On 9 January 2011, the people of southern Sudan will vote in an independence referendum that may see the southern states parting from Sudan and creating an independent state in line with the outcome of 2005 peace accords. The United Nations and the international humanitarian community are concerned over potential referendum-related violence in a region rich on natural resources in a country that has suffered for years from extensive conflict. The result of the referendum could lead to widespread violence and important humanitarian consequences.

The UNOSAT Programme is engaged in supporting the UN and other humanitarian stakeholders with the collection and analysis of satellite imagery. In addition UNOSAT has been called upon to support an innovative partnership initiated by George Clooney and John Prendergast named the Satellite Sentinel Project (www.satsentinel.org), which involves also Google, the Enough Project, the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, and Trellon, LLC. The expert team, located in Geneva, Switzerland, is tasking and analyzing satellite imagery in close collaboration with UN sister agencies and the international humanitarian and human rights community.

actor and founder of NGO "Not on Our Watch"George Clooney, founder of NGO “Not on Our Watch” has launched Satellite Sentinel as a project that combines the work of UNOSAT with field reports and Google technology to help the international community maintain focus on the events on the ground after the referendum in an attempt to prevent the resumption of a deadly civil war in Sudan using objective and timely information.

Satellite image of referendum voting station in Juba, southern SudanThis unique monitoring and alert system is based on commercial and publicly available satellite imagery and has the potential to contribute to the prevention of a possible war in Sudan. In case conflict ignites, the humanitarian consequences can be monitored from space, a service that UNOSAT has been providing to the international community since 2003. In short, Satellite Sentinel intends to provide objective visual evidence of human rights concerns before the crisis occurs, to facilitate effective early warning and better, faster response.

“We want to let potential perpetrators of genocide and other war crimes know that we’re watching, the world is watching,” says George Clooney. “War criminals thrive in the dark. It’s a lot harder to commit mass atrocities in the glare of the media spotlight.”

“UNOSAT involvement in the Satellite Sentinel project builds on previous successes in geospatial imagery acquisition and analysis in the fields of human rights and humanitarian relief,” says Francesco Pisano, UNOSAT Manager. “George Clooney’s initiative brings additional publicity to the work we have been doing for years. For us this is also a way to illustrate that our motto at UNITAR – knowledge to lead – has concrete and tangible meaning”.

UNOSAT will expand its already ongoing activities related to Sudan and lead the Satellite Sentinel group on all issues related to geospatial imagery analysis and satellite imagery collection and analysis.

"Deterrence is our objective," says Enough Project Co-founder John Prendergast talking about the aim of Satellite Sentinel . "We want to contribute to the prevention of war between northern and southern Sudan. If war does ignite, we want to hold accountable those responsible, and hopefully deter human rights crimes that would be committed in the context of war."

Photo (1) Clooney, who is also a UN Goodwill Ambassador, traveled to Sudan several times to advocate for conflict prevention. (courtesy of Tim Freccia / Enough Project); Photo (2) Satellite image of referendum voting station in Juba, southern Sudan. Copyright: GeoEye/e-GEOS 2010

For general information on Satellite Sentinel, please visit www.satsentinel.org

To access Geospatial Data on Sudan at UNOSAT visit www.unitar.org/unosat/sudan