Harvard team to analyze Sudan satellite images

By Bryan Bender
Globe Staff / December 29, 2010

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WASHINGTON — A team of human right experts at Harvard University will begin analyzing satellite images of Sudan tomorrow in the hopes of staving off a civil war after the southern section of the troubled nation votes next month on whether to secede.

The Satellite Sentinel Project, which is being funded by actor and activist George Clooney’s humanitarian group, Not on Our Watch, will rely on the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative to assess the situation on the ground, where hundreds of thousands of civilians in the Darfur region have been killed over the past decade in ethnic violence.

“We want to see if we actually make a difference in keeping people safe,’’ said Nathaniel Raymond, the program director at Harvard.

The project, which was unveiled yesterday by Clooney in an interview with Time magazine, is intended to influence the behavior of the Sudanese government, which is blamed for perpetrating the genocide. It will be funded over the next six months by $750,000, which will also cover the cost of buying time on privately owned imaging satellites.

“We are the antigenocide paparazzi,’’ Clooney, who has been to Sudan four times since 2006, told the magazine. “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.’’

At the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, three full-time analysts will pore over satellite images provided by the United Nations’ Operational Satellite Applications Program and gather other research to determine what Raymond called the “human rights context.’’

They will be supported by other specialists at Harvard.

The project is also designed to shame the international community into taking action if the upcoming referendum prompts the Sudanese regime to lash out.

“This is as if this were 1943 and we had a camera inside Auschwitz and we said, ‘OK, if you guys don’t want to do anything about it, that’s one thing,’ ’’ Clooney told Time. “ ‘But you can’t say you did not know.’ ’’

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