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New Support for Satellite-Based Human Rights Work
Burned Areas of Abu Suruj: A close up of a portion of the February, 2008 QuickBird image clearly shows multiple remains of burned houses in Abu Suruj.
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© 2008 DigitalGlobe
With a substantial grant from the Oak Foundation, the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program is expanding its effort to use satellite imagery and other geospatial technologies to help identify human rights violations.
The foundation, with headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, funds projects that address issues of global social and environmental concern, particularly those that have a major impact on the lives of the disadvantaged. The grant to the AAAS is $750,000 for three years.
Lars Bromley, head of the geospatial technologies project at AAAS, said the Oak Foundation grant will permit a dedicated partnership with Amnesty International (AI) on efforts to counter mass violence, forced displacement, and secret detentions. AAAS will expand its geospatial research and development activities, Bromley said, and provide AI tools and training that can further its work for human rights around the globe.
High-resolution satellite images, once primarily in the hands of government agencies, now are widely available through commercial satellite companies and can provide views of sites where on-the-ground access is blocked or unsafe. The AAAS geospatial technologies project began in 2005 with a generous grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
In 2006, AAAS worked with Amnesty International USA to document, with satellite images, the demolition of the Porta Farm settlement outside the Zimbabwean capital of Harare. The images were used in an Amnesty International report and provided to the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights to support their international litigation to defend constitutional rights and freedoms in their country.
AAAS and Amnesty International also used high-resolution satellite imagery in 2007 to begin monitoring threatened villages in the Darfur region of Sudan and provide evidence of atrocities being committed, including views of the recent extensive burning of the town of Abu Suruj. "Amnesty has considerable presence and capability, and it's been very rewarding to employ geospatial technologies in their work," Bromley said. "We are very excited about the possibilities to that end from this dedicated funding source."
The AAAS program also worked in 2007 with three human rights groups in Burma (also known as Myanmar) to document village destruction, forced relocations and a growing military presence at 25 sites across eastern Burma. Primary support for the Burma monitoring effort, which continues, has been provided by the Open Society Institute.
Mona Younis, director of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program, noted that AAAS is not an advocacy organization and instead concentrates on the research and development of tools and technologies that human rights groups need for their monitoring campaigns and legal challenges. "Grant support for our geospatial technologies work from a major human rights funder signals recognition that science and scientists are needed for the important work being undertaken to promote, monitor and implement human rights," Younis said.
The funds from the Oak Foundation will allow AAAS and Amnesty International to undertake several new pilot projects such as monitoring the status of detention facilities and refugee camps in countries to be determined. Each pilot project, depending on its scope, is expected to last from two to eight months.
In addition to the new initiative with Amnesty International, Bromley said, the AAAS geospatial technologies program also is undertaking some new efforts in cooperation with Human Rights Watch, a New York-based group concerned with a broad range of human right issues around the globe.
5 March 2008