By Alexa Huffman
As Southern Sudan ended its independence referendum on Saturday, it was clear that this was a humanitarian situation that gained some exposure partly because of celebrity activism.
Comedian Jon Stewart recently brought up Sudan during a segment on his late night satirical television program the Daily Show. He used comedy to inform an audience of the importance of the referendum. George Clooney was a figure in one of Stewart’s quips. This related well because George Clooney attempts to use his fame to help those in need, particular those lives that are threatened in Sudan. He has been a commanding presence in promoting the birth of South Sudan as a nation.
During the referendum he traveled to Juba, Sudan’s capital. According to the journalists who talked with him, he appeared charming and very detailed on the complexities of Sudanese politics.
Clooney should be. He is one of the founders of a human rights organization called Not On Our Watch. Other celebrity founders include Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, David Pressman, and Jerry Weintraub. They’re all committed to building international advocacy and humanitarian assistance.
Clooney has met with President Barack Obama twice to discuss Sudan and has persuaded news organizations like NBC and CNN to focus on the country.
He has also recently collaborated with human rights activist John Prendergast to create the Satellite Sentinel Project. The project, which includes Not on Our Watch, the Enough Project, Harvard University, Google, and Trellon, will monitor troop movements via satellite and field reports. It will be a warning system for any signs of military conflict on Sudan’s north-south border. If violence does appear, photographs produced by the project could be used as evidence to spur the UN or other countries to intervene.
Tracking could be especially important in Abyei, an oil–rich border region where a return to conflict is most likely. The region was supposed to choose whether to remain part of the north or join the independent south during the referendum, but it was postponed because both sides were unable to agree who was eligible to vote.
The Satellite Sentinel Project shows the actor and human rights activist is dedicated to his cause. But George Clooney’s involvement in Sudanese politics as well as his activism on Darfur has drawn some controversy.
Some critics claim his activism is superficial. Others claim his mapping project could be misleading or counterproductive. Some military experts are worried the mapping may not be accurate and might lead to incorrect assessments of troop movements that could cause an escalation in tension.
Clooney defends himself by saying those who do not like what he is doing should just get out of the way. He is trying to do some good and help in whatever way he can. I agree with him.
Although sometimes it can seem like celebrities get involved in humanitarian issues to raise their profile, I like to lean toward a more optimistic side. They are humans who are exercising compassion. If people like Clooney can help by putting victims of human rights abuses on the news and perhaps spur more people to get involved then so be it. It gets the story out there, gives it attention, and that can help create change. People who take action, who pick a cause, know about it first.