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January 1, 2011

Carr Center gets involved in the Satellite Sentinel Project.

Satellite Sentinel logo

A picture of one of the Satellite Sentinel's interactive maps.

In late December, the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy began contributing to the Satellite Sentinel Project, a groundbreaking initiative that is attempting to use satellite imagery to prevent a return to genocide in the Sudan.

    The Christian Science Monitor describes the project as, “what may be the most ambitious project of its kind, the United Nations and human rights advocates in the US are turning to satellite images and the Web to monitor the border between northern and southern Sudan, as the south prepares for a referendum on Jan. 9 that could split the country in two.”

The project was started and is primarily funded by Not On Our Watch, a human rights group co-founded by actor George Clooney. Additional support comes from Google and the web site design company Trellon, which are providing the Web interface and the mapping information.

The project's affiliation with Harvard comes through the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), which serves as the University-wide center for the Sentinel Project. Specifically, the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative is responsible for two functions within the Satellite Sentinel Project: research and evaluation of the system's effectiveness, and human rights documentation.


The Carr Center connection with the project comes through the work of two people: Drs. David Yanagizawa-Drott and Charlie Clements. Dr. David Yanagizawa-Drott, Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and a Carr Center Faculty Affiliate, will be leading the research and evaluation team; while the Carr Center's Executive Director, Dr. Charlie Clements, also an adjunct lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, will be leading the effort to document any human rights violations. Both Yanagizawa-Drott and Clements are also faculty members of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.

What makes the Sentinel project different from past monitoring efforts which have attempted to use satellite imagery, is its use of nearly real time images. For what may be the first time for a non governmental organization, the project's analysts will have access to fresh images every 24 to 36 hours, allowing them to notice changes on the ground which may signal danger to civilian populations. The photographs will also provide a record of events, allowing those responsible to be held accountable, should violence occur.

Both the images and the analysis will be posted on a public web site using interactive map technology. The idea is that by making this material publicly available, the project can mobilize public opinion, thereby bringing pressure on governments to respond quickly to abuses, as they are revealed.

The Satellite Sentinel Project in the News

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