George Clooney Hopes Satellites Will Shed Light on Sudan

PHOTO Actor and activist George Clooney speaks with Jake Tapper Sunday, January 2, 2011.
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Actor and activist George Clooney said today he hopes that technology can bring public attention to the border region of Sudan and prevent potential violence and even genocide after a critical referendum there next week.

In an exclusive interview this morning on "This Week with Christiane Amanpour," Clooney discussed the goals of the newly launched Satellite Sentinel Project, a joint effort backed by the United Nations, Google and human rights groups to have satellites monitor the border between Sudan's northern and southern region.

Southern Sudan will vote Jan. 9 on whether to break away from the northern part of the country, which has been wracked with violence in the past decade.

The Satellite Sentinel Project, backed by Clooney and John Prendergast of the Enough Project, will provide high-resolution images of the border region that the public can monitor on the project's website, in hopes of drawing attention to the region in case of violence after the referendum.

Clooney said he hopes photographic evidence of violence or human rights abuses on the border region after the referendum may spur action by the U.N. and other countries that has not happened in previous conflicts such as in the Darfur region.

"First of all, if you see actual evidence of those kind of attacks, that's something ... that the U.N. can actually work with," Clooney said. "But for the most part, our job is to say that these things have been happening in the dark for a long time.

"We're going to be able to, you know, not show it afterwards, but show it beforehand, that there were plans, there are tanks lined up, that there are helicopters online, that are … about to commit atrocities," he said.

Prendergast added that the effort is "all about deterrence and about accountability."

"The history of this government in Khartoum that's been in power for 20 years now is they've used divide-and-destroy methods to stay in power," Prendergast said. "So we want to make sure that we're watching in the sky and on the ground to deter the government in Khartoum from undertaking these kinds of methods to try to undermine this historic moment in Sudan."

Clooney said the project, which will cost $750,000 to run, is a cost-effective way to prevent violence, instead of "putting Band-Aids on a wound after the wound has been inflicted."

"If we're able to prevent atrocities, then we don't have any Band-Aids to put on, and we don't have refugees to feed and take care of," he said. "Our job is to try and stop it before it starts. It's a much cheaper way of doing it."

Clooney and Prendergast said they believe President Obama has kept his campaign promise to help end the genocide in Sudan.

"It's a very complicated situation," Clooney said. "The president seems to be very much on top of the issue."

"This is President Obama's moment," Prendergast said. "The United States is the biggest actor in Sudan. We can have a major influence on whether or not a deal is struck between the North and the South to prevent a war, and we can have a major influence on whether human rights violations continue in Darfur."

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