IGARSS 2010 - 2010 IEEE International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium - July 25 - 30, 2010 - Honolulu, Hawaii, USA

Community Remote Sensing: AAAS Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Program


Use of citizens to interpret satellite imagery and extract information relevant to human rights activities in their countries.

  • Burma Project. This activity worked with human rights groups active in Thailand and Burma to confirm their reporting of attacks on civilians and destruction of towns using high resolution satellite imagery. As most town locations are either poorly mapped or not mapped at all, local groups helped AAAS staff derive precise coordinates for attacked locations and provided information on what took place at those locations. Once AAAS acquired imagery, this local information was used to identify corresponding features in the imagery.
  • Chad and Sudan Project. This project reviewed local reporting and reporting compiled by a field based expert to determine which areas in Darfur and eastern Chad had been attacked since 2005. Locations of destruction were identified, pinpointed, and then imagery was acquired. Further, specific features of interest, such as likely janjawid encampments, were identified by local people for confirmation using satellites.
  • Zimbabwe Project. This project sought to locate undocumented settlements in rural Zimbabwe which were demolished as part of an intimidation campaign. As these settlements were undocumented, they did not appear on maps. AAAS staff produced simple maps of an area of Zimbabwe using Landsat, Digital Chart of the World, and GeoNet Names data and overlaid a grid onto the maps. These maps were emailed to locals, who then identified based on the grid system where the settlements had been. AAAS then acquired and analyzed imagery for those locations.
  • Sri Lanka Project. AAAS engaged in rapid imagery analysis during the closing days of the Sri Lankan civil war to gauge impact on civilians. Following the end of the conflict, AAAS has worked with local organizations to expand and refine the imagery analysis available on the Sri Lanka concerning the conflict. In particular, several types of features resembling shell craters are present in the imagery, but are in fact agricultural watering holes or something similar. Likewise, repatriation and movement of people in Sri Lanka are creating dynamic changes to imagery which are best understood with local input."


The American Association for the Advancement of Science, funded in part by the Oak Foundation, Open Society Institute and the MacArthur Foundation.


Burma — Conflict in Karen State Case Study Report. Since 2006, the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program, through its Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights project, has begun compiling high-resolution satellite images to verify and corroborate reports of human rights violations against the civilian population in Karen State and other regions of Burma. AAAS is working with the US Campaign for Burma, Amnesty International, Human Rights Education Institute of Burma, the Free Burma Rangers, the Karen Human Rights Group, and the Thailand Burma Border Consortium on this initiative. Primary funding comes from the Open Society Institute, with significant resources provided by the MacArthur Foundation as well.

In Burma, also known as Myanmar, the ruling military government, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), has a particularly active campaign of oppression against Karen State located in the eastern part of Burma which borders Thailand. In recent years, the SPDC has stepped up attacks reportedly burning villages and raiding them for food, as well as burning agricultural fields during the dry season harvest. Thousands of Karen have escaped as refugees over the Thai border, but tens of thousands more remain internally displaced in Burma, many often conscripted into forced labor acting as porters or human landmine detectors. The conflict is largely unreported in the general media and of low priority in most diplomatic circles. According to human rights organizations familiar with the conflict, this lack of international attention has allowed the ruling military government to carry out an unrestricted ethnic cleansing campaign.

Of the 31 reported attack sites that AAAS located, the bulk of these sites (18) were removed villages or villages with removed structures, with other sites including military camps (4), possible forcibly relocated villages (2), and one refugee camp on the Thai border.

Chad and Sudan: Conflict Monitoring Case Study Report. Since 2006, AAAS and Amnesty International, with funding from the MacArthur Foundation, have been monitoring and documenting a succession of attacks on civilians that have occurred as a result of civil strife in Sudan's western-most province of Darfur and the eastern areas of Chad that border Sudan. This study examined satellite images for 28 locations, 23 in the Darfur region of Sudan and five in bordering Chad. The culmination of this ground-breaking effort, which illustrates how this systematic violence results in genocide, is on display in Amnesty's Eyes on Darfur website that features 13 of the most compelling sites.

