Satellites Help Spot Human Rights Abuses in Burma

Satellites Help Spot Human Rights Abuses in Burma

In the past week, up to 200 of people have died in Burma in the government's violent suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations, according to various reports. But thousands more in Burma are routinely forcibly relocated and their villages burned by the army in an ongoing campaign against the country's ethnic minorities. Now the Washington, D.C.-based American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is using commercially provided satellite imagery to catalogue the abuses.

The AAAS' "Science and Human Rights Project," funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Open Society Institute, released a report Sept. 28 that documents the destruction of rural villages and the swelling of new villages and refugee camps overseen by government troops. The idea, according to Society scientist Mona Younis, is to get scientists and technologists to "think creatively about how to hold government accountable for human rights." The project began in 2005 and is funded through 2009.

In its first three years, Science and Human Rights has charted forced relocations in Zimbabwe, war damage in Lebanon and genocide in Darfur, correlating on-the-ground reporting from aid groups with high-resolution imagery to product evidence that, according to senior program associate Lars Bromley, is admissible in court. Indeed, the project's Zimbabwe findings have played a key role in victims' legal challenges and in the penning of several U.N. resolutions.

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