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Reuters AlertNet 8/17/07

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"Darfur Now" is Full of Cheadle, Director Chides UN's Paralysis by Complexity

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the movies

UNITED NATIONS, October 17 -- "Darfur Now," a just-released documentary film, cuts from actor Don Cheadle at home to women in Darfur chanting the name of Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the International Criminal Court prosecutor who has indicted Sudan's humanitarian affairs minister Ahmad Harun for war crimes. There are scene of Mr. Moreno-Ocampo in his home, musing that if the ICC process doesn't work, the whole world will become like Darfur. California governor Arnold Schwartzenegger, faced with legislation divesting from Sudan, signs it, six times to be exact, handing one copy to the ubiquitous Mr. Cheadle. There is Mr. Cheadle in Beijing with George Clooney, and the same duo in Cairo, meeting with the son of the president of Egypt, referred to by Cheadle as "next in line." There is footage of Messrs. Clooney and Cheadle at a surreal UN press conference, which Inner City Press covered at the time. There is more convincing footage of a World Food Program official in his room in Darfur, worrying about truck drivers getting killed, as happened only this week.

            "Darfur NOW" portrays the rebel groups, which it does not name, as being only about returning to their land. The director, Ted Braun, told the audience at the UN's screening Wednesday night that the rebels "do not want to secede," they only want help from what the film's subtitles translate as "the white man." Mr. Braun said the root of the word is "teacher... because the first people to arrive in Sudan from Europe were teachers." Well, no. The first to arrive in Sudan were colonialists.

            The film's Achilles heel is not only its failure to mention that there are now twenty separate rebel groups, some of which kill the African Union peacekeepers, but also its naive presentation of the Save Darfur movement in the United States. For showing so many activists, and with such upbeat music -- by Stevie Wonder and U2's Bono, no less -- it is striking that the war in Iraq is nowhere mentioned. There is bloodshed there, too, and refugees and war crimes -- all of which Americans have more responsibility over, and perhaps more ability to impact, than events in Darfur.

            Mr. Braun afterwards said that complexity can become an excuse for procrastination. You just have to do something, he said, giving as one example his ability to make the film, after "the best journalist" -- on information and belief, Nick Kristof, who is thanked in the credits -- predicted that it could not be done. Mr. Braun diagnosed, not unreasonably, that some in the UN system were paralyzed by complexity.

Cheadle, Clooney, Loroupe and Cheeks, bad rebels and Iraq not shown

            An example of this is the issue of enforcing, or even genuinely trying to enforce, the ICC warrants against Ahmad Harum and Ali Kushayb. Inner City Press asked a post-film panel including Braun and five UN officials to explain why, while the name "Ocampo" is shown in the film being chanted by women in Darfur, it is not chanted in UN headquarters. Earlier this week, the prosecutor chided Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for not including justice in his reports on Darfur.  At Wednesday's UN noon briefing, spokesperson Marie Okabe answered that "Mr. Ocampo is simply doing his job by bringing the world's attention to the justice side of this issue, which as you know is very complex." Inner City Press asked the UN panel at the film to article to other side to justice.

            The most direct answer was provided by Jack Christofides of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, who said that trying and convicting a few war criminals "will not solve Darfur's problems," and who spoke of an "over-focus on indicted war criminals." That is the view of many in the UN, but is usually not said publicly. Isabelle Balot of the UN's Department of Political Affairs introduced in her answer the complex word "sequencing," meaning that peace may (have to) come before justice. A UN human right official, who had said he was speaking in his personal capacity, noted that the UN has different arms doing different work. Perhaps that explains the UN's Jan Egeland, and now Joaquim Chissano, meeting with the indicted leadership of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army and not moving to arrest them. On that one, even the ICC's Moreno-Ocampo has remained strangely silent.

            "Darfur NOW" is a film worth seeing. For an American audience, something balance about Iraq should also be seen, lest the lure of moral self-satisfaction become too tempting.

* * *

Clck here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army.  Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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