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Actors George Clooney and Don Cheadle have been presented with a prestigious award for their efforts to help civilians caught up in the conflict in Darfur at a function in Rome.

The ceremony marked the opening of an annual meeting of Nobel Peace Prize laureates, organized by Mikhail Gorbachev and attended by dignitaries such as the Dalai Lama.

“Don and I… stand here as failures,” said Clooney at a press conference following the presentation of the Peace Summit Award. “The simple truth is that, when it comes to the atrocities in Darfur, those people are no better off now than they were years ago. The murders continue, the rapes continue, and some two and a half million refugees are yet to go home.”

Clooney and Cheadle were presented with a bronze statue created by Italian sculpture Oliviero Rainaldi for “their efforts in favor of pacifying the tormented region of Darfur, and for helping to save lives.” Along with Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, the pair have raised over $9.5 million for the cause through their charity Not On Our Watch, and have used their celebrity status to raise awareness of the atrocities.

The conflict in the Sudanese region of Darfur began in 2003 when ethnic African rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government. Sudan’s regime is accused of retaliating by organizing a militia of Arab nomads, known as the Janjaweed, to reign terror on the region’s African inhabitants, an allegation the Khartoum denies. It has been estimated that over 200,000 people have been slain since the conflict arose, and the United Nations now state that the humanitarian crisis in Darfur is the worst in the world. However, plans to send 26,000 UN peacekeepers into the region are now in doubt due to restrictions imposed by the Khartoum, as well of the failure of Western countries to offer help.

“We have an American election coming up, so this is the time to put pressure on American candidates,” said Clooney. “But believe me, none of these people want to deal with this issue. Right now is the time to place pressure on the people who can actually affect change, because we can’t.”

Clooney also urged people to attend public rallies and try to raise governments’ awareness of the problems in Darfur: “When they write about this, the question will be ‘Where was the rest of the world?’ The answer will be ‘It just wasn’t a priority’.”

“Laws have been passed, millions of dollars have been spent, treaties have been signed and sanctions adopted, but they have had no success,” continued the 46-year-old actor as he called for action. “We do concerts, rallies, where thousands of people show up and say how terrible it is, but the truth is not one single thing has changed. Now it’s time to turn that corner.”

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