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George Clooney Puts ‘Spotlight’ on Bloodshed, Crisis in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains

March 14, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
After recently visiting Sudan's Nuba Mountains, actor and activist George Clooney and the Enough Project's John Prendergast described people hiding in caves to avoid bombings. Judy Woodruff spoke with Prendergast and Clooney who said the people and their plight "get in your bloodstream and you have a responsibility to them."
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TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, an update on the continued fighting in the African nation of Sudan and a well-known visitor to that country.

Last summer, people in South Sudan celebrated as they became citizens of the world’s newest nation. After decades of internal violence in Sudan, the South won its independence in a 2011 referendum. But the South’s hard-won freedom hasn’t stopped the fighting for oil-rich territory and over ethnic divisions. Sudan is a major oil supplier to China and other nations.

Shortly before the formal break, the Sudanese government took military action in the border areas of Abyei and South Kordofan. That region had been aligned with the South, but now lies north of the new border. Fighting there has continued, with growing appeals for world action.

Actor George Clooney is a longtime advocate for peace across Sudan. He visited the border region this past week.

GEORGE CLOONEY, actor: I thank you for the opportunity to appear before you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: At a U.S. Senate hearing today, Clooney described repeated rocket attacks, and said they amount to war crimes.

GEORGE CLOONEY: But what it does is, it creates this environment of fear. Every time you hear the sounds of those engines — and it takes about five minutes for them to get there, and they circle. Every time you hear the sound, everyone runs and runs to the hills.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Clooney appeared at the hearing with human rights activist John Prendergast. He’s a co-founder of the Enough Project, an anti-genocide advocacy group.

Prendergast spoke of new awareness of global human rights issues.

JOHN PRENDERGAST, Enough Project: And, therefore, we don’t have real opponents here, except for just indifference or often ignorance. People just don’t know. So the thing that I find exciting about the first 10 years of the 21st century of activism is the chance through social media and other fora to create real partnerships. between all these wonderful non-governmental organizations that are working so diligently on these issues.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I spoke with Clooney and Prendergast at a Washington studio this afternoon following the Senate hearing.

George Clooney, John Prendergast, thank you very much for talking with us.

GEORGE CLOONEY: Thank you very much.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, you’ve been consumed with this issue for a long time. You have been interested in Sudan for years. This is your sixth trip there.

George Clooney, why is this so important to you? There’re so many parts of the planet that are in conflict, where people are suffering. And why this trip?

GEORGE CLOONEY: Sure.

Well, before we talk about this trip, initially, you know, when you’re in the position I’m in, part of your job is to try and shine a late in areas. I’m not a policy-maker. My job is to try and bring attention to places that don’t have it.

This — when I started reading Nick Kristof articles in The New York Times in 2005 about what was going on, it seemed like this was a place where bringing a spotlight could actually have some effect, or at least there wasn’t enough of a spotlight on it. So I got involved because of that.

And over time — that was Darfur. And over time, it just sort of spread into working with the Sudanese people in general. It gets in your bloodstream, and you have a responsibility to them. And you have to continue to go back.

This trip in particular was important to us because there is violence, first of all, going on against civilians in the Nuba Mountains. And there’s also a ticking time clock of danger, which is — as the rainy season comes. And these people are hiding in caves because they’re being bombed. They’re unable to grow any crops. And they’re not going to be able to get crops to them, or food to them because of the roads when it starts to rain.

And there’s a very good possibility of a lot of people starving to death.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And in the video we were just showing, they’re genuinely scared. I mean, the bombings are very real to them.

GEORGE CLOONEY: It’s an interesting thing. People — sometimes you’ll see — in recent news articles, you’ll hear about the Nuba Mountains, and you will see all these people in these caves, and some people sort of assume this is the cave people of Nuba.

They’re not. They live in villages. They are the oldest society on Earth, if you read the Bible. They’ve been living there a long time. And they’re hiding in those caves because, every single day, Antonovs are coming by and dropping bombs on them. And if they’re not killing them, they’re hurting them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: John Prendergast, you hold the government of Sudan, President Bashir, responsible. Any doubt in your mind that they’re behind this?

