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George Clooney's satellite photos show war crimes in Sudan, say experts

George Clooney in South Sudan in October 2010.
Credit: Tim Freccia

War crimes were committed by the northern Sudan Army when it seized the contested Abyei territory on the border between North and South Sudan, according to several experts who analyzed satellite photos of settlements that were attacked.

A bipartisan group of former civilian and military officials studied the images taken by Hollywood activist George Clooney's Satellite Sentinel Project

The experts include two former U.S. State Department Ambassadors-at-Large for War Crimes, David Scheffer and Pierre Prosper; David Crane, the former Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone; and Michael Newton, the former Senior Advisor to the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes.

The Satellite Sentinel Project was conceived and funded by Clooney to help South Sudan reach independence peacefully. South Sudan is set to become independent on July 9 but the northern army's seizure on May 21 of the Abyei territory has threatened the process. Images taken by the satellite project show destruction and looting of property and documented visual evidence of war crimes by the Government of Sudan in Abyei.

The satellite project sent this evidence to the U.N. Security Council and to the International Criminal Court. The Government of Sudan has stated that the Satellite Sentinel Project has no evidence of war crimes, but several American experts disagree.

“The images of destruction are horrifyingly similar to what we have seen too many times in the past in Sudan," said Pierre Prosper, former U.S. State Department Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes.

"The Government of Sudan is clearly engaged in a continued pattern of systematic atrocities and violations despite the North-South agreement," said Prosper. "The imagery provided by the Satellite Sentinel Project contains evidence of actions by Sudan Armed Forces that may well constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is time for the United States and international community to put into place a serious and concerted action plan to end the abuses in Sudan once and for all.”

Michael Newton, former Senior Advisor to the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes, said the satellite images are solid evidence of war crimes by Sudan President Omar al-Bashir's government in Khartoum.

“The Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) has provided irrefutable and nearly immediate evidence of the new wave of crimes committed against the civilian population in and around Abyei town," said Newton. "The Bashir government has taken a page from its Darfur playbook by waging war once again on civilians and their property. No government or international organization can plausibly plead ignorance or misinformation in the face of the photographic evidence available online and in the SSP report. There is no conceivable basis under the laws and customs of war for the deliberate razing of civilian homes and the theft or destruction of supplies provided by the generosity of other governments to help the population with its urgent requirements. The Security Council should exercise its Chapter VII authority to immediately mandate an independent team of international experts that can assess the scope of the crimes committed in Abyei and preserve the testimony of witnesses before they can be silenced by the Government of Sudan.

"The Bashir regime needs to be clearly reminded that the right of collective self defense permits other nations to respond to the pleas for assistance from a newly independent Government of Southern Sudan," said Newton.

"By logical extension, the ongoing International Criminal Court investigation into events in Darfur should expand to encompass crimes committed in Abyei as well," he said. "It is clear to me that Abyei belongs in a newly formed Southern Sudan. The population should be allowed to freely determine its own future even in the face of regime tanks that continue to trample across Abyei because of the deliberate destruction of Abyei town. The war criminals in Khartoum should have no remaining pretense of moral authority in support of efforts to forcibly hold onto Abyei. Moreover, any influx of ‘settlers’ from the north should be seen as culprits complicit in the crimes of the regime rather than peaceful civilians building a community.” 

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