Imagery is everything: George Clooney's Africa satellites will track crime gangs

Satellites have been used with great effect to confirm human rights abuses and war crimes. Now they will try to 'follow the money' and track those aiding war in East Africa and beyond.

Goran Tomasevic/Reuters/File
George Clooney smiles after South Sudan's President Salva Kiir cast his ballot at a polling station in Juba, South Sudan, January 9, 2011. The Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP), an initiative Clooney co-founded, will continue to use satellite imagery to monitor and warn against human rights abuses in war-torn Sudan and South Sudan.

A version of this post originally appeared on Enough Said. The views expressed are the author's own. 

During the May 20 Elie Wiesel Foundation dinner, George Clooney announced an expansion to the Satellite Sentinel Project, an initiative he co-founded three years ago with the Enough Project’s John Prendergast.

While the satellite project (SSP) will continue to use satellite imagery to monitor and warn against human rights abuses in war-torn Sudan and South Sudan, the orbiting monitors will also expand their scope to match the changes in modern conflicts.

As conflicts in Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, and the surrounding region become more linked with regional criminal networks, SSP will widen its focus to undertake forensic investigations that attempt to reveal how those who are committing mass atrocities are funding their activities and where they are hiding their stolen assets.

As co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project, Mr. Clooney said: 

“We want to follow the money and find out how these atrocities are funded, who enables them, and what the smart tools are to counter these activities more effectively. Genocide and other human rights crimes are never just spontaneous events. They require planning, they require financing, and they require international indifference to succeed.  Where is the money coming from and where is it being hidden? To the extent we can, we want to make it more difficult for those willing to kill en masse to secure their political and economic objectives, and we want to move the needle away from indifference and inaction.”

The other co-founder of the SSP, John Prendergast, said: 

“We’ll investigate exactly how the illegal exploitation of resources like diamonds, gold and ivory help finance the activities of some of the world’s worst abusers of human rights. And we’ll focus on imposing a cost on those that contribute to or facilitate the perpetration of these human rights crimes. The objective is a comprehensive approach to countering atrocities that involves satellite imagery, forensic investigations, on-the-ground research, and deeper investment in impacting the calculations of policy makers and commercial actors who might possess the leverage to help stop these human rights crimes.”

Inspired by a trip to Sudan in 2010, Clooney and Prendergast created SSP with the intention of using satellite imagery to deter a return to full-scale civil war between northern and southern Sudan and deter and document threats to civilians along both sides of the border.

This partnership between the Enough Project and Not On Our Watch, with satellite imagery and analysis provided by DigitalGlobe, has diligently documented the crimes of state and non-state actors in Sudan and South Sudan, as well as their human impact.

Focusing on the economic sources of those committing crimes and the role of regional conflict systems will allow SSP to continue its mission to end mass atrocities in Sudan, South Sudan, and now the region.

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