At Stanford, Clooney and Prendergast urge political and social action to prevent more violence in Sudan

Their call for student, federal and international action comes as the United States says it will move to drop Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism if Khartoum allows and accepts the results of an upcoming referendum to allow independence in southern Sudan.

Jack Hubbard

George Clooney and John Prendergast spoke to a capacity crowd in Cubberley Auditorium.

Foreign policy and celebrity clout merged Monday night as actor George Clooney and activist John Prendergast put a spotlight on the volatility threatening to spark more genocide in Sudan.

Worried that widespread violence will ravage Africa's largest country after voters cast ballots in a January referendum that is likely to split the country in two, Clooney and Prendergast are waging a campaign to get the United States and the international community to help pave the way for a peaceful transition.

"This has the greatest chance for genocide – the greatest chance for atrocities – anywhere in the world," Clooney told a capacity crowd in Stanford's Cubberley Auditorium. "We're banging the drum to say you have a chance … to participate in trying to stop a war before it begins."

Their call for student, federal and international action comes as the United States has said it will move to drop Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism if Khartoum allows and accepts the results of the referendum that will allow the Christian and animist south to break away from the mostly Arab Muslim north.

The referendum stems from a 2005 peace deal that ended two decades of civil war in Sudan. About 2 million people were killed in the fighting, and millions more were displaced.

L.A. Cicero John Prendergast and George Clooney

John Prendergast and George Clooney spoke about their travels to Sudan, their recent meeting with President Obama, their talks with foreign heads of state and the role of the United Nations in Sudan.

Observers fear that secession will ignite more fighting, in part because so much of the country's oil is concentrated in the south.

"The root of this is oil," Clooney said. "They were unlucky enough to find oil."

Mixing flashes of humor with serious analysis, Clooney and Prendergast offered a sweeping overview of the history, politics and bloodshed that have roiled Sudan.

During the event moderated by Stephen Stedman – a political scientist and senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute – the duo took questions from the audience and a panel of Stanford members of STAND, a student anti-genocide group that helped sponsor the gathering.

The Hollywood star and the policy wonk spoke about their travels to Sudan, their recent meeting with President Obama, their talks with foreign heads of state and the role of the United Nations in Sudan.

"Part of our job is to stiffen the backbone of our policymakers," said Prendergast, who is the co-founder of the Enough Project and served as director of African affairs at the National Security Council during the Clinton administration.

"Nothing could be stronger than a message from people who care about this issue in the United States," he said. "It's time for boldness."

Sudan has been on America's list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1993 and is under economic sanctions linked to the ongoing violence in the country's Darfur region, where military and rebel groups are in constant conflict.

In addition to taking Sudan off its terrorism list, the U.S. has also offered several other incentives – including normalizing diplomatic relations – if Khartoum cooperates with the referendum.

But if the Sudanese government ignores those diplomatic carrots, Prendergast said the United States should impose tougher sanctions.

While Clooney acknowledged it "leaves a bad taste in our mouths" to negotiate peace with a regime whose brutalization in Darfur led to accusations of genocide, offering Sudan a chance at better relations with America is the best way to assure stability, he and Prendergast said.

"The government of Sudan is obsessed with what it's going to get out of the United States," Prendergast said. "This gives us tremendous leverage."

And to put pressure on policymakers, he and Clooney urged students to use social media, campus organizations and their own sense of social justice to create the political will they say is needed to help stabilize Sudan.

"Get involved somehow, some way," Prendergast said. "Make an intelligent intervention into policy debate by studying the issues. Learn what needs to be said and make your voice heard."

Garang Akau, who grew up in southern Sudan and earned a bachelor's degree in English and political science from Stanford in 2006, attended Monday's talk. He commended Clooney for lending his celebrity status to bring attention to the conflict in his homeland.

"It's very important to have a big name like George Clooney talking about Sudan," Akau said. "He gets people to show up. And when they show up, they learn something."