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.

Launched this week, the Satellite Sentinel Project will use satellite imagery analysis and crowd-sourced mapping to monitor the tense border between North and South Sudan.

Oil-rich southern Sudan will vote next month in a referendum on independence from the rest of Sudan. Analysts say that this could plunge the country back into civil war and may spark the world’s next genocide.

The unprecedented collaboration between Not On Our Watch, the human rights organization co-founded by actor and Sudan advocate George Clooney, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, producer Jerry Weintraub and human rights lawyer David Pressman; the ENOUGH Project, an anti-genocide group; UNOSAT (the United Nations UNITAR Operational Satellite Applications Programme); the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative; Google; and Internet strategy and development firm Trellon, LLC, will provide an early warning system to focus world attention and generate rapid responses on human rights and human security concerns.

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

The project works like this: 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 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.

The Satellite Sentinel Project marks the first sustained, public effort to systematically monitor and report on potential hotspots and threats to security along a border, in near real-time (within 24-36 hours), with the aim of heading off humanitarian disaster and human rights crimes before they occur.

“Deterrence is our objective,” says Enough Project Co-founder John Prendergast. “We want to contribute to the prevention of war between North and South Sudan. If war does ignite, we want to hold accountable those responsible, and hopefully deter human rights crimes that would be committed in the context of war.”

The Satellite Sentinel Project is available at www.satsentinel.org.

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