The Sentinel Project is a non-profit organization based in Toronto, Canada with members in several countries around the world. Their mission is to prevent the crime of genocide through effective early warning and cooperation with victimized peoples to carry out non-violent prevention initiatives.
Formed in 2008, The Sentinel Project began as the brainchild of founder and executive director Christopher Tuckwood, built on the belief mass killings are not inevitable ‒ mass atrocities that have the potential to escalate to genocide are both predictable and preventable. While governments with the power to stop genocide and save lives have often stood by and done little to nothing in the past, civil society – ordinary people and non-governmental organizations – can play an important role.
The key to preventing genocide is decisively and effectively before it begins. The Sentinel Project has created an early warning system that engages threatened communities and other anti-genocide organizations, giving them a strong role to play even in the absence of government support. By building a comprehensive understanding of the factors that make genocide likely in a given locale, monitoring the operational processes underway, and identifying the key actors, the Sentinel Project can then work with its partners to devise preventive measures most likely to stop the genocidal process.
The Sentinel Project’s humanitarian communications network, Una Hakika, puts this theory into practice in the Tana Delta, one of the least developed areas in Kenya. Una Hakika, which means “Are You Sure?” in Kiswahili, aims to mitigate the harmful effects of misinformation, which has often led to mass killings in a longstanding tribal feud throughout the Tana Delta region.
Una Hakika subscribers can report rumours anonymously using SMS or phone calls, or by contacting local community ambassadors who have been trained by Sentinel Project workers. This data is then prioritized using software called WikiRumours, a web- and mobile-based platform for moderating misinformation and disinformation. Immediate responsiveness is important for Una Hakika, and consistent communication is established with subscribers who report rumours.
Once rumours have been prioritized, the next task is verification to uncover the truth. In some cases, the relevant authorities may know the truth, while in others, consulting trusted sources or querying subscribers may yield the truth. After verifying rumours and responding to the individuals who initially reported them, Una Hakika devises strategies for containing and countering false information on a community level before it can spread and do harm.
Una Hakika has been operating in the Tana Delta for approximately one year and has already proven its worth in preventing violent clashes in the area. As one community ambassador explained, “People these days do not jump to panicking, as they trust the ambassadors to have knowledge to outbreaks of rumours. Not limited to rumours, Una Hakika has also kept people up to date on issues relating to the country in general.” Given the success of this program in the Tana Delta, Una Hakika aims to expand its scope to other violence-prone areas of Kenya.
WikiRumours is only one example of the technology that The Sentinel Project is using to prevent mass atrocities. Hatebase is another. Launched in 2013, Hatebase is the world’s largest online repository of structured multilingual, usage-based hate speech. Still under active development, it is an attempt to create a repository of words and phrases that researchers can use to detect the early stages of genocide.
The Sentinel Project also utilizes Conflict Tracking System, which is a data visualization platform that helps display conflicts being tracked around the world. The platform presents an interactive display model that allows visitors to its website to view and explore the root causes, relationships, and operational processes behind an early warning released by the organization. Research analysts at The Sentinel Project use Sentinel CTS to input data from reliable sources to track situations of concern. A visual time-line enables them to track the emergence and development of conflicts more closely.
To supplement these ongoing efforts, the Sentinel Project also runs an online course: Introduction to Technology and Human Rights. This innovative course offers people working in fields such as human rights, international development, and journalism the chance to learn about the many ways that technology can be applied in the context of human protection.
Work is now under way to transfer successful methods and technologies to other areas of concern, including Burma, where the Muslim Rohingya minority face ongoing persecution. The Sentinel Project has grown substantially in the years since its inception, and shows no signs of slowing down in its fight to prevent mass atrocities around the world.
For more information, follow The Sentinel Project online: Facebook and Twitter: @SentinelProject
Written by Adrian Gregorich.