Actor George Clooney and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel have met with the U.N. Security Council to plead for prompt action to save lives in Darfur. The Oscar-winning film star Clooney told an informal meeting of Security Council members that they will bear responsibility unless they act quickly to stop the killing in Darfur.
"My job is to come here today and to beg you on behalf of 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," he said.
The appearance by Clooney and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel comes as an African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur is preparing to leave.
The mandate of the seven-thousand strong force expires September 30th, and Sudan has rejected a Security Council resolution that would authorize 20-thousand U.N. peacekeepers in southern Sudan to take over in Darfur.
Clooney predicted mass slaughter if the September 30th deadline is allowed to pass without firm Council intervention.
"So after September 30th, you won't need the U.N. You'll simply need men with shovels and bleached white linen and headstones. In many ways it's unfair, but it is nevertheless true that this genocide will be on your watch. How you deal with it will be your legacy," he said.
United Nations investigators have rejected the U.S. characterization of the killings in Darfur as genocide, saying it does not meet the strict legal definition of the term. But in an impassioned address, Clooney rejected the distinction.
"The United States called it genocide, for you it's called ethnic cleansing. But make no mistake, it is the first genocide of 21st century. And if it continues unchecked, it will not be the last," he said.
In an equally powerful statement, Nobel laureate Wiesel reminded the Security Council of the world body's failure to act a decade ago in a similar situation in Rwanda.
"What was in Rwanda so terrible that the U.N. knew, and the U.N. let it happen. Sudan cannot bring back the dead, but it can restore a sense of honor to the United Nations," he said.
Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir has warned that a U.N. takeover of Darfur peacekeeping would violate Sudanese sovereignty. But Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, told Council members they have a moral duty under the U.N. Charter to act. "Do not wait for Sudan's invitation or consent. If they give it, good. If not, go in anyway. The criminal tormenters and assassins don't wait. Stop them. This is what the United Nations Charter authorizes and asks you to do, to intervene," he said.
The appearance by Clooney and Wiesel comes a day after Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the United Nations cannot afford to allow a Rwanda-like disaster in Darfur.
More than 200-thousand people have been killed and two million others displaced during three and a half years of brutal conflict in the vast western Sudanese region. An estimated three million Darfurians are dependent on international aid for food, shelter and health care.
Thursday's special informal Council meeting was arranged by the United States under a formula that allows ordinary citizens to address the body to raise issues of concern.