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Documentary Raises Profile of Darfur Crisis

In an effort to turn the world's attention to the crisis in Darfur, actor George Clooney and his father, veteran reporter Nick Clooney, made a documentary about the plight of the Darfuri people. The film titled Journey to Darfur premiered recently on American cable TV.

The film starts with Darfur's stark landscape. People with gaunt faces and haunted eyes walk aimlessly in the middle of nowhere, under a relentless sun. As the camera lens shifts from one face to the next of refugee women and children, Nick Clooney describes how more than two million lives are hanging on a thread. Abandoned by their government, attacked by a group of militias, these people," he says, "face a grim fate. At least 200,000 have died so far."

Reporter Nick Clooney and his son, actor, director and political activist George Clooney, spent nine days in the war-torn region of western Sudan, filming a documentary about the horrors refugees face there every moment of their lives. He says that the whole point of this trip was to try to raise the profile of this story in the United States and elsewhere.

They did that by taping people, recounting their stories and by exposing their harsh living conditions. Then, they took advantage of George Clooney's international star power to bring attention to the crisis.

At a meeting of the United Nations Security Council, George Clooney pressed for U.N. involvement in the region. "In many ways it's unfair," he told them, "but it is nevertheless true that this genocide will be on your watch. How you deal with it will be your legacy. Your Rwanda, your Cambodia, your Auschwitz."

Princeton Lyman, former U.S. ambassador to South Africa and Nigeria, says the crisis began when the Sudanese government decided to eradicate Darfuri rebels who wanted control of their land and its potential oil reserves in western Sudan.

"The government had most of its troops in the south," says Lyman. "They recruited a number of militia largely from the Arab nomadic community of Darfur, armed them and then backed them up with airpower." Lyman says those militia, which are called the "Janjaweed" began to attack "not just the rebels but all the population centers from which the rebellion groups were drawn."

George Clooney says once the Darfuris are eradicated, the government can get their land.

"Scare them away, poison their wells, rape their women and you make them leave."

According to Journey to Darfur, since 2003, the Sudanese government and the government-sponsored militia have raped, starved, and murdered hundreds of thousands of Darfuris. Millions have fled from their homes. They rely on international help for food or medicine.

At a refugee camp, Nick Clooney spoke with countless victims. George shot the footage. Refugees described the atrocities. A woman said: "I was carrying my baby on my back. They shot me, and they shot one through the baby and killed it and saved me."

Stories like this compelled George Clooney to pressure other countries to help save Darfur. At a press conference in Washington, DC, he told VOA about his efforts. "My thought, was to go to China, for instance, who has the Olympics coming and say, 'Well, you guys who at times have questionable human-rights issues, finally you're about to join the international community in a big way with the Olympics, and perhaps you'd like to have a victory on human-rights issues like in Darfur.' "

Journey to Darfur premiered on American cable TV. It has also been delivered to members of Congress as well as church and other community leaders.