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SRHRL Past Projects: Remote Sensing for Human Rights

The AAAS Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law Program was awarded a grant of $800,000 by the Oak Foundation, based in London, to:

  1. determine the human rights-related applications of new high resolution and technically advanced satellite technologies, as well as underutilized lower resolution sensors; and
  2. increase understanding among human rights courts and human rights organizations regarding the evolving and potential applications of geospatial technologies and associated research methodologies in human rights litigation.

The increased use of geospatial technologies for human rights purposes has been made possible by continued technological and analytical developments led by organizations such as AAAS and the United Nations. AAAS expanded the types of human rights abuses that can be documented using high-resolution image analysis, for example, by applying the expanded spectral range of high resolution sensors to allow more detailed and accurate identification of on-the-ground features.

In addition to high-resolution satellite images, however, there are many older satellite products that were created for purposes such as meteorology, volcanology, sea ice monitoring, mining, and agricultural management that can have valuable human rights applications. For example, AAAS used the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) to document the ongoing gas flaring in the Niger Delta, which continues despite a 2008 moratorium. The use of this free daily product allowed a large area, multi-year analysis that would not have been feasible using high-resolution imagery. With the support of this grant, AAAS further explored how such older satellites could be adapted to human rights research.

Finally, AAAS pursued opportunities for applying geospatial analysis in human rights-related litigation at the international and regional levels to strengthen the capacity of legal accountability institutions to respond to human rights abuses. In the past, AAAS has been approached on an ad hoc basis to provide satellite remote sensing analysis for use in human rights litigation, including with regard to: the conflict in South Ossetia, Georgia (European Court of Human Rights), forced evictions in Zimbabwe (African Commission and the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights), and mass human rights violations in Darfur (International Criminal Court). This grant allowed AAAS to provide support to the courts in a systematic way. With the support of the Oak Foundation grant, AAAS provided training in remote sensing analysis to the judges, investigation teams and prosecutors of international criminal courts and tribunals, as well as the regional human rights courts and commissions. With an improved understanding among judges and other relevant court personnel of the value of remote sensing analysis, it is expected that geospatial evidence will be integrated more frequently into human rights litigation, and that the work of these human rights courts and commissions will be strengthened as a result.

Reports and Documents | Events | Advisory Panel

Reports and Documents


Ethiopia: Gambella
Kenya: Nairobi
Sudan: Ulu, Blue Nile
Sri Lanka: Valikamam High Security Zone
Syria: Initial Conflict
Syria: Aleppo Retrospective
Syria: Medical Facility Damage: Report 1 | Report 2
Turkmenistan: Environmental Report
Turkmenistan: Demolitions


Presentations from the training: Using Geospatial Technologies to Support Human Rights Research and Documentation
- Introduction to Geospatial Technologies
- Advanced Applications of Geospatial Technologies
- Getting Started with Geospatial Solutions
- Evaluating the merits and applicability of the technology


Training: 5 September 2014 "Using Geospatial Technologies to Support Human Rights Research and Documentation"

Advisory Panel

The Remote Sensing for Human Rights Advisory Panel was formed in 2012 by the Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project (GTHR). The purpose of the panel is to advise GTHR in relation to the Oak Foundation-funded project, Remote Sensing for Human Rights. The members of the advisory panel were chosen for their expertise and breadth of experience in fields related to the objectives of the RSHR Project. The expertise of the panel spans a range of project-related topics, including human rights, techniques of remote sensing, geography, and international human rights law.

Advisory Panel Members:

Member Biographies:

Lars Bromley
Principal Analyst and Research Advisor - Human Rights and Security

Lars Bromley helps develop human security and rights monitoring at the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNOSAT). He was previously Project Director with the Science and Human Rights Program, leading the project on geospatial technologies and human rights. He has extensive experience managing projects that apply remote sensing, satellite imagery, GIS, and related tools to large scale human rights violations and threats to human security.

Mark Friedl
Professor, Department of Earth and Environment
Boston University

Mark Friedl’s research uses remote sensing to examine biogeophysical patterns and processes at the Earth’s surface. He is a member of the MODIS science team, and currently directs the Land Cover Surface Climate Group, which maps global land cover and land cover change using remote sensing at a variety of scales, monitoring and modeling dynamics in phenology and related ecosystem processes, and using remote sensing to characterize the distribution and dynamics of human dominated ecosystems.

Barry Haack
Professor, Department of Geography and GeoInformation Science
George Mason University

Barry Haack has expertise spanning the domains of physical geography, remote sensing, resource assessment, environmental studies, and research concerning developing countries. He is the author of numerous peer-reviewed publications on subjects ranging from the use of radar and optical data to map land use / land cover to crop rotation patterns, to urban growth and analysis modeling. In addition to his research activities, he teaches courses in physical geography, satellite image analysis, and remote sensing.

