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Star Power Shines a Light on U.N.

Actor George Clooney urges Security Council members to press Sudan on the crisis in Darfur.

September 15, 2006|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — Sudan's president has ignored appeals from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, President Bush and Arab leaders to allow U.N. peacekeepers to protect people in Darfur from attacks by militias and the government.

So what difference can actor George Clooney make?

Clooney tried to answer that question Thursday as he and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel met with Security Council members to push them to act on Sudan.

"Do I think that anything I say is more effective? No," Clooney said in an interview with The Times. "The difference is that the secretary-general got up and gave a great, eloquent speech two days ago, and unless you were looking for it in the back pages of a newspaper, you didn't see it.

"We show up here and there are a bunch of cameras everywhere you go, all four networks," he said as a crew from "Good Morning America" packed up an impromptu set. "It's amazing how different people are when lights are shining on them, and how quickly they can act. So the hope is that it will put some pressure on them."

Clooney said he came to the Darfur issue "late to the game" -- three years into the conflict -- but that the timing of his United Nations visit was crucial.

Sudan's government has said that African Union peacekeepers must leave Darfur by the end of the month, when their mandate expires, and that it will not allow U.N. peacekeepers to replace them.

Without protection, Clooney and human rights organizations warn, aid workers will be forced to leave, and the 2.5 million people who depend on them will die without protection and assistance.

"After Sept. 30, you won't need the U.N.," Clooney told the Security Council. "You will simply need men with shovels and bleached white linen and headstones."

Clooney and his father visited Darfur in April, and he said that he was moved by the struggle of millions to survive in the barren land, even without the attacks.

The three-year conflict has been responsible for the deaths of about 200,000 people and has displaced about 2.5 million.

Although there are dozens of celebrities who serve as U.N. goodwill ambassadors, the informal meeting was the first time ambassadors could recall a celebrity addressing the Security Council.

The session was held in a basement conference room of the U.N. headquarters, instead of the council's chamber, to underscore that it was unofficial.

Clooney listened patiently to all 15 ambassadors discuss the difficulties of Darfur, including Qatar's representative, who criticized Clooney, saying the council didn't need an actor to tell it what to do.

Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, writer and the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, warned that "passivity helps the oppressor and not the oppressed," and he urged the council to remember the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Russia and China, veto-wielding members of the council that have blocked sanctions on Sudan, sent deputies to the session instead of their top diplomats, a purposeful snub in the U.N. arena.

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