Google+ Hangout Recap: Technology and Atrocity Prevention in the 21st Century

Last week, the Enough Project participated in a Google+ Hangout hosted by Digital Mass Atrocity Prevention Lab, or DMAP Lab, of the Montreal Institute for Genocide Studies. Sudan and South Sudan Analyst Akshaya Kumar joined Christopher Tuckwood of the Canada-based Sentinel Project, Nathaniel Raymond from the Signal Program on Human Security and Technology at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative for a discussion on the opportunities for mass atrocity prevention offered by recent developments in technology, as well as some of the challenges surrounding the use of social media and other technologies to detect and prevent mass atrocity crimes.

The panelists began the discussion by touching on how their organizations use tech tools in human rights work, particularly how the tools can be used to detect early signs in conflict zones, to inform citizens of danger, and to distribute information worldwide. The conversation also touched on the growing trend of crowd-sourced information sharing, and the impact on global atrocity prevention, and disaster response around the world.

Akshaya Kumar spoke on the work of the Satellite Sentinel Project, highlighting how SSP’s reports have been used to warn citizens in targeted areas as well as to raise international awareness about crimes being committed in the Sudans. She emphasized that warning signals and evidence gathering have the potential to save lives, deter perpetrators, and stimulate the international community to act against perpetrators of such crimes through sanctions.

Participants in the Hangout were able to pose questions to the panelists via social media. One participant questioned panelists about the accuracy of intelligence gathering, and how analysts can insure that correct information was being reported. Akshaya highlighted the importance of collaboration between SSP and people on the ground, to corroborate imagery and gather additional intel on locations of attacks, and impact on civilians in the areas.  The satellite imagery, she said, is informed or strengthened by reports from human rights monitors and citizen journalists. However, Nathaniel Raymond from the Signal Program on Human Security and Technology at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative expressed concern that perpetrators of atrocities could adjust and even attack civilians using practical intelligence provided by technology. In this regard, Akshaya alluded to the development of new technologies that prevent the traceability and identity disclosures of users of such devices as satellite cell phones as a remedy. While more work still needs to be done to fully protect vulnerable populations from attacks, the employment of technology by human rights organizations like the Enough Project and other citizen journalists have so far been critical in preventing mass atrocities.    

Watch the full discussion below: