At a hearing convened by US Senator John Kerry, Obama Administration officials from USAID and the State Department acknowledged what many in the humanitarian aid and anti-genocide advocacy organizations have been sounding the alarms about. Finally. From USAID there were strong words about famine relief, noting the US should understand it is "imperative to have immediate" aid available and ready in the event Sudanese President Omar al Bashir signs, and honors an agreement to enableaid delivery operations.
During George W. Bush's time as president violence raged in the Darfur region of Sudan. Scholars, advocates and a virtual army of celebrities raised awareness through any means necessary. Together with faith-based groups and Bush's 'armies of compassion,' then President Bush forged a path that while imperfect led to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement and a brief respite from genocide. The CPA made South Sudan's independence possible and inevitable. Unfortunately the vigor of the activists and the media's appetite for covering the complex situation in Sudan diminished. This troubling development was compounded by the new president, Barack Obama, and his unwillingness to take any substantive action to forestall a slide back to full scale genocide.
Today, more than three years into the Obama Administration, the people of the Nuba Mountains, South Kordofan, the Blue Nile and Abyei are acutely aware of what war crimes feel like. In Darfur, a "slow-motion genocide," as presidential contender Mitt Romney recently noted, is underway. People are being slaughtered because of their ethnicity in the Nuba Mountains. They have retreated into caves, leaving behind their pastoral and self-sustaining lifestyle in fear for their lives.
George Clooney delivered powerful testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations committee this week. Armed with passionate, first person details and a powerful video, his appearance was compelling. A Co-Founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project, Clooney shared a harrowing tale of incoming rockets and Antinov planes dispatched by the Government of Sudan dropping bombs.
Clooney was clear, forceful and realistic. The "Nuban people are incredibly vulnerable," prefaced a story about a nine year old boy who lost his hands in a bombing raid. The young boy is featured in the graphic documentary Clooney and Prendergast shared during the hearing. He noted "constant drip of fear" and how the lives are being destroyed. Crops have gone unplanted. The actions of the Government of Sudan are blockading humanitarian aid access, slaughtering innocent people. The "exact same people who did this in Darfur are doing this."
Questioned by Senator Jonny Isaakson about the prevalence of rape, noting he remembered it being a key component of the crimes against humanity during the Darfur genocide, Clooney responded in the affirmative. "The exact same patterns we saw in Darfur" are present. Prendergast added, "massive atrocities are still underway."
Solutions for genocide seem complicated to come by. Clooney, Prendergast and many of the senators agreed the most effective path forward is one based on diplomacy. They agreed there is an opportunity to engage China directly, due to their significant investment in, and need for oil from Sudan and South Sudan.
There was a moment that caught the interest of several anti-genocide activists, whom offered their concerns under the condition they remain anonymous. Statements made by the Special Envoy seemed to equate those attempting to fend off their extinction with the war criminals perpetrating the attacks. There are often attempts to be collegial, facilitate consensus at the end of a hearing or other debate.
The same people expressed concern when, whether it was an attempt at encouraging better policy or a remark intended to support Administration policy outright, Prendergast noted the "Administration policy is the right one." Certainly, a policy that engages China more effectively would be one most activists support. But a continuation of the coddling of the despotic regime in Khartoum is not sustainable. Negotiating with a monster is not practical nor likely to bear any positive developments.
Prendergast's record of tough talk, tough action and crafting tough policy stands on it's own. His commitment to Sudan will likely quell any concerns. After years of working directly with the current policy makers, it is wise to offer praise for those currently in office. Any policy issues should be left squarely at Obama's feet, as it is the President of the United States who continues to legitimize Bashir.
Clooney noted the complexity with aplomb, "there is not just donor fatigue, there is misery fatigue. The truth is just that. Advocates work with a sustained passion and devotion. Bureaucrats work the system, some with dedication and others without it. The failure to keep President Obama's campaign promises is ultimately a problem he created. Without his direction and order, nothing will happen. Until then, the flurry of soaring rhetoric is empty words.
Clooney and Prendergast's Satellite Sentinel Project combined the entrepreneurial spirit, the privatization of statecraft, philanthropy and humanitarian activism in a way destined to reset the clock. The phalanx of photographers, the thrilled staffers who caught a glimpse of this impossibly handsome man should honor his example.
The week culminated with a protest before Sudan's Embassy in Northwest Washington, DC today. Surrounded by friends, allies, activists and Sudanese diaspora, Clooney looked more comfortable than at the White House or even before the thousands of cameras that follow him. Then the arrests for civil disobedience came.
Clooney was arrested, as was Tom Andrews - the President of United to End Genocide, Enough Project Co-Founder John Prendergast, Congressmen Jim McGovern (D-MA), Al Green (D-TX), Jim Moran (D-VA) and John Olver (D-MA), Martin Luther King III, NAACP President Ben Jealous, and many others.
From a written statement provided by UEG's Tom Andrews said, "It is unacceptable and inexcusable that Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir--an internationally criminal wanted for war crimes and genocide--is getting away with bombing, starving and displacing hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children in Sudan's Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile State." He continued, "We need to hear the outrage from President Obama and see robust international leadership. The United States should immediately do everything in its power to get food to the region before people starve and increase sanctions on Bashir and his forces."
Niemat Ahmadi, originally from Darfur, Sudan, is the current UEG Director of Global Partnerships, stated "We should not allow the tragedy of Darfur to be repeated. Hundreds of thousands of people died before the international community and United States took action. The question for the people in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile is will the U.S. government act now, or will the response be too little, too late."
The clear message, from all who stand for justice in Sudan, was put best by John Prendergast, "George Clooney and I just returned from the Nuba Mountains, where the Sudan government regularly bombs civilians and blocks humanitarian aid to the war-torn regions along the border with South Sudan. It is urgent that the Khartoum government allow aid access. More broadly, the window is now open for a comprehensive political settlement on all the issues that divide Sudan and South Sudan, and the U.S. is playing an important role in supporting that effort."
More than anyone, Clooney spoke the plain truth that remains. There is a crisis underway. People are dying and there is but one man to blame. Bashir's actions are evil. "They are not acts of war, they are war crimes."