Volume 8 - December 6, 2005 - News from the Network: Austrian Researchers Abroad

When Science Meets Human Rights:

Innovative Uses of Geospatial Technologies for Human Rights Monitoring and Conflict Prevention

bridges vol. 19, October 2008 / Feature Article

By Christoph Koettl

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Human rights organizations are quickly catching up with organizations in the humanitarian and environmental fields in utilizing geospatial technologies like satellite imagery, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). These technologies are especially helpful for overcoming obstacles such as getting access to and information from crisis areas. In combination with Internet-based platforms, they mainly build on the power of visualization to document human rights abuses, prevent conflict, and - most importantly - provoke activism.

Over the last few years, Amnesty International (AI) has cooperated repeatedly with the Science and Human Rights Program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to document human rights violations. This cooperation is part of a broader trend toward the innovative use of geospatial technologies for human rights monitoring and advocacy work. And although national security concerns of some governments limit the full utilization of technological progress, for example in the area of remote sensing, a continued increase in the use of geospatial technologies in the fight for human rights is expected.

Russia vs. Georgia

The most recent use of geospatial technologies to support the work of human rights advocates in investigating human rights abuses was in the conflict between Russia and Georgia.

Regional experts at AI identified places in the conflict zone and AAAS acquired high-resolution satellite imagery of South Ossetia in order to assess the areas of interest. AAAS conducted a satellite imagery-based damage assessment of 24 villages around the capital of Tskhinvali in South Ossetia. Using commercial satellite imagery providers, AAAS acquired high-resolution satellite imagery (spatial resolution less than 1 meter) from August 10 and August 19, 2008, which allowed a traditional "before and after" comparison of damage. The analysis, still in progress, revealed destruction concentrated on Tshkinvali and damage to surrounding villages on August 19, which confirms analysis done by UNOSAT, the United Nations Institute for Training and Research Operational Satellite Applications Program.

(Click here for more background information on the conflict between Russia and Georgia).

unosatgeorgianew_web_small.jpgSatellite-based damage assessment from Kekhvi to Tskhinvali, South Ossetia (August 19, 2008).

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