congressional support for the prosecution of atrocity perpetrators, the legislation establishes a U.S. role for participation in Sudan's political transformation and conflict resolution processes. Rep. McGovern's legislation provides a valuable opportunity for the Obama administration to mobilize mounting political will against atrocities in Darfur and Sudan's border states.

Khartoum has used the SPLM-N's insurgency in South Kordofan and Blue Nile to initiate a politics of war, predicated on the marginalization of Sudan's periphery, the continued subjugation of political reform movements, and acute violence against Sudanese civilians. Freeing Clooney from D.C. prison is easy. Once the cameras pass, we need to be prepared for the hard work of crafting a politics of peace. Human rights advocates, our Congressional allies, and the Obama administration can use this visibility to mobilize a broad, permanent coalition for inclusive peace.