Evidence of Destruction in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Executive Summary

In response to reports of widespread violence targeting civilians in the area of Busurungi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in May of 2009, Human Rights Watch requested satellite imagery analysis of the area to support the efforts of the Congo Advocacy Coalition to increase civilian protection in the area. Due to the remoteness of the Busurungi area and security threats, visual documentation of atrocities is difficult to obtain, and extensive cloud cover in that region hinders satellite image acquisition. Over a period of several months, AAAS acquired and analyzed 100 square kilometers of cloud free satellite imagery, locating 1,494 destroyed structures in the area of Busurungi as well as evidence of ongoing violence.

Google Earth Layer

I. Introduction
II. Methods and Technologies
III. Results
IV. Conclusion
V. Further Resources

I. Introduction

On 9 May, 2009, witnesses indicate that armed men with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) conducted another in a series of attacks on civilians in the area of Busurungi, Walikale, on the southern border of North Kivu. The attack was reported and condemned by the United Nations Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC), who investigated its aftermath and interviewed survivors. Due to the remoteness of the region and security risks, a full accounting of the devastation is difficult. AAAS was approached by Human Rights Watch, part of the Congo Advocacy Coalition, to acquire and analyze satellite imagery of the area and document the extent of the attack on civilians.

II. Methods and Technologies

AAAS obtained multiple satellite images of the Busurungi area, pre-dating and post-dating the attack, that were combined to provide cloud free composites. The pre-attack imagery was acquired by the WorldView-1 satellite, operated by DigitalGlobe, on 30 December 2007 and 19 January, 2009. No post attack imagery was available for the Busurungi area, and therefore in late May of 2009 AAAS requested new imagery be acquired by the GeoEye-1 satellite operated by the GeoEye corporation. GeoEye made multiple imaging attempts to satisfy the AAAS order, and a cloud free mosaic was compiled from several images acquired on 28 August, 31 August, and 22 September.

AAAS performed a direct visual comparison of the pre- and post- attack imagery using ERDAS Imagine and ArcMap software. This comparison allows identification of structures damaged or destroyed in the intervening time period. All the satellite imagery used by AAAS to analyze the Busurungi area has been made available as a KML layer via Google Earth.

III. Results

AAAS analyzed multiple images covering 100 square kilometers of the Busurungi area to document destruction. In total, 1,494 destroyed structures within the imagery were located. AAAS believes the further destruction is apparent outside the bounds of the imagery in-hand but has limited its analysis area for budgetary reasons. Lastly, one village in the area appears intact in the image from 31 August, but is destroyed by the time of the 22 September image, indicating recent violence. Specific samples of destruction are provided below, and full exploration of the imagery is possible via the Google Earth layers.

Image One: Removed Village

scene1before_sm scene1after

© 2009 DigitalGlobe Inc. (left) and GeoEye (right)
A village in the area of Busurungi was intact on January 22, but 68 structures are removed, with evidence of burning, by September 22, 2009. Latitude/Longitude: -1.675781°, 28.548483°

Image Two: Removed Village

scene2before_zoom_sm scene2after_zoom_sm

© 2009 DigitalGlobe Inc. (left) and GeoEye (right)
A close-up of a village in the area of Busurungi, intact on January 22 and evidently burned by September 22, 2009. This village had 103 structures destroyed. Latitude / Longitude: -1.672472°, 28.583403°

Image Three: Removed Village

scene3before_sm scene3after_sm

© 2009 DigitalGlobe Inc. (left) and GeoEye (right)
A village in the area of Busurungi was intact on January 22, with 155 houses destroyed by September 22, 2009 aened, likely charred, areas. Latitude / Longitude: -1.725150°, 28.615242°

Image Four: Removed Village

scene4before_sm scene4after_sm

© 2009 DigitalGlobe Inc. (left) and GeoEye (right)
A village in the area of Busurungi was intact on January 22, but 70 houses were destroyed by September 22, 2009, with significant evidence of burning. Latitude / Longitude: -1.719544°, 28.621964°

Image Five: Removed Village

scene5before_sm scene5after_sm

© 2009 DigitalGlobe Inc. (left) and GeoEye (right)
A village in the area of Busurungi was intact on January 22, but 76 houses were destroyed by September 22, 2009. Latitude / Longitude: -1.752083°, 28.590028°

Image Six: Removed Village

scene6before_sm scene6after_sm

© Copyright 2009 DigitalGlobe Inc. (left) and GeoEye (right)
A village in the area of Busurungi was intact on January 22, but 74 houses were destroyed by September 22, 2009. Latitude / Longitude: -1.697°, 28.604°

Image Seven: Removed Village

scene7before_sm scene7after_sm

© 2009 DigitalGlobe Inc. (left) and GeoEye (right)
A village in the area of Busurungi was intact on January 22, but 60 houses were destroyed by September 22, 2009. Latitude / Longitude: -1.725°, 28.604°

IV. Conclusion

Following attacks by the FDLR in May 2009, AAAS was approached by Human Rights Watch to conduct a damage assessment of Busurungi and surrounding areas. Analysis of pre- and post-attack satellite images located 1,494 destroyed structures and found evidence of continuing violence.

V. Further Resources

  • Google Earth Layer
  • A statement on violence in the Busurungi area from the Congo Advocacy Coalition is available here.