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Sun., Jan. 2, 2011

Satellite project to fight war crimes

A new human rights initiative may be the stuff of which peace is made.

The Satellite Sentinel Project is an unprecedented effort led by Not on Our Watch (an advocacy group of leading Hollywood figures) and the anti-genocide Enough Project of the Center for American Progress.

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.

The brainchild of actor and director George Clooney, the Satellite Sentinel Project is the subject of a major story in Time magazine.

The project will monitor the border area between north and south Sudan, which have been engaged in an intermittent civil war for 50 years. An uneasy truce has prevailed since 2005, but there is a potential for further war in the run-up to a Jan. 9 referendum, when the oil-rich south will decide whether to secede from the north.

Border villages in the south have already reportedly been bombed, though the north has denied responsibility.

This situation underscores the potential value of independent groups being able to provide pictures of the smoking guns.

The satellites will also be able to document such features of war as burned villages, masses of people fleeing and movements of troops and tanks.

“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 prepared statement. “War criminals thrive in the dark. It’s a lot harder to commit mass atrocities in the glare of the media spotlight.” The Satellite Sentinel’s partners also include the United Nations, the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Google and another Internet firm named Trellon.

“This is the first time satellites have been deployed to deter rather than merely document war crimes,” according to Jonathan Hutson, communications director of the Enough Project. “Prospective war criminals are on notice that we can, for example, detect fresh mass graves from 480 miles up and alert the world in a matter of hours.” 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.

Frederick Clarkson is a writer for the Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine.

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