Focusing on the responsible application of geographic technologies across a range of human rights and humanitarian issues and how these technologies can be used to improve research and documentation.
High-Resolution Satellite Imagery and the Conflict in Chad and Sudan
AAAS, in conjunction with Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Genocide Intervention Network, has been monitoring and documenting the violence in 28 locations throughout the Darfur region of Sudan and eastern Chad since 2006. Based on satellite imagery of these areas, seventy-five percent showed destruction of villages and/or the growth of camps for internally displaced persons. These and other images have been used in Amnesty’s Eyes on Darfur website as well as provided to the International Criminal Court and featured in various other advocacy and investigation efforts.
Since 2006, AAAS, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Genocide Intervention Network have been monitoring and documenting a succession of attacks on civilians that have occurred as a result of civil strife plaguing Sudan’s western-most province of Darfur and 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. Figure 1 below provides a map of these locations. This effort was designed to document destruction in the region and monitor ongoing developments via satellite imagery. Many results are also on display at Amnesty’s Eyes on Darfur website that features 13 of the most compelling sites as well as numerous Villages at Risk of further attack. In addition, materials have been provided to Human Rights Watch and the Genocide Intervention Network and were submitted on request to the International Criminal Court.
Although low-level conflict has existed in Darfur, Sudan for at least the past 20 years, fierce and sustained fighting flared up in the region in early 2003. Attacks on civilians are carried out largely by the Janjaweed, a government-supported Arab group of militias. The victims are mostly from the non-Arab Fur, Zaghawa, and Masaalit groups. The Janjaweed have been burning villages and food supplies, murdering civilians, raping women and girls, and poisoning water sources. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, about 1.4 million people, out of an estimated population of 6.5 million in the Darfur region of Sudan, are internally displaced. There have been more than 100,000 violent deaths and at least 130,000 people have died from malnutrition and disease. More than 230,000 people have fled into neighboring Chad. Since late 2005, Janjaweed attacks against communities near Chad’s eastern border with Sudan have intensified. The pattern of attacks often begins with cattle rustling followed by direct attacks on the village until most inhabitants are killed or forced to flee and the villages are looted. Janjaweed attacks into eastern Chad have forced the displacement of as many as 75,000 people, many of whom remain internally displaced in Chad. At least 15,000 Chadians have fled into Darfur where there is virtually no humanitarian assistance and they are subject to possible further violence.
Figure 1: Chad and Sudan Case Study Locations
Information on the 28 attacks documented in this study was obtained from Amnesty International and from the U.S. State Department and other media. Tracking new attacks is done by monitoring media reports from the region and plotting those reports, as possible, according to town and village names. Analysis of Darfur especially, has been enabled by generous donations of imagery from GeoEye and discounted imagery from DigitalGlobe.
The satellite imagery used in this project was acquired from DigitalGlobe (QuickBird), Orbimage (Orbview), GeoEye (Ikonos), and ImageSat International (ErosB). This imagery is visually analyzed for structural damage, evidence of village burning or abandonment, expansion and/or growth of camps of internally displaced persons (IDP), and any other features that indicate an attack has occurred in the target location or nearby. These structural changes are counted, recorded, and utilized to assess the relative amount of destruction that took place in a given location during the timeframe indicated.
The QuickBird satellite carries a multispectral sensor measuring reflected electromagnetic radiation in the red, green, blue, and near-infrared wavelengths. Its spatial resolution is about 0.65 meters for the panchromatic product, making it suitable for assessing individual structures as small as a few meters on a side. It has a nominal overpass frequency of three days, though in practice about one image every two weeks seems to be the most that can be expected. As with any spectral sensor it cannot penetrate clouds, somewhat degrading its availability. Ikonos-2, operated by GeoEye, has one meter panchromatic and four meter multispectral resolution. EROS-B, operated by ImageSat International, has 70 centimeter panchromatic resolution.
Select images of Darfur, Sudan and Chad used in this analysis are available as Google Earth layers.
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 within the time period indicated. 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, and difficulties in locating attacked towns, and finally to ambiguities in source information.
Descriptions and images for thirteen of the 28 locations studied are provided below. Eleven of these locations are in the Darfur region of Sudan: Abu Gudul, Donkey Dereis I, Donkey Dereisa II, Ishma, Ligeidiba, Tigla, Ungabo, Bir Maza, Jonjona, ShangilTobay/Shadad, and Um Sidir. Two others, Bir Kedouas and Maduoa, are in eastern Chad. These thirteen locations are highlighted in Amnesty International’s Eyes on Darfur website.
