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Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights

Visualization Layers

Since early 2006, SHRP has been working with partner organizations to collect high-resolution satellite imagery and develop other data to document or understand human rights violations. A selection of this imagery (QuickBird and Ikonos) and other data is provided below as Google Earth layers, one of a number of emerging geospatial visualization tools. These layers were produced using the regionator code made available by Google. In addition, Global Mapper software complemented image processing done with ERDAS Imagine and ENVI. Lastly, ArcView GIS software was used throughout the process.

Please note that all the layers below require Google Earth.


In May 2009, AAAS reviewed satellite imagery of the Sheberghan area of northern Afghanistan, where possible mass graves were suspected of being created in 2001. Imagery from 2006-2007 reveals two large pits, possibly comprising the graves, being excavated over a series of months in this area. An August 2006 image shows two possible vehicles present at the site of one pit. Based on these findings and the investigation of Physicians for Human Rights, which first approached AAAS with this project, the Obama administration has ordered a US government review of the incident at Dasht-e-Leili.


NGOs in Burma provided AAAS with information concerning attacks on civilians in Karen State carried out by government forces in 2006/2007 and then again in 2009. AAAS staff reviewed these reports and compared them with high-resolution satellite images to identify destruction of housing and infrastructure and construction of new military occupation camps.

Chad and Sudan

Working with Amnesty International and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, AAAS documented past attacks by the government-backed Janjaweed against civilians in Chad and Darfur, Sudan, in 2005 and 2006, and is building methods for tracking current attacks. Documenting past attacks has thus far relied on information from Amnesty International and media sources to acquire archived and new satellite imagery of attack areas. Tracking new attacks is done by monitoring media reports from the region and plotting those reports, as possible, according to town and village names..

Democratic Republic of Congo

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.


AAAS conducted a damage assessment of 24 village areas in the region of Tskhinvali, Georgia, to corroborate reports by Amnesty International of violence against civilians and property destruction during the Georgia-Russia conflict of August 2008. Imagery analysis demonstrates initial concentrated damage to the city of Tskhinvali and small amounts of damage to outlying areas that had occurred by August 10. By August 19, a much broader range of destruction occurred in the village areas surrounding Tskhinvali, as demonstrated by the GE layers below.


AAAS worked with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to document the effects on civilian populations in Lebanon caught in the crossfire of the July 2006 Israel-Hezbollah conflict. AAAS obtained and analyzed high-resolution imagery of Lebanon from DigitalGlobe and GeoEye. A separate analysis of Israel was not possible since the Kyl-Bingaman Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997 prohibits private companies from selling high-resolution satellite imagery of locations in Israel at better than 2.5 meter resolution.

Sri Lanka

In May 2009, AAAS began reviewing satellite imagery over northeastern Sri Lanka, where civilians were believed to have been caught up in the conflict between the Sri Lankan Army and the Tamil Tigers. The GE layers provided below depict evidence of bomb shell craters, destroyed permanent structures and mortar emplacements in and around the Civilian Safety Zone.


In May 2005, the government of Zimbabwe began Operation Murambatsvina (translated alternately as Operation Restore Order or Drive Out Trash) to demolish homes and businesses in what it claims to be illegal settlements and black market areas. According to U.N. estimates, the homes of around 700,000 people were demolished and the demolitions have affected at least 2.4 million people across Zimbabwe through deprivation of housing, work, food, water, or education. AAAS worked with Amnesty International and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights to precisley locate image sets of destroyed settlements.

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