The troubles in the Sudan are decades old, but actors George Clooney, Don Cheadle, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and movie mogul Jerry Weintraub, via a partnership with Google, think they can help shed light on the atrocities in the African nation.
"Celebrity attention certainly makes a difference for the simple reason that the press will cover something that Hollywood movie stars support whereas the press is likely to ignore the views and even projects of little-known experts on the same subject," says David Shinn, adjunct professor of International Affairs at George Washington University and former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso. "Of course, independent analysts and even think tanks rarely have the money to support a project as expensive as the satellite surveillance system."
The Hollywood hotshots with the Internet giant as well as the U.N. and several anti-genocide organizations recently launched satellites aimed at the Sudan in hopes of helping end the genocide taking place there. It is a satellite surveillance project to monitor the Sudan region. And already, the project captured some shocking footage.
Called "Not On Our Watch", it is funding the startup phase of the Satellite Sentinel Project that will collect near-real-time satellite images from Sudan. This footage will be analyzed by humanitarian organizations such as the Enough Project and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.
The satellite project captured footage of troops and arms along the volatile Abyei border area, near the Sudan border. According to the project, the Sudan army deployed troops, armor and artillery. It is estimated there have been about 55,000 Sudan army troops deployed along the volatile border areas, according to an organization - Small Arms Survey - based in Switzerland that monitors the Sudan. According to the satellite project, the troops have not advanced.
According to Shinn, the project could help make a major difference in the region, which was involved in a 20-year civil war until a tenuous peace agreement was reached in 2005. "This project could make a difference if it is used responsibly and objectively," he points out, but warns of some dangers of such a project. "Satellites can demonstrate even over time certain kinds of surface damage and attacks. They cannot necessarily, however, determine blame. This is where the project must be very careful. If it assigns blame for attacks without proof of who is responsible for the attack, then it would not make a positive contribution."