ROME (Reuters) - Actors George Clooney and Don Cheadle said world leaders must not be allowed to ignore the war in Darfur, as they received an award by Nobel peace laureates for their efforts to help civilians caught up in the conflict.
Together with Brad Pitt, Clooney and Cheadle — co-stars in “Ocean’s Thirteen” — have used their celebrity status to raise money for refugees through their “Not On Our Watch” charity, and make sure Darfur’s “continuing carnage” is not forgotten.
Experts estimate 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million uprooted in the Sudanese region’s conflict, which started in 2003 and pits mostly non-Arab rebel groups against the Khartoum government and Arab militias.
Ceasefires have been agreed only to fall apart, and plans to send 26,000 United Nations peacekeepers have been thrown into doubt because of restrictions imposed by Khartoum and the failure by Western states to provide helicopters.
“We have an American election coming so this is the time to put pressure on American candidates, because believe me none of these people want to talk about this issue,” Clooney said at a press conference in Rome after receiving the Peace Summit Award.
“None of them want to deal with this issue, so right now is the time to place pressure on the people who can actually affect change because we can’t,” he said.
Clooney, the son of a TV journalist, said the media also had a vital role to play and took issue with the extensive coverage given to the British teacher briefly jailed in Sudan last month for allowing her class to name a teddy bear Mohammed.
“A young woman was threatened with forty lashes and six months in jail and it was in the front page of every newspaper for a week in England and America.
“I would suggest that every single human being living in Darfur right now would happily take forty lashes and six months in jail over the treatment that they’re getting,” he said.
“You hope that that kind of coverage would be handed out to everyone, not just one woman who happens to be white and from a Western country.”
Cheadle, who earned an Oscar nomination for his role in “Hotel Rwanda” about a hotel manager trying to save lives during the 1994 genocide, said he had listened to tale after tale of horror when he visited refugees in Darfur but also found that people still had hope.
“That is really what keeps me pulled in to this: the promise that we can provide something better for them,” he said.
Earlier this year Clooney, Cheadle and Pitt raised $10 million for Darfur at the Cannes film festival, but Clooney said little had changed for the people of Darfur.
“Don and I... stand here before you as failures,” he told the Nobel laureates attending the award ceremony, including former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and the Dalai Lama.
“The simple truth is that when it comes to the atrocities in Darfur those people are not better off now than they were years ago. The murders continue, the rapes continue and some two and a half million refugees are yet to go home,” he said.
Reporting by Silvia Aloisi, Eleanor Biles and Gabriele Pileri, editing by Paul Casciato