Some years ago, when Sudan’s Islamist regime was waging genocidal jihad in South Sudan and the Nuba Mountains, I arranged a State Department visit for an Episcopal bishop from that region. Bishop Bullen had a warm, sympathetic reception from then Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, Dr. Paula Dobriansky, (those were the days!). But his meeting paled in comparison to the hubbub taking place just down the hall. Every door in the corridor was open. State Department staffers filled the doorways, smiling and waving, as actor Richard Gere and his entourage passed them.
Bullen was the Bishop of Lui, in South Sudan’s Equatoria region. His devastated diocese was as stark as the moon’s surface. His cathedral and hospital had been bombed by the Sudanese government of Omar al Bashir at least seven times. And his brother – just one of millions of victims of Khartoum’s jihad – had been tied up and dragged behind a jeep until he was dead. Seeing the bishop’s puzzlement at the near-hysteria in the hallways, I explained that it was due to an American movie star, an activist who would be speaking about China’s occupation of Tibet at a hearing on Capitol Hill. “If only some movie star cared that much about Sudan!” Bishop Bullen smiled wistfully.
If Bishop Bullen were still alive he would be very pleased to know about George Clooney. An actor who does truly care about Sudan, Clooney first brought his star power to the issue of western Sudan’s Darfur region around 2006, but he has broadened the scope of his advocacy to include all of Sudan’s marginalized people. In December 2010, Clooney went to South Sudan during the preparations for the referendum on secession from the north. There was fear of attacks by Khartoum’s National Congress Party regime, and Clooney, who endured malaria and stomach ailments during his visit, said that by shining daylight on the situation he was making it “harder to kill people.” The referendum did go through extremely peacefully, with 99.9% of the people voting for freedom.
Earlier this month Clooney used his powerful command of the media to attest to Sudan’s current genocidal conditions, taking on the regime of the ICC-indicted war criminal Omar al Bashir, the U.S. State Department, and the international media to press the need for immediate aid and protection for the people of the Nuba Mountains, where time to save lives is running out. The Nuba – the indigenous African ethnic groups (about 40 tribes) of the Nuba Mountain region in South Kordofan – face starvation this month. They have been unable to plant their crops because of constant aerial bombardment by the Sudan Armed Forces since June 2011. Instead, they have been hiding from the bombs in stark, snake-and-scorpion-filled caves, existing on terror and a sub-subsistence diet. Now the little food that they have is running out, and the Khartoum regime has blocked access to all humanitarian aid.
On March 14, 2012, Clooney and John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, testified before the full Senate Foreign Relations Committee at a hearing entitled, “Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.” Clooney, whose powerful testimony followed that of the State Department’s Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, Princeton Lyman, and U.S. Agency for International Development official, Nancy Lindborg, screened for the Senate committee a video he had just made during a trip to the Nuba Mountains the week before.
In the video Clooney meets the terrorized Nuba citizens of burned-out villages, hiding in caves from Sudan’s Antonov bombers just as they were forced to do less than a decade ago during the north/south war. He visits the wounded in a makeshift clinic, including a nine-year-old boy who had lost both hands during a bombing raid the day before. He stands beside both an unexploded bomb, buried up to its unspeakable neck in the dirt, and a man killed by an exploded one, lying unburied in the dirt.
The actor/activist says to a Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N) soldier: “This is simply trying to clear people out – ethnically – because of the color of their skin.” The soldier, who is fighting together with fellow Nuba to protect his people from Khartoum’s extermination campaign, agrees, and adds, “They want to destroy the blacks and put the Arabs in.” When Clooney asks the soldier how long his people have been there, the soldier smiles and replies, “since Creation.” The testimony bolstered a bipartisan group, Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Roger Wicker (R-MS), who had introduced a resolution demanding humanitarian access to the region.
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