George Clooney’s “Anti-Genocide Paparazzi” Watching Sudan From Above

George Clooney’s “Anti-Genocide Paparazzi” Watching Sudan From Above

Dec 29


By Mark Benjamin
December 28, 2010

Original Link

George Clooney and John Prendergast slumped down at a wooden table in a dusty school compound in southern Sudan. It was Oct. 4, and the two men were in the hometown of Valentino Achak Deng, whose experiences wandering the desert as a refugee during Sudan’s last civil war were the basis for the best-selling book What Is the What.

Clooney, the actor, and Prendergast, a human-rights activist with 25 years of experience in Africa, had heard enough on their seven-day visit to know that a new round of atrocities could follow the January referendum on independence. If it did, the likelihood was that no one would be held accountable. Why not, Clooney asked, “work out some sort of a deal to spin a satellite” above southern Sudan and let the world watch to see what happens?

Three months later, Clooney’s idea is about to go live. 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 (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.”

You don’t have to be a spook to have an eye in the sky anymore. Private firms with names like GeoEye, DigitalGlobe and ImageSat International have a half-dozen “birds” circling the globe every 90 minutes in low-Earth orbit, about 297 miles (478 km) up. The best images from these satellites display about 8 sq. in. (50 sq. cm) of the ground in each pixel on a computer screen. That is not enough granularity to read a car’s license plate or ID a person, but analysts can tell the difference between cars and trucks and track the movements of troops or horses. “It is Google Earth on lots of steroids,” says Lars Bromley, a top U.N. imagery analyst.

But you need money for it. A hurry-up order of what Bromley calls a “single shot” from a satellite covers an area of about 105 sq. mi. (272 sq. km) and costs $10,000. A rush job on a “full strip” image of land roughly 70 miles (115 km) long and 9 miles (14 km) wide could run nearly $70,000. Sentinel is launching with $750,000 in seed money from Not On Our Watch, the human rights organization Clooney founded along with Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, David Pressman and Jerry Weintraub.

Clooney predicted he won’t have much trouble raising more money once the project goes live.

Prendergast’s group, the Enough Project, is the human-rights arm of the liberal Center for American Progress; it recruited Bromley’s team at the U.N. and brought in analysts from the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative to pore over the images as they arrive. “Generally, what we have done in the past is an after-the-fact documentation exercise,” Bromley explains. “This is proactive, wide-area monitoring,” he says.

Clooney, who has made four trips to Sudan since 2006, believes Sentinel might have applications in other global hot spots. “This is as if this were 1943 and we had a camera inside Auschwitz and we said, ‘O.K., if you guys don’t want to do anything about it, that’s one thing,'” Clooney says. “But you can’t say you did not know.”


A Message From George Clooney and John Prendergast

Original Link

A new state is being born in Southern Sudan against a backdrop of decades of war between the South and North of Sudan. A peace deal in 2005 ended the latest round of open conflict, but the possibility of a return to war remains high as Southern Sudan prepares for independence.

One of the biggest risks in this dangerous moment is that an incident on the highly armed border could lead to wider conflict. The government in Khartoum has armed militias in contested bordering regions, the government air force has bombed border areas, and both sides have massed military units and equipment along the hottest border spots.

These areas have witnessed some of the most deadly conflict in the world since World War II. The former director of national intelligence says that Southern Sudan is the place in the world most likely to experience genocide.

We can’t allow another deadly war, and we surely cannot stand by in the face of a genocide threat.

We were late to Rwanda. We were late to the Congo. We were late to Darfur. There is no time to wait. With your support, we will swiftly call the world to witness and respond. We aim to provide an ever more effective early-warning system: better, faster visual evidence and on-the-ground reporting of human rights concerns to facilitate better, faster responses.

This is why we have launched the Satellite Sentinel Project. There has never been a sustained effort to systematically monitor potential hot spots and threats to human security, in near real-time, with the aim of heading off humanitarian disaster and war crimes before they occur.

Previously, when mass atrocities occurred in Darfur, the Government of Sudan denied its involvement. Since photographers could not get access, it took years to amass evidence of genocide. But now we can witness in near real-time and put all parties on notice that if they commit war crimes, we will all be watching, and pressuring policymakers to take action.

We want to cast a spotlight — literally — on the hot spots along the border to record any actions that might escalate the chances of conflict. We hope that if many eyes are on the potential spoilers, we can all help detect, deter and interdict actions that could lead to a return to deadly violence. At the very least, if war crimes do occur, we’ll have plenty of evidence of the actions of the perpetrators to share with the International Criminal Court and the UN Security Council.

The world is watching because you are watching. This is our opportunity to prevent a war, to deter genocide. Make your voice heard. Click here to take action in support of peace in Sudan.


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