The conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan has raged under the nose of a complacent international community for the last five years. Last week, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown came to the US equipped with a “peace package” and French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s blessing to end the conflict in Darfur. The package included a United Nations Security Council resolution, now adopted with some revisions, for an African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force.
Without a doubt, an AU-UN operation with a robust mandate allowing for civilian protection is critical. But even in the best-case scenario, it will be months before such a peacekeeping operation will translate into stopping attacks on the ground; not until Member States commit troops and they are physically deployed. In the meantime, Amnesty International is using satellites orbiting in space to monitor and help protect civilians in the region.
Satellite technology up to now has been employed almost exclusively by governments and their militaries, to help protect national security interests. Human rights monitoring has not been high on any government’s to-do-list, nor has sharing images of violations when they have been captured. To this day the U.S. government is still withholding satellite images taken during 1994 that displayed the Rwandan genocide in progress.
Amnesty International’s new Eyes on Darfur project is a telling example of how non-governmental actors can make a difference: Using powerful, commercially available satellites, we are watching over highly vulnerable villages in war-torn Darfur, to deter new atrocities by President al Bashir’s forces, the Janjawid or armed opposition groups.
Ultimately, to stop the ongoing death and destruction in Darfur, there is no substitute for active engagement by the international community, a durable peace agreement, and well-resourced peacekeepers. But until the new UN Security Council Resolution translates into boots on the ground, Amnesty will look to the skies to highlight what is not happening right down below.
Ariela Blätter, a human rights lawyer, is the Director of the Crisis Prevention and Response Center at Amnesty International, a Nobel Prize-winning organization with a global membership. Currently, she is engaged in using satellite technology to monitor human rights abuses.
Related Materials from the Atlantic Community
- Darfur: Conflict History and Options for Resolution
- Drima of Sudan: No UN Troops in Darfur Without Consensus
- Daniel Fallenstein on Darfur: Germans Should Get Involved