Amnesty Now Using Satellites to Document Human Rights Abuses

August 15, 2012; Source: PBS NEWSHOUR

Amnesty International has added a new tool to its kit for fighting human rights violations around the world. As the United Nations charges that forces loyal to the Assad regime as well as (though to a lesser extent) the Syrian Free Army are committing crimes against humanity in Syria, Amnesty International has contracted with DigitalGlobe, a private satellite provider, to document the abuses from above as they occur.

In an interview with the PBS NEWSHOUR, Amnesty Managing Director for Crisis Prevention and Response Scott Edwards said that the organization has “to deal essentially with the fog of war when you’re dealing with civil conflict situations. And something that is incredibly valuable when you have high-risk security environments, where it’s difficult to get researchers on the ground to corroborate reports of human rights violations, is to rely on, essentially, ways to circumvent those information blackouts, such as satellite imagery.”

In addition to bringing some documentation to competing wartime claims from opposing sides, Edwards says that the satellite program has the ancillary benefit of letting people on the ground engaged in violence know that someone is watching, which he hopes may have a deterrence value. This photo essay from the NEWSHOUR offers examples of the satellite imagery itself.

Some may still associate Amnesty International primarily with letter-writing campaigns that seek to build pressure to stop human rights abuses. While that approach remains a crucial aspect of Amnesty’s work, this new satellite program indicates that the organization is also adapting new tactics enabled by modern technologies. What other nonprofits do you see embracing new technological approaches in service of a long-standing mission? –Mike Keefe-Feldman