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Satellites track human rights abuses

Washington DC, US  

Satellites images can help track human rights abuses from around the world, according to researchers who believe that this technology could one day help prevent such atrocities.

US researcher Lars Bromley proved its effectiveness when he watched the final days of the Sri Lankan conflict unfold with the help of satellites. Bromley observed the digital satellite photos as part of the Science and Human Rights Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). This has been reported by Christian Science Monitor.

Bromley, a geographer, wanted to determine if the Sri Lankan Army was attacking a civilian safety zone during the war against the Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009. Since the photos were not sufficiently fine-grain to reveal corpses, Bromley and his team focused on other damage like shattered buildings and mortar craters in places where refugees had previously gathered. The rectangular grids of Tamil Tiger cemeteries grew every day in the new photos, revealing dozens of new graves. The Sri Lankan government denied targeting civilian areas.

One of Bromley’s team members who studied meteor craters on Mars noticed sprays of soil kicked up from mortar craters. The orientation of those sprays allowed him to extrapolate the trajectory of incoming shells – and ultimately, trace them back to Sri Lankan Army positions.

AAAS has also documented home demolitions by Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe’s regime in its first satellite project in 2005. Burning of hundreds of villages in Darfur was revealed in a 2007 project. Others have probed abuses in Myanmar, Gaza, North Korea, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Patrick Meier, a visiting scholar at Stanford University, in California, who co-founded the global network Crisis Mappers, said: “You’re not just documenting human rights abuses so you can bring someone to justice in The Hague three years later.” The question is “can you provide tactical data for people to act on and get out of harm’s way?”, the Monitor quoted him as saying.

Source: Deccan Herald