The other fifteen locations studied included twelve in Darfur: Dago, Deribat, Jawa, Shek Hassan, Bornyo, Dar-al-Salam, Helif Sany, Katur, Tabarat, Tawila, Turra, and Krinding. Three others were in Chad: Koloy, Marena, and Tiero. The characteristics for each image, such as specific coordinates, time of acquisition, size of area, catalogue identification number used by the satellite vendor, and cost, are provided in Appendix A.
Abu Gudul, South Darfur, Sudan
Field reports on September 11, 2006 indicated that this village was one of several villages south of Nyala City that was attacked and burned by both the Arab Habaniya group and the Sudanese government. Ground attacks were launched by Janjaweed and government troops, while an Antonov was used to conduct air attacks in the area. Review of this imagery revealed that the small village of Abu Gudul had been almost completely burned and destroyed during the 10-month timeframe of the imagery that was acquired for this location. The extent of this damage is illustrated by Figure 2.
|Figure 2: Damage to village of Abu Gudul|
|The “before” image (left) shows a complete village of 29 houses and outbuildings in January 10, 2006. The “after” image (right) shows that only 10 of these 29 structures remain by October 20, 2006, after the attack had occurred. Note the ring-like appearance of the structures on the right – an indication that they have been burned and destroyed within this period. Images DigitalGlobe.|
Donkey Dereis I, South Darfur, Sudan
This location had been mistakenly identified as ‘Donkey Dereisa II’, the larger of the two villages that lies to the northwest. Images were acquired based on the same information given for that specific location. Although this location was mistakenly identified, analysis of the imagery revealed that all 100 structures of this small village had been completely destroyed within the three-year timeframe. Figure 3 illustrates the extent of this destruction.
Figure 3: Damage to the village of Donkey Dereis
The “before” image (left), taken November 1, 2004, shows a complete village of 100 structures. By the February 12, 2007 image (right), the village has been totally destroyed. Left image DigitalGlobe. Right image Orbimage.
Donkey Dereisa II, South Darfur, Sudan
The town of Donkey Dereisa II had reportedly been attacked since 2004. It was identified as part of a group of villages along the Nyala-Greida corridor that have been continuously targeted by the Janjaweed and government forces. Analysis of this imagery, Figure 4, revealed that roughly half, or approximately 1,171 out of 2,264, structures had been burned and/or destroyed between November 2004 and October 2006. However, there is also evidence of village abandonment since much of the land surrounding the intact structures does not seem to be in use as of January 10, 2006. The January 2006 imagery for this site only covered half of the village and was not useful for analyzing interim attack events.
|Figure 4: Damage to the village of Donkey Dereisa|
The “before” image (left) was taken November 1, 2004. Although both images look similar at first glance, close inspection of the “after” image from October 20, 2006 (right), reveals that the village has been almost completely destroyed as a result of the attack and subsequent burning. Images DigitalGlobe.
Ishma, South Darfur, Sudan
The village of Ishma was one of several villages that were attacked along the main road going northeast out of Nyala. This offensive was essentially a road clearing operation led by the Sudanese government with the intention of intercepting the rebels’ logistical routes. Many of these villages were reportedly burned, and many civilians were killed during this severe attack. Analysis of this imagery revealed that the outlying area to the west of Ishma proper had been badly burned. Three villages located to the west of Ishma village were completely destroyed. In total, the February 10, 2007 imagery of Ishma included 419 structures that had been completely destroyed since December 25, 2004. Figure 5 illustrates the destruction that occurred in this timeframe.
|Figure 5: Damage to villages near Ishma|
The three “before” images on the left hand side were taken December 25, 2004. The three “after” images on the right hand side, taken February 10, 2007, clearly show that every structure and fence line had been completely destroyed as a result of the “road-clearing” attack. Images DigitalGlobe.
