How George Clooney's Satellite Group Is Identifying Mass Graves in Sudan

Clooney established the Satellite Sentinel Project to serve as an "early warning system"

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This has been a momentous past week for the Sudanese people. On Saturday, South Sudan became the world's newest nation after decades of civil war with the north. Today, the U.N. admitted South Sudan, while the Sudanese government signed a peace deal with a Darfur rebel alliance, the Liberation and Justice Movement, helping resolve the bloody struggle between non-Arab rebels and the Arab-dominated Sudanese regime that erupted in 2003.

The Darfur conflict, however, is far from over (other key rebel groups boycotted today's ceremony) and other daunting challenges remain for the two countries, ranging from oil revenue sharing to contested border regions like Abyei. Today George Clooney's organization, the Satellite Sentinel Project, is highlighting another major concern: fighting between the Sudanese military and a minority ethnic group loyal to south Sudan's army in South Kordofan, a major oil-producing region that is now part of the north (it is not pictured on the CIA map to the right, but is right below El Obeid). The Satellite Sentinal Project says it has identified mass graves in South Kordofan's capital, Kadugli.

How, you may ask, is a famous actor like George Clooney involved with satellites and Sudan? Last year, Clooney established the Satellite Sentinel Project to leverage satellite imagery and field reports as a kind of "early warning system" for signs of renewed civil war between north and south Sudan. The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative collects and analyzes images from commercial satellites, feeding them through a web platform designed by Google and the open-source software firm Trellon and comparing them with on-the-ground reports from The Enough Project, a human rights group. The group's work is especially vital in places like South Kordofan, where neither the U.N., outside aid groups nor journalists are allowed. In June, for example, the Satellite Sentinel Project noticed military vehicles and temporary shelters in Kadugli, suggesting that a military offensive was underway.

Yesterday, the group published a report on its latest images. As evidence of mass graves, the Satellite Sentinel Project points to the three freshly excavated areas pictured in the lead image above and to the white objects below, which it suspects are white plastic tarp body bags. A witness tells the organization that he saw 100 bodies or more put into one of the pits.

Based on these images and eyewitness reports, the organization concludes that the Sudanese military and pro-Khartoum militias "have apparently engaged in a campaign of systematic mass killing of civilians in Kadugli." A spokesman for Sudan's ruling party denied the Satellite Sentinel Project's allegations, according to the AP.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.