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The Satellite Sentinel Project: A New Template for Documenting War Crimes

Mark Alonzo
Everyday unique applications for geospatial imagery and image analysis are being developed, outside of traditional applications, to understand what is happening around the world.  Currently, geospatial imagery and GIS are playing a role in the work to end the humanitarian crisis in Sudan. A group created by Not on Our Watch, Enough, the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, DigitalGlobe, and Google, the Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) is working on “deterring a return to full-scale civil war between northern and southern Sudan and deterring and documenting threats to civilians along both sides of the border. SSP focuses world attention on mass atrocities in Sudan and uses its imagery and analysis to generate rapid responses on human rights and human security concerns.” (SSP) The concept of utilizing commercial satellite imagery to monitor a country’s activities is not a new one; however according to the Satellite Sentinel Project’s web site “SSP is the first sustained public effort to systematically monitor and report on potential hotspots and threats to human security in near real-time.” This is a shift in the type of people who are using satellite imagery for surveillance and may mark a new era in civilian efforts to bring the atrocities of a government regime to the world stage. While mapping initiatives and geo-enabled applications are markets that are growing commercially, the SSP represents a new breed of imagery and analysis consumer; in particular one where small groups of civilian GIS experts are being leveraged to provide information regarding a political issue that is being monitored by non-GIS and non-governmental entities. In an age of declining domestic budgets, the SSP represents a new way forward for both the GIS industry and the political activists who are looking to bring attention to political and humanitarian activities throughout the world. Only time will tell just how successful this project is in achieving its goals and to what extent imagery and imagery analysis can be leveraged for similar activities in the future. However, the SSP has already achieved the goal of providing a new template for civilian entities to leverage non-governmental resources to document war crimes and to affect political change. How else do you see geospatial imagery and image analysis impacting humanitarian efforts?

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