George Clooney's Satellites Build a Case Against an Alleged War Criminal

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Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah / Reuters

Sudan's Defence Minister Abdelrahim Mohamed Hussein speaks to reporters in the capital Khartoum on Sept. 18, 2011

The International Criminal Court is compiling evidence of possible recent war crimes in southern Sudan, allegedly directed by Sudanese Defense Minister Abdelrahim Mohamed Hussein, the same man whom a prosecutor at the court wants to apprehend for alleged crimes eight years ago in Darfur. An internal ICC memo outlines the Darfur crimes and says Hussein is "currently central to the commission of similar crimes," now along the border between the North and South, including the killings of thousands of civilians.

The ICC documents obtained by TIME show a significant portion of this new investigation is based on data from the Satellite Sentinel Project, a network of private spy satellites and analysts organized by George Clooney in partnership with John Prendergast's Enough Project. The satellites have been snapping pictures of northern Sudan since December of last year. "We are the antigenocide paparazzi," Clooney told TIME then.

The new investigation comes just as ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo requested an arrest warrant for Hussein with respect to war crimes allegedly committed in Darfur from August 2003 to March 2004. Hussein allegedly engaged in war crimes by dispatching troops and militias to that far western region, indiscriminately killing tens of thousands of civilians in an effort to suppress rebellion in the region against the regime in Khartoum.

The documents obtained by TIME show the ICC is separately building a case that Hussein may be behind the killing of civilians over the past year in Kordofan, Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile state and South Sudan. The North is seeking to secure control over those oil-rich regions in the central area of the country along the border between the North and South.

The internal ICC-investigation-division memo says evidence suggests that military forces from North Sudan and their affiliated militias have committed "grave crimes." It adds that military forces under Hussein's command are conducting military operations in these areas and, just like in Darfur, utilizing proxy militias to carry out atrocities. The memo cites the deaths of at least 2,000 civilians since early this year. Tens of thousands have been displaced, the memo adds.

The ICC memo says Clooney's satellites captured images of the results of bombing of villages in the Abyei region in late May, which resulted in the displacement of 30,000 people, as well as pictures of the movement of northern artillery and thousands of troops in Karmuk in Blue Nile state. The memo also discusses reports from the Enough Project about the deaths of 211 civilians in South Sudan and documenting the North dispatching proxy militias to the South.

The fact that the ICC is investigating Hussein's role in possible atrocities in the South does not necessarily mean he will face arrest for any actions there. The satellites have been snapping photos of the border region since late last year. On the news about a possible warrant for Hussein for his actions in Darfur, Prendergast said in a statement that Hussein is "part of a small cabal making most of the decisions on war strategy, not just in Darfur but also in the current hot spots of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. They are responsible for the forcible displacement of literally millions of Sudanese over the course of the last eight years."