Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sudan Under Anti-war Satellite Surveillance

Via CNET -

The Satellite Sentinel Project, launched today, will be monitoring Sudan from above and sharing information with the world in near real-time in an effort to deter violence.

The oil-rich southern region of Sudan is poised to hold a referendum on January 9 that could decide whether Sudan remains one country, or becomes politically divided into north and south entities. 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.

The project is being conducted through a partnership with the Operational Satellite Applications Program (Unosat) from the the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (Unitar), Harvard University's Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Google, Internet software company Trellon, and the Enough Project anti-genocide organization.

It's being funded by the aptly named Not On Our Watch, a humanitarian advocacy organization whose founding members include actors George Clooney, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, and Brad Pitt; film producer Jerry Weintraub; and human rights lawyer and former State Department aide David Pressman.


Commercial satellites have been tapped to collect visual data of the region and have the ability to capture incidents like village burnings or razings, large movements of people, and bombings. Each organization involved has a specific role in how that data is used in the coming months, according to the Satellite Sentinel Project.

A team of Unosat employees expert in satellite analysis will examine the images from offices in Geneva, Switzerland, in conjunction with Google and Trellon employees, according to Unitar.


Google and Trellon have collaborated on analysis and Internet tools to make the collected satellite information also available to the public. Meanwhile, workers from the Enough Project and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative will contribute field reports from the ground in the Sudan.


Not On Our Watch, for its part, has provided enough funding to run the program for at least six months and is acting as a media conduit to shed light on the issue and encourage political action to deter the violence.

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.

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