JOHN PRENDERGAST: Well, it’s a pattern. It’s the way they fight wars.

We have seen a war between the government in Sudan in the southern part of Sudan, the southern third of Sudan, which went on for 20 years and cost two-and-a-quarter-million lives. The way the government in Khartoum fought that war and the way they fought the war in Darfur and the way they’re fighting a war now in Nuba Mountains, where we just came back from, is that — has used the exact same tactics.

It’s attack the civilian population. It’s the oldest strategy in the book, drain the water to catch the fish, the fish being the rebels, the water being the people. If you clear the people off the land, either killing them or displacing them, it’s much easier to take the land and win a war.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, briefly, what are you asking him to do, him and the other people around him who are behind this?

JOHN PRENDERGAST: Well, in the first instance, we’d like to see him held accountable for the crimes against humanity that he’s committed. And so we’d love to see at some point someone execute the arrest warrant that the International Criminal Court has issued for him.

If that doesn’t work, though, in the immediate term, to save lives now, a diplomatic process that leads to a peace — a comprehensive peace agreement that allows for transformation in Sudan and peace in Sudan.

GEORGE CLOONEY: Or at least, at least, at the very least, a humanitarian corridors so that we can get some aid to these people before they die, because that’s — there is a bigger issue that we have to address, because we can’t just keep putting Band-Aids on this. But there’s a Band-Aid that’s going to be needed pretty quickly.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you, you’re talking about putting the squeeze on the government, the Khartoum government, getting the Chinese involved. Why is it in their interest to help?

GEORGE CLOONEY: Well, it’s easy.

China has built about a $20 billion infrastructure in oil, oil rigs, pipelines, refineries, in — mostly in Southern Sudan, where most of the oil is. Right now, for instance, the South, who has the oil, and the North, who gets it in the refinery and then keeps most of it and keeps the money and buys bombs and bombers and equipment to actually attack the South or the — or Abyei and other regions, the South just turned off all the oil.

Now, a lot of people think that’s bad for both. But who it’s really bad for is China, who gets 6 percent of their oil imported from the Sudan. Now, when they’re not getting it from there, they have got to go get it somewhere else.

China has a vested interest in this being solved. For the first time, we can go to China and not try to play on humanitarian issues and not to say let’s play to your better angels. Let’s talk about, maybe we can all work together to try and figure out a way to influence the government of Khartoum for you economically.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And when — and, John Prendergast, when the government of Khartoum is losing billions of dollars of revenue in oil, what’s in it for them to resolve this?

JOHN PRENDERGAST: So that they can get — turn the oil tap back on.

There’s a tremendous — this moment where both the government in Khartoum and the government in Juba, in Sudan and South Sudan, are in a very, very serious hurt. And over the next few months, as their reserves, their foreign reserves shrink and their currency depreciates, hyperinflation is going to result. And that will put both of the regimes at political risk. So they have a vested interest in getting a deal done.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, George Clooney, you’ve tied this to gas prices right here in this country. Would resolving something in one country in the middle of the continent of Africa really affect gas prices here?

GEORGE CLOONEY: Well, listen, here’s what happened.

President Obama gave a press conference a week ago, and there was a political question about the gas prices. And he said, well, there’s a lot of reasons. There’s speculation and speculators. There’s the questions of security in Iran or our continued dealings with Iran. And there’s also the Sudan has turned off the oil.

So, yes, and here’s Sen. Lugar. So it’s not a political question. Sen. Lugar today brought it up and said the exact same thing.

The truth of the matter is this. If China is not getting that 6 percent of the oil, then they’re going to the same places we go to get that oil. And that raises the price. So there’s no question about the fact that it does raise the price.

For me, as an activist, or as an advocate, it gives me the ability — when people say, well, what’s this got to do with us, it gives me the ability to say, well, actually, now it has a lot to do with us. For the first time, we’re able to say that, based on this subject.

JUDY WOODRUFF: George Clooney, John Prendergast, thank you very much for talking with us.

GEORGE CLOONEY: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you can watch more of our interview with George Clooney and John Prendergast online.