25 August 2011, 12:47

George Clooney’s satellite project discovers 8 mass burials

George Clooney’s satellite project discovers 8 mass burials
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New evidence of human rights atrocities were discovered in Sudan. The Satellite Sentinel Project, a satellite imaging group set up by Hollywood actor George Clooney, has recently detected 8 mass graves in South Kordofan. The graves are believed to be evidence of large-scale killings, perpetrated by the Sudanese government and the Red Crescent Society.

New evidence of human rights atrocities were discovered in Sudan. The Satellite Sentinel Project, a satellite imaging group set up by Hollywood actor George Clooney, has recently detected 8 mass graves in South Kordofan. The graves are believed to be evidence of large-scale killings, perpetrated by the Sudanese government and the Red Crescent Society. Nathaniel Raymond, Director of Operations for the Satellite project at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, says the project is currently in the process of asking the UN Security Council to refer this information to the International Criminal Court.

Carmen Russell-Sluchansky: How did the Satellite Sentinel Project find these mass graves? Is this what you were actually looking for?

Nathaniel Raymond: What we were hoping to do in this project is to deter the types of abuses and alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity we are currently seeing in Kadugli. As events unfortunately turned towards evidence of systematic mass killings, our focus moved from deterrence to documentation and the report released today is the result of two months of continued satellite surveillance and collection of eye-witness reports from the ground of alleged mass graves and systematic burial over time of objects consistent with human remains wrapped in tarps or body bags.

Jessica Jordan: I’m wondering what you can do with this evidence and this new information. Is there any way you can bring anyone to justice?

Nathaniel Raymond: We are currently in the process, as we were, with our initial reporting on Kadugli of asking the UN Security Council to refer this information to the International Criminal Court. We are standing by, as is the International Forensic Program Physicians for Human Rights, a forensic team that has done multiple consultations for the UN mass graves situations, to collect more evidence and to share this evidence with international policy-makers and those at ICC.

Carmen Russell-Sluchansky: What does that mean “for the current politics there”? Are citizens there still in danger? How dangerous is it there?

Nathaniel Raymond: Unfortunately, we don’t know. Humanitarian access to the area has been heavily restricted and, though Sudan’s PresidentOmar al-Bashir has said that he will allow a UN multiagency team into Kadugli sometime in the near future, the actual humanitarian situation, due to the lack of access, is fully unknown. As you’ve seen the appendix to today’s report No Escape, we showed six checkpoints consistent with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ reporting of a security cordon around the city on almost all major roads going in and out of Kadugli. In that environment we basically have what we would call a “kill box” – a security cordon that prevents access to civilians still there and prevents civilians from leaving the city.

Jessica Jordan: I’m wondering, since you’ve found this evidence, which seems to match up with what you are hearing there on the ground, do you believe there could be more graves?

Nathaniel Raymond: At this point, with eight graves are allegedly identified in the past approximately month and a half, we are worried that there are many more. And each report is a result of not just satellite imagery, it’s the result of eye-witness account and other reporting and information gathering by Sentinel beyond the satellites. The point here is what we publish is only what we can clearly and credibly collaborate. There are many other suspected areas that we have not published because we don’t have the fusion of ground and spatial intel.

Jessica Jordan: So, you are saying you have people on the round, who are actively searching for evidence and talking to the people there?

Nathaniel Raymond: What I am saying is that we are receiving a steady and credible stream of eye-witness reports from people who have been in Kadugli in the timeframe of recent events and have first-hand knowledge that has been independently and multiply confirmed. And what we are hearing from those individuals who contact us through a variety of means is a story that matches the satellite imagery and that’s a story of slaughter.

Carmen Russell-Sluchansky: Can you elaborate on that a little bit on that? What are the reports that you haven’t mentioned yet or that the satellite images aren’t showing? What are the reports you’re getting?

Nathaniel Raymond: We use this very new-fangled technological tool called Google. And in using Google we were able to find a picture of the body management team of the Sudanese Red Crescent. And we were also able, in the words of the Sudanese Red Crescent and in the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent, to determine that they had body bags and tarps prepositioned prior to fighting and also received a yellow front-end loader with a backhoe, which we have identified through satellites. What they are saying in their documents is consistent with what we are seeing on the ground, which is a mass body recovery and disposal operation.

Jessica Jordan: What do we know so far about the Sudanese Red Crescent Society?

Nathaniel Raymond: What we know about the Sudanese Red Crescent Society is that they are obligated to be doing what they are doing, which is the removal of bodies of those killed in war or related to war. What we don’t know and what we need to know is has the Sudanese Red Crescent seen any grave beaches of the Geneva Convention consistent with eye-witness reports and UN reporting? Has the SRCS taken every step to individually identify and return to next of kin the remains of those killed? And, most of all, who are they burying? Are they soldiers? Are they civilians, as the reporting suggests from the ground? The SRCS should be burying bodies but they should also be accountable of their responsibilities to report appropriately, underneath the Geneva Conventions, any violation of international or interim law.

Jessica Jordan: Is anyone from the society willing to talk to you so far?

Nathaniel Raymond: At this point items that we are presenting in this report we have confirmed that they were indeed from Red Cross and Red Crescent. We also have public permission for the photo credit of the grave digging or body management team. In terms of larger issues we are still waiting to hear official statements from Red Cross and Red Crescent about any further investigation they will be undertaking or not.

Carmen Russell-Sluchansky: Tell us a little bit more about other places you are looking at, about your organization.

Nathaniel Raymond: Satellite Sentinel Project, as you’ve mentioned, was established by George Clooney in the Board of Not On Our Watch, along with Human Rights activists and Enough project co-founder John Prendergast in December of last year, as we neared the referendum in January of 2011, which ended up being almost unanimous about South Sudan to split from the North. We were tasked with providing near-real-time evidence of potential threats to civilians. What this project is – and it has been able to be because of the work of George Clooney, John Prendergast and others – is an active collaboration across multiple types of experts and satellite imagery to human rights investigators like myself, and we’ve been able to, for the first time in an unclassified context, provide near-real-time satellite imagery of human security incidents in a war zone.

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