Project staff collected image pairs for 28 locations. Seventy-five percent of the imagery pairs showed that destruction of villages and/or growth of camps of internally displaced persons (IDP) had occurred. Only twenty-five percent of the images did not show any significant changes or damage within the designated time period. This discrepancy is attributed to imperfections in the satellite imagery, such as cloud cover.

Zimbabwe — Community Demolitions Case Study Report. In response to the government of Zimbabwe's May 2005 campaign to demolish settlements it claimed to be illegal, Amnesty International asked AAAS to obtain and analyze satellite imagery of four communities where homes were thought to have been removed. Human rights groups suspect these demolitions were ordered in retaliation against communities that supported the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, in Zimbabwe's recent elections. After analyzing approximately 256 square kilometers, AAAS found that more than 5,000 structures had been removed from the communities of Porta Farm, Hatcliffe, Chitungwiza, and Killarney. Based on these conclusions, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights has submitted the satellite imagery to the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, where a case is pending.

High-Resolution Satellite Imagery and the Conflict in Sri Lanka. AAAS acquired and analyzed commercial high-resolution satellite imagery of the Civilian Safety Zone (CSZ) and surrounding environs in northeastern Sri Lanka. Imagery analysis was initially requested by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International USA (AI-USA) on May 10, 2009. These organizations expressed concern over the status and condition of civilians in the southern portion of the CSZ, as they were potentially affected by heavy fighting occurring May 9–10, 2009. As no outside parties were allowed access to the area during the timeframe in question, commercial high-resolution satellite imagery was one of the only options for gathering information.

Imagery analysis yielded possible evidence of shelling in the Civilian Safety Zone based on the appearance of shell impact craters between the May 6 and 10 images. AAAS also found evidence of destroyed permanent structures, the removal of thousands of IDP shelters between the May 6 and 10 images, and three mass gravesites in the CSZ.


To be posted when available.


Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Program

Project DirectorLars Bromley (lbromley@aaas.org)

Burma — Conflict in Karen State Case Study Report

Case Studyhttp://shr.aaas.org/geotech/burma/burma.shtml
Project Sitehttp://shr.aaas.org/geotech/
Organization Sitehttp://www.aaas.org
Imagery Used in this Studyhttp://shr.aaas.org/geotech/burma/burma.shtml
Google Earth Layer of Karen Statehttp://www.aaas.org/international/geotech/ge/burma/burma_results.kml

Chad and Sudan: Conflict Monitoring Case Study Report

Case Studyhttp://shr.aaas.org/geotech/darfur/darfur.shtml
Eyes on Darfurhttp://www.eyesondarfur.org/
Project Sitehttp://shr.aaas.org/geotech/
Organization Sitehttp://www.aaas.org
Imagery used in this studyhttp://shr.aaas.org/geotech/darfur/darfur.shtml

Zimbabwe — Community Demolitions Case Study Report

Case Studyhttp://shr.aaas.org/geotech/Zimbabwe/zimbabwe.shtml
Project Sitehttp://shr.aaas.org/geotech/
Organization Sitehttp://www.aaas.org
Imagery from this reporthttp://shr.aaas.org/geotech/Zimbabwe/zimbabwe.shtml
Google Earth Layerhttp://www.aaas.org/international/geotech/ge/zimbabwe.kml

High-Resolution Satellite Imagery and the Conflict in Sri Lanka

Case Studyhttp://shr.aaas.org/geotech/srilanka/srilanka.shtml
Project Sitehttp://shr.aaas.org/geotech/
Organization Sitehttp://www.aaas.org
Imagery used in this studyhttp://shr.aaas.org/geotech/srilanka/srilanka.shtml
Google Earth Layerhttp://www.aaas.org/international/geotech/ge/srilanka/srilanka_cz.kml


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