Ligeidiba, South Darfur, Sudan
Field reports on September 11, 2006 indicated that this village was one of several villages south of Nyala City that was attacked and burned by both the Arab Habaniya group and the Sudanese government. Ground attacks were launched by Janjaweed and government troops, while an Antonov was used to conduct air attacks in the area. According to field reports, this village is located within an area that is entirely populated with civilians and has no rebel presence. Analysis of this imagery revealed that this village had been ~50% destroyed between April 2006 and January 2007. More specifically, 350 of the village’s 698 total structures, including outbuildings, are missing in the most recent image of Ligeidiba. Figure 6 shows the extent of damage that occurred.
|Figure 6: Damage to the village of Ligeidiba|
|The first image (left), taken April 10, 2006, shows the complete village of Ligeidiba, while the second image from January 18, 2007 (right), shows damage, such as missing structures and fence lines that occurred as a result of the attack. Images DigitalGlobe.|
Tigla, South Darfur, Sudan
According to Amnesty International, numerous villages near the town of Tigla in South Darfur were attacked throughout February 2006. Prior to the attacks, this area contained 48 settled locations spread throughout 102 km2 of analyzed imagery. Visual analysis of this imagery revealed that all 48 settled areas, totaling 1,660 structures, were destroyed throughout this region during the two-year timeframe of our imagery.
|Figure 7: Damage to village in Tigla region|
|The first image displays one of the forty-eight villages in the Tigla area that was completely destroyed following the attacks. Several homes and fenced areas were present in the September 30, 2004 imagery (left), while in the September 8, 2006 image (right) those structures have been completely removed. Images GeoEye.|
Ungabo, South Darfur, Sudan
Ungabo is one of a cluster of villages that was reportedly burned following the Darfur Peace Agreement in May 2006. This first attack was followed up six months later on November 11, 2006 by a larger attack event. This attack resulted in the burning of villages and an unspecified number of casualties. Two days later, on November 13, the Janjaweed and Sudanese troops made a second visit to Ungabo village where they reportedly burned the water center and killed eight civilians. Visual analysis of this imagery revealed that approximately 555 structures within the village of Ungabo had been completely burned. Most of this burning took place within close proximity of the village center while structures that remained unburned were located on the outskirts of the village.
|Figure 8: Damage to the village of Ungabo|
|The “before” image on the left, taken June 21, 2006, shows the undamaged village of Ungabo. On the right is the “after” image from February 15, 2007, indicating that the village had been significantly affected by the burning event. Note that the areas where this burning occurred do not have fence lines and have dark streaks where homes and other structures once stood. Right image DigitalGlobe. Left image Orbimage.|
Bir Maza, North Darfur, Sudan
The village of Bir Maza was attacked on November 15, 2006 by thousands of government soldiers and Janjaweed, both in cars and on camels. They burned and looted the village, killed twelve civilians, and raped several women. Several houses and the market area were destroyed as a result of this attack. Review of the imagery revealed that approximately 104 out of 576 total structures had been destroyed within the timeframe of the imagery collected for this site. The destruction occurred in two separate areas of the village – both to the west and east of the intersecting wadi, or riverbed. The village cluster on the left, Figure 10, is the primary market area and was almost completely destroyed. To the east, Figure 9, several structures throughout the larger village area had been attacked and destroyed.
|Figure 9: Damage to village of Bir Maza – After|
|The “before” imagery (left), taken May 16, 2006, shows an intact village. The “after” imagery (right), taken April 17, 2007, indicates that several structures had been destroyed during this 13-month timeframe. Left image DigitalGlobe. Right image ImageSat.|
|Figure 10: Damage to village of Bir Maza|
|The “before” imagery (left), from May 16, 2006, shows an intact market area. The “after” image (right), from April 17, 2007, shows that 99 of a total of 147 structures had been burned and/or destroyed in this timeframe. Left image DigitalGlobe. Right image ImageSat.|
Jonjona, North Darfur, Sudan
This village was reportedly attacked on May 7, 2006 when militias burned 16 houses within the village limits. A review of this imagery revealed that ~16 houses were burned within the village limits of Jonjona. The imagery is not especially dramatic, yet still indicates that a significant attack event had occurred within this three-year timeframe. This imagery is displayed below in Figure 11.
|Figure 11: Damage to the village of Jonjona|
|The first image, taken December 7, 2004, shows a complete village totaling 426 structures, while the “after” imagery, from February 23, 2007, indicates that 46 structures were destroyed that were present in the “before” imagery. Images DigitalGlobe.|
Shangil Tobay/Shadad, North Darfur, Sudan
Shangil Tobay and Shadad were listed as two of seventeen North Darfurian villages that had been attacked and/or destroyed since November 2004. They are reportedly located within an area that although not densely populated, is home to several thousands of displaced civilians that live throughout the region. Analysis of this imagery revealed significant changes in the structural landscape and population throughout the region, specifically between 2005 and 2006, during which time these attacks occurred. Two IDP settlements were located – one was a full-size camp and the other was more of an IDP outgrowth of Shadad village. Additionally, the imagery included several locations that had been attacked and destroyed. A cluster of villages around Shangil Tobay were substantially damaged. This included a village to the east that was 75% destroyed (Figure 12A), another small village northeast of Shangil Tobay that was completely destroyed (Figure 12B), and a small village south of Shangil Tobay that was also completely burned (Figure 12C). The destruction of these villages is shown in Figure 12.
