Spielberg snubs Beijing Olympics over Darfur crisis

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The Independent Online

The film director Steven Spielberg has pulled out of his role as an "artistic adviser" to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing over the Chinese government's refusal to pressurise Sudan into ending the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.

"I find that my conscience will not allow me to continue business as usual," Spielberg said in a statement last night. "At this point, my time and energy must be spent not on Olympic ceremonies but on doing all I can to help bring an end to the unspeakable crimes against humanity that continue to be committed in Darfur."

China buys about two-thirds of Sudan's oil exports while selling weapons to the Sudanese government and, according to critics, providing cover for Khartoum at the UN Security Council.

Some 200,000 people are believed to have died and 2.5 million have been driven from their homes in the Sudanese conflict, which began in 2003. The government in Khartoum and allied Arab militias are widely blamed for massacres of Darfur's black African population.

Britain and the US have labelled the violence there as genocide, and Gordon Brown has described the conflict as "one of the great tragedies of our time".

Spielberg's move follows criticism of his decision to assist the Games and comes 10 months after he wrote to the Chinese President, Hu Jintao, adding his voice to those objecting to China's involvement with Sudan over the Darfur crisis.

Spielberg, who asked to meet Mr Hu and received no response, said then he had "only recently come to understand fully the extent of China's involvement in the region and its strategic and supportive relationship with the Sudanese government".

Since then, the Oscar-winning director has come under pressure from human rights campaigners, as well as the actress Mia Farrow, whose campaigning led to Spielberg's letter. Last week, Farrow said: "It has been nearly a year since Mr Spielberg contacted President Hu about Beijing's role in the Darfur genocide. Given the deteriorating situation on the ground, we hope that Mr Spielberg will waste no more time – and officially distance himself from the Games."

The director's decision follows a separate letter sent to Mr Hu earlier yesterday, signed by nine Nobel Peace Prize laureates urging China to pressure Sudan into stopping the atrocities.

The letter stated: "As the primary economic, military and political partner of the government of Sudan, and as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China has both the opportunity and the responsibility to contribute to a just peace in Darfur."

It was released to coincide with a day of events highlighting the conflict by the Save Darfur Coalition. The letter, delivered to Chinese embassies and missions six months before the Games on 8-24 August, was signed by US politicians and Olympic medallists.

In his statement last night, Spielberg said China "should be doing more to end the continuing human suffering [in Darfur]". "I have made repeated efforts to encourage the Chinese government to use its unique influence to bring safety and stability to the Darfur region of Sudan," he added. "After careful consideration, I have decided to formally announce the end of my involvement as one of the overseas artistic advisors to the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Games."

Spielberg is one of Hollywood's most celebrated and prolific directors, having made populist and more serious blockbuster films ranging from Jaws to Schindler's List – the portrayal of the Holocaust that earned him a Best Director Oscar. He says he was sent a contract for his involvement in the Olympics last year but that he left the document unsigned.