Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel and screen artist George Clooney today joined their voices at a meeting of the Security Council in New York to urge action to help the people of Darfur, Sudan, where African troops are slated to leave and a planned deployment of United Nations peacekeepers faces government opposition.
Describing Darfur as this century’s first genocide, Mr. Clooney warned the Council today that millions of Sudanese will die unless it takes “real and effective measures” before the end of the month to put an end to the killing and rapes in the war-torn region.
The actor and director – who visited Darfur earlier this year – told the 15-member body that the way it deals with the crisis there “will be your legacy, your Rwanda, your Cambodia, your Auschwitz.”
Nobel Laureate and UN Messenger of Peace Elie Wiesel, who himself survived the notorious Nazi death camp, reminded Council members that the UN Charter obligates them to save lives.
“You hold their destiny in your hands… Be worthy of your mission. Despair is not an option. Hope is,” Professor Wiesel said.
The meeting, hosted by United States Ambassador John Bolton, was held a day after Secretary-General issued a stark message that Darfur is headed for disaster unless the world can persuade Khartoum to accept UN peacekeepers to take over the work of the existing African Union (AU) peace operation.
When the Council voted to deploy more than 17,000 UN troops last month, the resolution also said it “invites the consent” of the Sudanese Government. But Khartoum has stated it is opposed to the arrival of blue helmets.
Mr. Clooney said the situation had become especially urgent because the AU operation is set to withdraw at the end of this month.
“The 1st of October will leave these people with nothing… With no protection, all the aid workers will leave immediately and the 2.5 million refugees who depend on that aid will die. [Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs] Jan Egeland estimates 100,000 a month. So after September 30th, you won’t need the UN. You will simply need men with shovels and bleached white linen and headstones.”
Acknowledging that the UN was faced with an extremely difficult task, he said that nevertheless “you have to decide what’s most urgent. You have the responsibility to protect. In the time that we are here today, more women and children will die violently in the Darfur region than in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Israel or Lebanon.”
Mr. Clooney added that Darfur represents “the first genocide of the 21st century and, if it continues unchecked, it will not be the last. My job is to come here today and to beg you on behalf of the millions of people who will die – and, make no mistake, they will die – for you to take real and effective measures to put an end to this.”
Professor Wiesel labelled Darfur “the world capital of human suffering, humiliation and despair… You know that the tragedy there seems endless as well as senseless. It has all the components of the worst and ugliest crimes of the last century: tribal hatred, vicious brutality, and scandalous behaviour of raping women [and] killing children.”
He compared the situation to that of Rwanda in 1994, when the Security Council was accused of being indifferent to the genocide there that led to the deaths of an estimated 800,000 people in less than four months.
“The victim is always doubly cursed, and doubly punished. First, by being a victim, and then, by being alone. Miserably alone and forgotten by the so-called decent people and its reputable spokesmen and leaders.”
About 1.9 million people have been displaced and nearly 3 million in total depend on humanitarian aid for food, shelter and health care across Darfur, an impoverished region roughly the size of France on Sudan’s western flank. Fighting between Government forces, allied militias and rebel groups has raged since 2003.