How satellite technology is protecting human rights worldwide



Satellite imagery and remote sensing have become vital tools in exposing social injustice and human rights abuses, with powerful visual evidence gathered in Burundi, Nigeria, North Korea, Congo, Syria and Sudan.

In just one of a number of success stories around the world, recent satellite imagery has shown shown disturbed ground in Burundi which points to the presence of a mass grave. The evidence was supported by Amnesty International’s own investigations to ensure that the atrocity did not go undiscovered.

Amnesty said: “Compelling new satellite images, video footage and witness accounts analysed by Amnesty International strongly indicate that dozens of people killed by Burundian security forces in December were later buried in mass graves.

“Before and after images and video footage clearly show five possible mass graves in the Buringa area, on the outskirts of Bujumbura. The imagery, dating from late December and early January, shows disturbed earth consistent with witness accounts.

The Guardian reported that satellite technology has provided human rights organisations with a powerful tool to enhance their global impact. As a result, the technology has become central to their work.

The newspaper added: “The incredible aspect of this technology is that it gives human rights organisations like Amnesty International a kind of access-all-areas pass. Places where it might be impossible to get to on the ground for safety reasons, or a country with limited access like North Korea, can be reached with satellite imagery, aerial imagery and drone footage.”

Amnesty International said that it has pioneered the use of satellite images for human rights research and advocacy. It added: “Originally applied to document forced evictions and violations committed in the context of armed conflict, we have progressively tested and expanded the use of this tool.

“Importantly for efforts to secure justice and accountability for the gravest of crimes under international law, remote sensing is replicable, and offers evidentiary value as we move closer toward a system of international justice that minimises impunity for these grave crimes. These relatively new data – such as remote sensing data and corresponding analysis – cannot be intimidated or threatened, and enjoy permanence that allows for even retrospective documentation.”


Photo credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center on Flickr