For years, George Clooney argues, there has been little hope in Darfur. This is his report from last March, following the indictment of Sudan's president for crimes against humanity.
Last week, I visited a camp in Chad—a camp of about 12,000 refugees and internally displaced persons. I was there three years ago. The violence there is nowhere near the scale that is going on just miles across the border in Sudan.
I think what was most disturbing about the place was how little it had changed. "Normal" is 800 calories a day, sickness, threats of rebel violence, or just crime. When you see their faces, the hope that was there three years ago was all but gone. There are still moments. We walked through a village where children would follow me and chant the name “Obama.” His promise of “hope” having such a different meaning here. But there’s too little hope. Time and time again they’ve seen the convoy of white trucks and even whiter faces pull up, drag out their camera crew and pull aside the most damaged family they can find. We film them as they give honest answers to questions no person should have to answer. “What happened?” “How did you lose that arm?” “Were you raped?” “By how many?” Then, just as they’ve seen time and time again, we jump back in our vehicles and run to the next place. “Not really tragic enough,” is said out loud (probably by me). “Maybe there’s somebody that’s been attacked more recently.” It’s all been covered before.
Will his government turn him over? Not likely. Will the UN go in after him? Doubtful.
I stopped on the side of the road on the way back to my fenced-in shelter to talk to a waif of a girl who surely was raped. But the answer was “no.” She was just sick and alone and scared. Not great headline-grabbing stuff.
We all meet back up that night to assess. “Not much new.” “What's the hook?” “What makes it fresh?” These are all the best intentions. Finding a new outrage is the only way to catch the world’s attention. You spend your time looking for (and even secretly hoping for) something or someone tragic to report. A good personal story to get the attention away from what dominates our days and nights. The economy. Iraq. Ponzi schemes. The Oscars.
We all know why we’re here and it’s not simply to report the status quo. Even though this status quo is beyond the pale of what is acceptable. It's beyond our understanding of how much a person can take.
Nothing new to report—except the shame of what man can do to man. And the secret seems to be that the longer it goes on, the more tolerant all of us become of it.
And yet, in the middle of all of this, we get a tiny window of hope. The International Criminal Court has now brought charges and an arrest warrant to Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan. He is indicted for crimes against humanity. It’s the first time a sitting president has been charged by The Hague. By the time the ICC got to them, Slobodan Milosevic and Charles Taylor were both finished with their reigns of terror. Omar al-Bashir is not. Not by a long shot.
How effective these indictments will be is now in the hands of the rest of the world. Will his government turn him over? Not likely. Will the UN go in after him? Doubtful. Even if he’s caught travelling outside the safety of his country would his government be much better with other equally dangerous leaders like “The Sudanese Six”—Harun, Taha, Kushayb, Hilal, Minawi? If I were a refugee I wouldn’t bet my life on it.
So then why is this such a significant moment? Because it tells the 300,000 brutally killed and 2.5 million displaced and raped and maimed that justice must always prevail. That the rest of the world sees their struggle and stands up and demands justice.
This is the moment. And if the UN can’t use it to insist on tougher sanctions, and the United States can’t use it to pressure China, and China can’t feel the eyes of the world looking to them for leadership in the country that they profit so greatly from, then the court and the rule of international law is lost.
Now we have a headline:
PRESIDENT OF SUDAN INDICTED
No need for sad stories of starving children or heart-stirring pictures of a baby koala bear with burnt paws drinking from a water bottle.
Instead, millions of voices standing and demanding “JUSTICE!”
I visited a school in a camp in Goz Beida. The name above the door had been changed to “Obama.”
It seems this message of “hope” is catching on.
In 2007, George Clooney, along with Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, and Jerry Weintraub, co-founded Not on Our Watch, an organization whose mission is to focus global attention and resources to stop and prevent mass atrocities in Darfur. Among the many honors received as a result of his humanitarian efforts in Darfur was the 2007 Peace Summit Award given at the eighth World Summit of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates at their annual meeting in Rome. In 2008, Clooney was designated a UN Messenger of Peace.