Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Eyes on Darfur: Satellite Images Show Destroyed And Threatened Villages In Darfur

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has announced an innovative way of letting the Sudanese Government know that the world is indeed watching the action in Darfur. Here is the Science Daily report:

A pioneering AAAS program that provides technical expertise to human rights groups is helping Amnesty International USA with a new online effort to monitor threatened settlements in the war-torn Darfur region of Sudan and provide evidence of destroyed villages.

High-resolution commercial satellite images, analyzed by AAAS researchers, will be posted after 12:01 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time Wednesday, 6 June to Amnesty International's new "Eyes on Darfur" Web site ( The project is the first effort by a human rights group to use satellite cameras to help protect vulnerable populations. It will allow computer users around the globe to visually track the status of settlements Amnesty International considers possible targets of attack.

The new site includes up-to-date images on 12 intact but vulnerable villages as well as archival satellite photos documenting the destruction of a dozen settlements in Darfur since January 2005. Lars Bromley, project director for the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program, said the commercially available photos can show objects as small as two feet across, sufficient to show destruction of huts and other structures.

. . .

The new online monitoring program, which Amnesty International officials hope will increase pressure on Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to help end the violence, was funded by the Save Darfur Coalition. The nonprofit advocacy group has been urging the United States and others to back a larger multinational peacekeeping force in Darfur.

The Eyes on Darfur Web site will be launched 6 June to coincide with a presentation on the project during the Fifth International Symposium on Digital Earth on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley. Ariela Blatter, director of crisis prevention and response for Amnesty International USA, and Bromley of AAAS will discuss the project during a session from 2:00 to 3:30 p.m., U.S Pacific Time.

The Darfur images are being collected by a AAAS program, begun in January 2006, that has been exploring how satellite imagery and other cutting-edge geospatial technologies can be used to help assess human rights violations and stop others before they occur. The program received a one-year pilot grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and that recently was renewed for three years.

"The imaging initiative is an excellent example of how science and technology can be applied to help expose human rights violations," said Mona Younis, director of the Science and Human Rights program at AAAS. "The project is the latest in a 30-year effort by AAAS that has included documenting atrocities from Guatemala to Kosovo, while also working to promote basic human rights worldwide."

Last year, the imaging program -- in cooperation with Amnesty International in London and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights -- produced satellite images showing strong evidence the government of Zimbabwe had destroyed a settlement west of Harare and relocated thousands of residents as part of a political campaign against opponents.

For the Eyes on Darfur project, Amnesty International researchers provide Bromley with the names of villages of interest, gathered from media reports and other sources. Geospatial coordinates for the villages rarely are available. Also, the spelling of place names can vary or names can be changed altogether after a village is overrun. "The process is laborious." Bromley said. Even when village locations are mapped, archival satellite images may not be available for a specific locale and time. When trying to document a past incident, it is crucial that there be images available before and after the attack.

Read it all.

It is great to see this kind of use of technology.

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