‘Good News for the New Year’: Round-up of Satellite Sentinel Project Coverage

The launch of the Satellite Sentinel Project captured the attention of national and international news media last week, and has been prominently featured in dozens of countries. Anticipation is running high about what will be revealed by the first satellite images to be released later this week along with expert analysis from UNOSAT and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. Less well publicized have been our plans to roll out significant additional resources -- such as crowd-sourced reports from eye witnesses on the ground, and a series of video dispatches from Tim Freccia which bring in local voices, adding necessary and revealing human context to the tantalizing, high-tech photography.

But it is not an exaggeration to say that the whole world is now watching, having been cued up by the dramatic December 28, TIME Magazine story by Mark Benjamin, who told the story of how and why George Clooney initiated the Satellite Sentinel Project -- seeded by $750,000 in start-up funds from Not on Our Watch –- to stop a resumption of full-scale civil war in Sudan.

Starting Dec. 30, the Satellite Sentinel Project — a joint experiment by the U.N.’s Operational Satellite Applications Programme, Harvard University, the Enough Project and Clooney’s posse of Hollywood funders — will hire private satellites to monitor troop movements starting with the oil-rich region of Abyei. The images will be analyzed and made public at www.satsentinel.org (which goes live on Dec. 29) within 24 hours of an event to remind the leaders of northern and southern Sudan that they are being watched.

“We are the antigenocide paparazzi,” Clooney tells TIME. “We want them to enjoy the level of celebrity attention that I usually get. If you know your actions are going to be covered, you tend to behave much differently than when you operate in a vacuum.”

By New Year’s Day, the Satellite Sentinel Project had received over 750 media mentions in broadcast, print and online media worldwide.

Here’s a round-up of selected highlights.

Andrew Meldrum of the GlobalPost wrote:

George Clooney has initiated a cutting-edge human rights project that combines satellite photographs, field reports and Google technology to help prevent the resumption of a deadly civil war in Sudan….

Clooney persuaded cooperation between Not On Our Watch, which is a Hollywood human rights group, and the Enough Project, a Washington-based anti-genocide group. He also orchestrated the involvement of UNOSAT (the United Nations Operational Satellite Applications Program), the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Google and Trellon, which is an internet strategy and development firm. Together, all the groups for a coalition that will provide an early warning system to focus world attention and generate rapid responses on human rights and human security concerns….

The United States has the satellite technology to monitor potential trouble spots, but those images are not made public. The secrecy allows U.S. officials to make policy decisions without taking into consideration a public outcry. By making the images public immediately, Clooney and his team hope that the U.S. and other governments will be pressed to take actions should civil war in Sudan appear imminent, according to those close to the project.

There were wire service stories by the Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse. Matthew Lee’s coverage for the AP went straight to the news crawler atop The Huffington Post homepage, and was also featured by HuffPo’s conservative counterpart, The Daily Caller. Lee wrote:

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

The groups hope that early warnings will reduce the risk of violence.

Southern Sudan’s looming Jan. 9 independence referendum has raised fears of renewed north-south civil war. The vote is the result of a 2005 peace deal that ended a 21-year conflict that claimed the lives of two million people and left twice as many displaced.

Al Arabiya wrote:

The Satellite Sentinel Project, which begins on Wednesday, is meant to provide an “early warning system” for human rights and security violations before the Jan. 9 referendum on whether to divide Sudan into north and south.

Cindy Shiner of allAfrica.com wrote:

A human rights project using satellite imagery that the general public can access is being launched tomorrow to help deter a resumption of war between north and south Sudan ahead of a crucial referendum in January.

The Satellite Sentinel Project, which is backed by American actor George Clooney, combines satellite imagery analysis and field reports with Google’s Map Maker technology to monitor the area marking the boundary between and the nation of Sudan and Southern Sudan, which is expected to become Africa’s 55th country, following the voting that begins on 9 January.

“There used to be a bumper sticker that said, ‘What if they threw a war and nobody came?’ said Jonathan Hutson, director of communications for the Enough Project, an anti-genocide group. “That’s been rewritten: ‘What if they threw a war and everybody came to stop it?'’ That’s the power of crowd-sourcing information, using public technology platforms and leading edge advocacy for waging peace.”

Candace Lombardi of CNET wrote:

Many expect that there will be violence leading up to the vote, as well as after it, and that the Sudan could once again descend into chaos as it did during its 20-year war in which an estimated 2 million people were killed as of 2005.

The Satellite Sentinel Project aims to deter that violence--or at the very least act as a recorder of war crimes should they occur--by pointing cameras aboard commercial satellites at the region starting today. Through satellite imagery analysis and crowd-sourced mapping, which can be viewed via programs using Google Maps and Google Earth, the eyes of anyone with an Internet connection will be able to watch what is happening in the border region of northern and southern Sudan in the coming weeks….

In addition to the images and mapping, the Satellite Sentinel also has a blog about the situation in the Sudan and is posting the field reports from workers in organizations like the Enough Project.

Chris McGreal of The Guardian wrote:

The project plans to reduce the waiting time for satellite images from more than a fortnight to less than 36 hours. The images will be scrutinised by the UN for evidence of mass movements of people, destruction of villages and other indicators of organised violence. The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative will also study the pictures.

The images will immediately be made public. If there is evidence of war crimes, appeals for action will be led in part by the Enough Project, an anti-genocide organisation led by the author and activist John Prendergast.

Harvey Morris of The Financial Times wrote:

Google said it had updated its satellite imagery of potential hotspots as part of the monitoring programme. Experts will be able to contribute local knowledge through Google’s Map Maker forum….

Michael Haggerty, CEO of Trellon, a Washington-based web developer specialising in online advocacy that built the site, said the project pulled together various technologies and participants to produce both imagery and analysis of events on the ground.

“I hesitate to use the word ‘revolutionary’ but it’s kind of groundbreaking and unique,” he told the Financial Times.

Frederick Clarkson’s nationally syndicated op-ed for the Progressive Media Project concluded:

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….

This may be a historic moment for peacemaking. And it could give peace a chance in Sudan.

That’s good news for the new year.

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