Matthew Hansen
Professor, Department of Geography
University of Maryland

Matt Hansen’s research is focused on developing improved algorithms, data inputs and thematic outputs which enable the mapping of land cover change at regional, continental and global scales. His work as an Associate Team Member of NASA’s MODIS Land Science Team included the algorithmic development and product delivery of the MODIS Vegetation Continuous Field land cover layers. His current research includes taking the global processing model for MODIS and applying it to the Landsat archive, as well as improving global cropland monitoring capabilities.

John Hutson
Director of Communications
ENOUGH Project

John Hutson is responsible for leading media relations and strategic communications efforts for the Enough Project. In 2010, Jonathan led successful negotiations to launch the Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP), which blends technology, human rights advocacy, and field research to deter full-scale war between Sudan and South Sudan, and to promote greater accountability for mass atrocities committed there by any party. Prior to joining Enough, Hutson served as Chief Communications Officer at Physicians for Human Rights.

Margaret Kalacska
Assistant Professor, Department of Geography
McGill University

Margaret Kalacska’s research interests include ecological and forensic applications of remote sensing, hyperspectral data analysis, machine learning, spatial modeling and tropical ecology. She is active in several projects, including work estimating of vegetation characteristics from hyperspectral data, detecting clandestine graves, using remote sensing for border security, applying remote sensing to ecosystem health analyzing long-wave infrared hyperspectral images, and developing high performance computing for remote sensing.

Natalie Mahowald
Professor, Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences
Cornell University

Natalie Mahowald’s research has focused on characterizing and understanding global and regional variability of desert dust (mineral aerosols) during the last 20,000 years and human impacts on desert dust and understanding how iron in the desert dust becomes bioavailable to ocean biota and may impact the ocean carbon cycle. In addition, she works on the variability and impact of other “natural ” aerosols and how humans may be impacted by these aerosols. Previously, Mahowald worked at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, CO.

Martin Pratt
Director of Research, IBRU (International Boundaries Research Unit), Department of Geography
Durham University

Martin Pratt studied Geography at Durham University and International Relations at the University of Chicago before joining the International Boundaries Research Unit in 1994. He specialises in the analysis of sovereignty and jurisdictional disputes and has advised governments, law firms, oil companies and publishers on more than fifty international boundary disputes. He is currently IBRU’s Director of Research and an adviser to the Task Force on International Boundaries of the United Nations Geographic Information Working Group.

Delissa Ridgway
Judge of the U.S. Court of International Trade

Delissa Ridgway served as Chair of the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission of the U.S., an independent quasi-judicial agency within the U.S. Department of Justice, serving as both the administrative head of the agency and the president of the three-member international tribunal. Prior to her appointment to the FCSC, she was a member of the International Practice Group at Shaw, Pittman, Potts & Trowbridge in Washington, D.C. She is an authority in the areas of international commercial law, international transactions and international commercial arbitration/litigation.

William Schabas
Chairman of the Irish Centre for Human Rights, National University of Ireland, Galway
Associate Professor, University of Middlesex

William Schabas is the author of twenty-one books dealing in whole or in part with international human rights law, including The International Criminal Court: A Commentary on the Rome Statute, Introduction to the International Criminal Court, Genocide in International Law. He received the Certificate of Merit of the American Society of International Law at its 2007 Annual Meeting for his book The UN International Criminal Tribunals: Former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. He has also published some 300 articles in academic journals, principally in the field of international human rights law and international criminal law.

Michael Scharf
Professor of Law and Director of the Frederick K. Cox International Law Center
Case Western Reserve University

Michael Scharf served as a member of the international team of experts which provided training to the judges and prosecutors of the Iraqi Special Tribunal. Professor Scharf and the Public International Law and Policy Group were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 for their work in the prosecution of major war criminals. He is the author of over fifty scholarly articles and seven books, including Balkan Justice, which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1998, The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Peace with Justice, and casebooks on The Law of International Organizations and International Criminal Law.

Dan Sui
Chair, Department of Geography
Ohio State University

Dan Sui’s current research focuses on four areas: 1. GIS-based spatial analysis and synthesis for urban, environmental, and public health applications; 2. Volunteered geographic information and the use of social media as a new data source for geographic research; 3. Legal and ethical issues of using geospatial technologies in society; 4. Coupling of human and natural systems and security implications of climate change. He recently co-edited the book Crowdsourcing Geographic Knowledge: Volunteered Geographic Information in Theory and Practice.

Patrick Vinck
Research Scientist, Harvard School of Public Health
Associate Faculty, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative

Patrick Vinck directed and co-founded the Initiative for Vulnerable Populations at UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Center, where he focused on managing and implementing empirical studies on the process of social reconstruction in countries affected by mass violence. Vinck also-cofounded KoBo, a digital data collection project to advance human rights research. He serves as a member on the AAAS Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility; an Adjunct Associate Professor at Tulane University’s Payson Center for International Development; and a regular consultant on vulnerability analysis to the United Nations World Food Programme.