Sudan: The Best Monitored Crisis in History?

January 3, 2011

This posting is part of the Sudan Referendum Watch series

No matter how uncertain the weeks following the referendum will be for Sudan, one thing is guaranteed: The situation in South Sudan is the best monitored and documented potential human rights crisis in history, with no shortage of comparisons to Rwanda and similar human rights catastrophes. What is different this time around is the fact that there is also no shortage of new monitoring tools to record – and potentially deter – human rights abuses.

Geography of Risk

For download of the background briefing, click on the image (pdf, 5.5 MB).

We have just put out a background briefing called “Geography of Risk” (pdf) that provides a series of maps to give a better context of the situation on the ground and to visualize some of the issues that we are concerned about (e.g. attacks against civilians). You can download all maps for use in your own advocacy and campaigning work about human rights in Sudan. This is only a small contribution to document the human rights situation in the

Heat map of attacks against civilians in South Sudan. © Amnesty International USA. Data source: CRMA/UNDP.

run-up to the referendum and we will continue to monitor the situation closely over the next months. Our ongoing concerns include abuses in both the north and south of the country; and don’t forget that there is still an active conflict going on in Darfur, a topic the public seems to have forgotten recently.

The Crowd and the Movie Star
There are a few astonishing efforts under way that focus on South Sudan: One of the most impressive initiatives will be launched in two days: The Sudan Vote Monitor, an initiative by Sudanese civil society groups that crowd-sources human rights (and other) monitoring. The platform was initially deployed during last year’s presidential election and was revived to monitor the referendum. If you are interested in following the South Sudan referendum, based on mass-reporting and including spatial trends, this is your place to go.

The opposite approach is used by George Clooney and friends: The Satellite Sentinel project literally uses a top-down approach by deploying commercial satellites to monitor any potential violence or related issues. The impressive project – an extension of our own work of using satellite images to document human rights abuses – will provide valuable contributions to document and possibly deter large scale human rights atrocities. I know that some people raise questions about how effective such an approach will be. However, having gathered experience through our Eyes on Darfur project, I have no doubt that the Satellite Sentinel project promises to considerably shrink the space for potential perpetrators of human rights atrocities.

To expect that these different platforms will prevent every single human rights abuse in Sudan would be wrong, and that is not their objective. However, there is great potential to document widespread or systematic human rights abuses and a realistic chance to change at least some of the calculations of the actors involved. Not only is the world closely watching what’s happening on the ground, but with enough media and grassroots pressure that comes with them, the most anticipated crisis of the year might not even happen in the end.

PS: If you are into (geospatial) data, don’t forget to check out UNOSAT’s Sudan resource page.