|Figure 12: Damage to village of Shangil Tobay/Shadad region|
|The “before” images on the left were taken March 10, 2003. “After” images on the right were taken December 18, 2006. Images DigitalGlobe.|
Um Sidir, North Darfur, Sudan
According to Amnesty International, the area of Um Sidir was attacked by the Janjaweed militia on August 30, 2006. This was a government-led offensive that came to be known as the ‘Battle of Um Sidir’. It began with burning and looting and ended in a decisive defeat on September 11, 2006 for the Janjaweed and government forces. Visual analysis of the imagery revealed that 75 of 178 structures, including the entire market area, were destroyed within this timeframe. Also visible in this imagery are trench lines, shell craters, and several huts inside the trenches that were used by government officials during the battle.
|Figure 13: Damage to the village of Um Sidir|
|The “before” image (left), taken April 10, 2006, shows the market of Um Sidir. In the “after” image (right), from September 21, 2006, the entire area has been burned or otherwise destroyed. Note that the significant difference in color between the images is due to seasonality as the before image was captured during the end of the dry season and the “after” image was acquired during the rainy season. Left image DigitalGlobe. Right image GeoEye.|
Bir Kedouas, Chad
The village of Bir Kedouas, just on the Chad side of the Chad/Sudan border, was attacked on December 16, 2005 by Janjaweed. A large number of homes were reported to have been destroyed in the attack and many areas of the village were burned. According to analysis of QuickBird images, at least 89 structures were destroyed by burning, while 12 others show changes consistent with attack and abandonment (for example, the disappearance of fencing or of the structures themselves).
|Figure 14: Damage to village of Bir Kedouas|
|The “before” image, taken October 24, 2006, shows a sample set of homes, outbuildings, and fences. The “after” image shows the remains of those same homes and fenced areas on January 7, 2007, after the reported attack. Images DigitalGlobe.|
According to Amnesty International, there was a phased attack in early March 2006 in Madoua, Chad. Additionally, raiding occurred in the Madoua area in early 2006, which is documented by the interim image collected on March 2, 2006. Visual analysis of the 2004 image was undertaken to determine the approximate number of settled areas which were present prior to the attacks, while the two 2006 images were analyzed to determine any changes to the physical structure of the settled areas over time. In total, 452 structures were removed within the two-year timeframe.
|Figure 15: Damage to village of Madoua|
|A subset of the high resolution satellite imagery of the Madoua settlement in eastern Chad, along the Chad/Sudan border. The “before” image (left) was taken March 2, 2006. By November 4, 2006 (right), all of the structures were destroyed. Images DigitalGlobe.|
One of the biggest challenges project staff faced was to find the precise geographic coordinates of the locations in question. A large city is not difficult to find, but smaller settlements may not appear on any known map or may be named the same as another formal settlement that does appear on a map of the area. In addition, there are several challenges inherent to using commercial satellite imagery for an analysis such as this one. Imagery may not exist in archives, thus a new image will need to be ordered, which is more costly. Obtaining a usable new image may also take time due to weather in the targeted area. Also, acquired imagery may not cover an entire area that you might wish to study. Further, the small size of some of the structures, particularly small backyard homes measuring four meters on a side, can make counting of structures a labor intensive process.
Since April 2007, project staff have been collecting recent imagery for twelve “protective” locations, ten in Sudan (Bir Dagig, Boldon, Bulbul, Deleba, Hashabe, Kafod, Malam el Hosh, Sanam el Naga, Saraf Jidad, and Silea) and two in Chad (Goz Amer and Koukou Angarana). These villages have been identified as likely targets for future attacks and are also featured as an interactive component of Amnesty International’s Eyes on Darfur website. Imagery for these locations will continue to be collected at regular intervals for as long as funding allows.
With technical assistance from AAAS, and in collaboration with Google, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum launched a Crisis in Darfur mapping initiative in April 2007. Amnesty International launched its Eyes on Darfur website the following June.
- Please see Appendix A: Darfur, Sudan and Chad Imagery Characteristics for specifics about the images used in this case study.
- See also, the Amnesty International report, Sowing the seeds of Darfur: Ethnic targeting in Chad by Janjawid militias from Sudan, (June 2006).