Sudan (Darfur): Amnesty International adopts powerful technology in campaign to protect people in Darfur

Satellite cameras are employed to monitor events on the ground

Amnesty International is using satellite cameras to monitor highly vulnerable villages in war-torn Darfur, Sudan. The human rights organisation is inviting ordinary people worldwide to monitor 12 villages by visiting the Eyes on Darfur project website and put the Sudanese Government on notice that these and other areas in the region are being watched around the clock.

Amnesty International’s Secretary-General, Irene Khan said:

"Despite four years of outrage over the death and destruction in Darfur, the Sudanese government has refused worldwide demands and a UN resolution to send peacekeepers to the region.

"Darfur needs peacekeepers to stop the human rights violations. In the meantime, we are taking advantage of satellite technology to tell President al-Bashir that we will be watching closely to expose new violations. Our goal is to continue to put pressure on Sudan to allow the peacekeepers to deploy and to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable civilians on the ground in Darfur."

Eyes on Darfur has been developed by Amnesty International USA.

According to Ariela Blätter – director of the Crisis Prevention and Response Centre for Amnesty International USA – who led development of the project new images of the same villages are being added currently within days of each other. This time frame offers the potential for spotting new destruction. Amnesty International worked with noted researchers to identify vulnerable areas based on proximity to important resources like water supplies, threats by militias or nearby attacks.

Amnesty International worked closely on the project with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which offered expertise on satellite imagery and other cutting edge geospatial technologies.

The images from commercial satellites can reveal visual information about conditions on the ground for objects as small as two feet across. According to Lars Bromley, project director for the AAAS Science and Human Rights Project who advised Blätter on technical matters, the photos could show destroyed huts, massing soldiers or fleeing refugees.

Amnesty International has been at the forefront of efforts to wed human rights work with satellite technology. For example, Amnesty, the AAAS and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights joined in a groundbreaking project in 2006 to document the destruction of a settlement by the Zimbabwean government. The groups presented evidence that the government destroyed entire settlements, including the informal settlement of Porta Farm, forcing thousands of civilians to flee.

The Eyes on Darfur project also includes an archival feature, which shows destroyed villages since the conflict began in 2003 and includes expert testimony. For example, an image of the village of Donkey Dereis in south Darfur taken in 2004 shows an intact landscape with hundreds of huts. Two years later, a satellite image shows the near total destruction of the villages – 1,171 homes gone and the landscape overgrown with vegetation.

Background

Eyes on Darfur adds a new component to Amnesty International's global campaign to stop the human rights violations in Darfur. In 2003 and 2004, Amnesty International supplied some of the earliest documentation – eyewitness testimony from the ground – that warned of the impending humanitarian and human rights catastrophe.

A critical mission in 2004 focused world attention and galvanised opinion about the brutal conditions in the country. Amnesty International's exposure of horrific violence – the torching of villages and the campaign of sexual violence against Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and girls – built awareness worldwide of the brutality.

Later this month, Amnesty International is set to launch the CD "Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur," a collection of iconic John Lennon songs recorded by best-selling artists to support its efforts on Darfur and inspire a new generation of human rights activists through music. To learn more about the project, go to www.amnesty.org.uk/noise /p>

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