"Crimes against humanity are best carried out in secret."
That's the first line of an article I recently wrote for Spare Change News -- a Boston bi-weekly newspaper that is mostly by and produced for the homeless to provide a source of income and dignity. And no, I am not homeless. The new editor asked me to write something for the paper, and I am honored to do so.
Showing what the rich and the powerful would rather we not see is the stuff of great human rights activism -- and sometimes great journalism too. It is wonderful to see a newspaper by the homeless help to reveal the atrocities committed half a world away; atrocities that have made even more people homeless.
Here are some excerpts from my short piece which you can check out in its entirety here: Sudan and the Anti-Genocide Paparazzi.
Crimes against humanity are best carried out in secret. Terror can be inflicted, ethnic cleansing can be waged, torture can be committed, and if it is not an official hot spot that the whole world is already watching then who in the world will even know? That is the way it has pretty much always been. But brutal regimes are now on notice that human rights activists with satellites may pop up at any time to document their crimes and haul them before the court of world opinion — and possibly even the International Criminal Court.
For two years the Washington, DC-based Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) has been methodically exposing military build-ups and aggression, as well as war crimes and shocking crimes against humanity, in a remote part of Africa. At the same time they are demonstrating the worth of one of the most promising advances in human rights work in the history of the world.
SSP is the brainchild of actor George Clooney and human rights activist John Prendergast, who wanted to use high-resolution satellite imagery to document military aggression and attendant atrocities and to bring them to world attention. Historically access to such tools has been limited to governments, militaries, and large corporations. SSP is the first sustained private use of satellites for peace and human rights work. In its first two years the organization has focused on volatile areas in Sudan and the new nation of South Sudan. From 300 miles over the earth its satellites have peered into places where the international media and even humanitarian aid groups cannot go — places that the genocidal Khartoum regime would rather the world not see.
Among other things, SSP has exposed the the work of death squads in the town of Kadugli. Combining satellite images with eyewitness testimony, SSP published satellite images of piles of white body bags; the trucks and clean-up crews; the disposal of the bodies in mass graves; and bulldozing over the corpse-filled pits. SSP has also shown military buildups such as the massing of troops and and the deployment of attack helicopters and Antonov bombers. In December 2012 SSP published horrifying images of vast tracts of land that were once home to thousands of people in 26 villages, as well as crops, and cattle, now burned black. The UN reports that more than 200 thousand Nuba people have been displaced — driven out of their homes and homeland by the Khartoum regime — and are now living in refugee camps.Of course, the problem of homelessness, while not exactly a secret, is usually well obscured from our vision. Spare Change News and similar papers around the country are advocates for the homeless and keep their concerns neither out of sight nor out of mind.