A new human rights initiative may be the stuff of which peace is made.
The Satellite Sentinel Project is an unprecedented effort led by Not on Our Watch (an advocacy group of leading Hollywood figures) and the anti-genocide Enough Project of the Center for American Progress.
For the first time in history, they intend to provide peace groups with the capacity to monitor potential war zones via commercial satellites. The goal is nothing less than to stop wars and war crimes in their bloody tracks.
A pilot project will try to help head off a potential civil war in Africa’s largest nation — Sudan.
The project will monitor the border area between north and south Sudan, which have been engaged in an intermittent civil war for 50 years. An uneasy truce has prevailed since 2005, but there is a potential for further war in the run-up to a Jan. 9 referendum, when the oil-rich south will decide whether to secede from the north.
Border villages in the south have already reportedly been bombed, though the north has denied responsibility.
This situation underscores the potential value of independent groups being able to provide pictures of the smoking guns.
The satellites will also be able to document such features of war as burned villages, masses of people fleeing and movements of troops and tanks.
Much has happened since then — including a cover story in Newsweek.
Satellites are now sending daily images that have documented, among other things, the massing of troops and heavy military equipment on the border, and most recently broke the story of how whole villages near the border between Northern and Southern Sudan had been burned to the ground.
The government of Northern Sudan is led by internationally wanted war criminals, whose atrocities in the Darfur region of Sudan shocked the conscience of the world, underscoring what may be at stake in the current crisis.
Satellite imagery and video of the burned villages in the Abyei region obtained by the anti-genocide Enough Project were featured on the PBS News Hour on March 17th.
Jonathan Hutson of the Enough Project told the News Hour:
…for the first time outside the national security sector, non-profits are now making use of high-resolution satellite imagery to track the buildup and movements of troops near a border.
We can keep an eye on it and give some early warning to the world, and give people a chance to get involved, to pressure policy-makers, to press for quick and immediate responses.
After we launched the project on Dec. 29, the government of Sudan put out an official press release, and they decried Clooney for being a celebrity activist and for using his name, his cash and his clout to focus world attention on the tense situation to try to get help. They didn’t like it one bit. But then, you can’t please all the war criminals all the time.
Hutson said that for the first time, ordinary people can have access to near-real-time information on the world’s most dangerous places.
We’re not telling the president of the United States something that he doesn’t already know. We’re not telling leaders of other nations something that they don’t already know through their own satellites.
What’s new and transformative here is that we can share high-resolution commercial satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe, so that you can see the same information that lands on the president’s desk during his daily Sudan briefings.
Watch the five minute PBS News Hour segment on You Tube.
Frederick Clarkson is an independent journalist, author and editor who has written about politics and religion for thirty years. He is the co-founder of the group blog Talk to Action, Senior Fellow at Political Research Associates, and lives in Massachusetts.
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