George Clooney’s New Satellite Sentinel Project in Sudan to Uphold Human Rights

Published on January 3rd, 2011 | by

A new human rights project, initiated by George Clooney, will combine satellite imagery analysis and field reports with Google’s Map Maker technology to deter the resumption of war between North and South Sudan according to CSRwire’s press release.   The Satellite Sentinel Project will use satellite imagery analysis and crowd-sourced mapping to monitor the tense border between North and South Sudan in hopes to deter human rights violations that may occur next month when oil-rich southern Sudan votes in a referendum on independence from the rest of Sudan.  I get it… sort of.  I am on board for ending human rights atrocities, but can we do it by possibly airing war crimes or acts of genocide via the world wide web?

“We want to let potential perpetrators of genocide and other war crimes know that we’re watching, the world is watching.  War criminals thrive in the dark. It’s a lot harder to commit mass atrocities in the glare of the media spotlight,”  Clooney is quoted as saying on Satellite Sentinel.

The Satellite Sentinel Project is outlined to work as follows:

“Commercial satellites passing over the border of northern and southern Sudan are able to capture possible threats to civilians, observe the movement of displaced people, detect bombed and razed villages, or note other evidence of pending mass violence. UNOSAT (the United Nations UNITAR Operational Satellite Applications Programme) leads the collection and analysis of the images and collaborates with Google and Trellon to design the web platform for the public to easily access the images and reports. Harvard Humanitarian Initiative provides system-wide research and leads the collection, human rights analysis, and corroboration of on-the-ground reports that contextualizes the satellite imagery. The Enough Project contributes field reports, provides policy analysis, and, together with Not On Our Watch, puts pressure on policymakers by urging the public to act. Not On Our Watch has funded a six-month start-up phase.”

There’s just something that seems wrong to me about witnessing near real-time war crimes.  My biggest question is how will those who may potentially  commit the crimes be made aware of this satellite?  Will the the Government of Sudan, which repeatedly denied its involvement in mass atrocities that occurred in Darfur, inform the inhabitants around the border that they are being watched? And if they don’t know they are being watched; then where is the deterrence?

Readers, please chime in, I would love to know where you all stand on Clooney’s initiative.  I agree that we can’t allow another deadly war, and we surely cannot stand by in the face of a genocide threat, but is this the best way to do it?

Image Credit: nicogenin via Flickr under CC license.


About the Author

Emily McKinin DeMasi is a 2011 MBA/ MA Public Policy candidate and Peace Corps Fellow at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. Her thesis work concerns Corporate Social Responsibility in the United States. She also works as a Research Fellow at Bridgeway Capital, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) in downtown Pittsburgh. Emily has worked as an Associate in a Private Equity Placement Firm in NY and as a Water and Sanitation Volunteer in Ivory Coast, West Africa. She hopes to combine her business background with her passion for development and inspire others in the fields of Sustainability and CSR.
  • Jbanco

    Emily- You’ve touched on one of my favorite international development/human rights issues, Celebricacy. Without getting into why celibricacy and the policies that are formed as a result are often misguided I would agree with the premise of your article and answer your question with a “no”.

    At the risk of sounding awfully cynical, I think it’s pretty clear that even if Bashir were know about this campaign and whether he might be “caught on tape” committing war crimes, it didn’t stop him in Darfur. You could just as easily go on google satellite and see torched villages. On the flip side, I also don’t believe the US would necessarily intervene due to video tape (although North/South succession is a completely different situation than Darfur) – since Somalia we have become extremely skiddish about becoming involved in African conflicts.

    How Clooney and his colleagues could do better, more effective work is hard to say, but for someone who’s spent his real career in front of the camera, it doesn’t surprise me that this is one of the routes he has chosen.

  • Nice article and vast point of view. I appreciate it.