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Human Rights in a Virtual Age

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Thanks to Google Earth’s satellite images and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, you no longer have to travel to Darfur to witness the destruction and chaos of the 4-year genocide. On Tuesday, the Holocaust Museum launched Crisis in Darfur—a new initiative with Google. Through this project, photographs, data and eyewitness testimony have been mapped onto Google’s satellite images of Darfur. 


As you zoom in to the Darfur region, the level of destruction becomes clear as vast swaths of area become blanketed by thousands of red and yellow symbols indicating damaged and destroyed villages. As you continue to zoom in, you can view the individual villages. Below, you can actually see the burn marks left behind. In the left of the below photo, the huts and trees are intact. But in the center, you can see the ashen remains of those homes that were destroyed. If you don’t have Google Earth already, the Holocaust Museum’s Google Earth page has links to download the program and the Crisis in Darfur layers.


Also, the New York Times reports that Actress Mia Farrow and Director Steven Spielberg have pressured China, which has extensive business and oil ties to Sudan, to urge Sudan to accept a UN peacekeeping force. A senior Chinese official actually traveled to Sudan and toured Darfur’s refugee camps—a rare event for a government that refuses to interfere in the ‘internal affairs’ of another nation. How did they accomplish this? By linking Darfur to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.


Recently Amnesty International made a parallel effort by unveiling a new website called Eyes on Darfur where they will post satellite images from villages and sites in Darfur to highlight the ongoing human rights violations that are taking place. By posting the pictures online for the entire world to see, Amnesty hopes to pressure the Government of Sudan to allow UN peacekeepers into the conflict-ridden western part of the country.


The concept is an interesting one, particularly considering how complicated Khartoum makes it for outside groups to gain access to Darfur in order to report on the atrocities that are taking place. The last time Refugee International conducted a mission to look at the crisis in Darfur was in July 2006. Since then it has gotten more and more difficult for us to obtain permission from the Government of Sudan to travel to the region. In the past year we have issued reports on both the requirements for a hybrid UN peacekeeping force in Darfur, as well as the potential drawbacks of a UN presence in eastern Chad. 


Another interesting online project focused on Darfur is a game called Darfur is Dying. By playing the game you take on the virtual role of a displaced person in Darfur. In order to win you must successfully build a shelter, collect food and water, and simply stay alive. 


Education and advocacy like this do make a difference. These various websites and tools can help a wider audience better understand the enormous tragedy facing millions of people in Darfur, and inspire them to pressure the US government to do more to end the crisis. 


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