Sometimes, something that seems so simple and logical is born, and when it is, you wonder, why wasn’t this done before?
Take for example, a merger between technology and human rights groups to help document, and prevent war.
That technology exists, and this week, Satellite Sentinel Project was launched, and aims to put Sudan in the global papparazzi lens.
The project is a collaboration between Not On Our Watch; the Enough Project, an anti-genocide group; UNOSAT (the United Nations UNITAR Operational Satellite Applications Programme); the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative; Google and Internet strategy and development firm Trellon, LLC.
Why satellite observation can work
George Clooney and Enough Project Co-founder John Prendergast explain the initiative on their website:
“A new state is being born in Southern Sudan against a backdrop of decades of war between the South and North of Sudan. A peace deal in 2005 ended the latest round of open conflict, but the possibility of a return to war remains high as Southern Sudan prepares for independence.
One of the biggest risks in this dangerous moment is that an incident on the highly armed border could lead to wider conflict. The government in Khartoum has armed militias in contested bordering regions, the government air force has bombed border areas, and both sides have massed military units and equipment along the hottest border spots.
We aim to provide an ever more effective early-warning system: better, faster visual evidence and on-the-ground reporting of human rights concerns to facilitate better, faster responses.
This is why we have launched the Satellite Sentinel Project. There has never been a sustained effort to systematically monitor potential hot spots and threats to human security, in near real-time, with the aim of heading off humanitarian disaster and war crimes before they occur.
Previously, when mass atrocities occurred in Darfur, the Government of Sudan denied its involvement. Since photographers could not get access, it took years to amass evidence of genocide. But now we can witness in near real-time and put all parties on notice that if they commit war crimes, we will all be watching, and pressuring policymakers to take action.
We want to cast a spotlight – literally – on the hot spots along the border to record any actions that might escalate the chances of conflict. We hope that if many eyes are on the potential spoilers, we can all help detect, deter and interdict actions that could lead to a return to deadly violence. At the very least, if war crimes do occur, we’ll have plenty of evidence of the actions of the perpetrators to share with the International Criminal Court and the UN Security Council.“
Clooney, Damon, Pitt, Cheadle, Pressman and Weintraub
The non-profit, Not On Our Watch, founded by Don Cheadle, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, David Pressman, and Jerry Weintraub, donated $750,000 for the first six months of this new initiative.
According to Jonathan Hutson, director of communications for the Enough Project, “This project offers the first open source anti-war platform which changes the way peace is waged from now on. Our goal is to detect, deter and interdict war crimes, including potential genocide.”
“We want to let potential perpetrators of genocide and other war crimes know that we’re watching, the world is watching,” Clooney said. “War criminals thrive in the dark. It’s a lot harder to commit mass atrocities in the glare of the media spotlight.”
How it works:
Each group has a unique role:
Commercial satellites passing over the border of northern and southern Sudan are able to capture images.
Reporting groups on the ground can notify of hotbeds, and areas to be monitored.
UNOSAT acquires the satellite images (which can range in price, but begin at about $2,000/image), and analyzes them.
Harvard Humanitarian Initiative corroborates and adds additional information on human rights and security implications for civilians.
The Enough Project then conducts a policy analysis and recommends action — including urging the public to act by putting pressure on policymakers.
While previously, in areas where cameras are not allowed, it could take between two to three weeks to place satellite images online, this new project allows for this transparency within 24-36 hours of each incident image, hence, the ‘near-real-time’ terminology.
“Deterrence is our objective,” says Enough Project Co-founder John Prendergast. “We want to contribute to the prevention of war between North and South Sudan. If war does ignite, we want to hold accountable those responsible, and hopefully deter human rights crimes that would be committed in the context of war.”
So, how can you be involved?
Watch the video below to learn more about the situation.
Follow Satellite Sentinel on Twitter. The near-real-time updates will be posted regularly, as well as direct calls to action, for example, contacting politicians to encourage they act to stop genocide and war before it starts.
Photo credit: Tim Freccia/Enough Project