Wired UK Magazine Profiles Satellite Sentinel Project

Satellite Imagery from Wired UK Magazine

“The Satellite Sentinel Project's methods have overturned the idea of what investigating human-rights abuses means,” writes Ian Daly in Wired UK magazine. This is an excerpt from his Satellite Sentinel Project profile, “Can you spot the human rights abuses here? You can with real-time satellite tracking,” which appears in the March 2013 issue. You may download the magazine from iTunes or the Google Play Store, or read the full article online.

 

The sign hovers over the city like a marquee, in gleaming white Arabic letters painted directly on the side of the mountain. "Welcome to Kadugli," it reads. "Town of Love and Peace".

On 6 June, 2011, however, there was little of either. Already scarred by decades of civil war, ethnic cleansing and famine, this city in lower Sudan, with a population of 100,000, was about to turn another dark corner in its history. Many citizens now refer to it simply as "Day One". It was the day that Ahmed Khatir, 30, found himself running for his life. Truckloads of gun-toting soldiers and militia roared into town, setting fire to buildings and shooting up homes. Above them, the sky filled with military aircraft. In an attempt to crush a rebel force that had gained a foothold in the Nuba mountain region that cradles Kadugli, the Sudanese government had turned its forces on its own people. Six months before this, a referendum had paved the way for the secession of South Sudan, which was admitted by the UN General Assembly as the world's 193rd nation in July 2011. But on Day One, death squads armed with voter lists went from house to house, slitting the throats of those who had supported the opposing Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA).

Ahmed Khatir, a softly spoken man who had lived in Kadugli his whole life, worked at the ministry of information and had just married when they came for him. "Bullets and bombs were exploding and we were all scared," he says, by email from Sudan. "Our house and all of our possessions were destroyed." So he -- together with his wife, mother, father, brothers and sisters -- fled. It took them 16 days to reach the Yida refugee camp across the mountains to the south. The violence lasted three days and displaced an estimated 50,000 Nubans. Many others died along the way. After all Sudan's troubles, it was now experiencing genocide.

But, high above the Nuba mountains, the people of Sudan had gained a guardian angel of sorts -- three of them, in fact -- in the form of high-powered satellites trained to scope out atrocities on the ground with a half-metre resolution. The constellation collectively orbits the Earth 45 times a day, recording images in eight spectral bands that can pierce darkness and cloud cover. The satellites bridge the distance between crimes against humanity and policymakers who have the power to act. Launched in December 2010, the Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) was the idea of two influential Americans with a history of working in Africa -- one, a former state department staffer in the Clinton administration named John Prendergast; the other, George Clooney.

The previous October, Prendergast and Clooney had visited the Sudanese village of Marial Bai. Prendergast, now 49, who has waves of greying shoulder-length hair, had spent 30 years working as a human-rights activist and in 2007 cofounded the Enough Project, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit that focuses on genocide and crimes against humanity. Clooney, together with film stars Don Cheadle, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt, had founded the Not On Our Watch charity, aimed at stemming mass atrocities worldwide…

Read the full article on the Wired UK website.