HHI's research on Technology and Innovation examines the impact of emerging technologies on the humanitarian field, focusing on both ethical and technical considerations. Explore the individual programs below to learn more about this work.
Leverages the potential of geospatial data and analytics to introduce new ways of thinking, identify targets for micro-planning and research, and optimize resource allocation for cost-effective programming
The goal of this paper is to identify and address current gaps, challenges and opportunities that face the humanitarian sector as it seeks to apply traditional humanitarian principles to the increasingly central role information communication technologies (ICTs) play in 21st Century humanitarian operations. While much has been written about the roles ICTs may play in support of humanitarian action, there is an absence of literature addressing how core humanitarian principles should guide, limit, and shape the use of these technologies in practice.
This article documents the development and initial use case of the GRID (Ground Reporting through Imagery Delivery) methodology by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI). GRID was created to support corroboration of witness testimony of mass atrocity related-events using satellite imagery analysis. A repeating analytic limitation of employing imagery for this purpose is that differences in the geographic knowledge of a witness and an imagery analyst can limit or impede corroboration.
The aim of this article is to highlight potential methods applicable to a standard forensic approach for the analysis of high-resolution satellite imagery that may contain evidence of alleged mass atrocities. The primary method employed is the retrospective analysis of a case study involving the use of high-resolution satellite imagery analysis to document alleged mass atrocities. The case study utilized herein is the Satellite Sentinel Project’s reporting on the May 2011 sacking of Abyei Town by Government of Sudan-aligned armed actors. In the brief case study, categories of objects, patterns of activities, and types of alleged mass atrocity events are applied the Abyei Town incident.
Remote sensing can provide unique, sometimes otherwise unavailable, information about human rights violations occurring in non-permissive environments, over large geographic areas, and across long and multiple timeframes. The evidentiary potential of RS analysis currently appears not to be fully exploited by international criminal justice mechanisms. The purpose of this paper is (A) to illustrate the nature of RS analysis and its evidentiary potential and limitations, (B) to identify the key, repeating factors across regional and cultural contexts and types of crimes that influence its limited use in court, and (C) to explore steps and strategies for overcoming the challenges.
The Signal Program on Human Security and Technology at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative has released its first study, Sudan: Anatomy of a Conflict. This study is the first geospatial-based history of a conflict created primarily through a fusion of remote sensing and previously public event data. The researchers of the Signal Program spent many months cross-referencing and analyzing over 40,000 square kilometers of archival satellite imagery of Sudan with more than 2,000 published reports of incidents occurring between January 2011 and mid-2012. Key findings of the study include evidence of the apparent intentional destruction of more than 2,000 civilian dwellings and other structures; the intentional targeting and destruction of four humanitarian facilities; identification of specific armed actors, units, and chains-of-command allegedly involved in specific attacks in Sudan; and evidence of the mass displacement of civilian populations.
At the evolving frontier of modern humanitarianism, non-governmental organizations are using satellite technology to monitor mass atrocities. As a documentation tool, satellites have the potential to collect important real-time evidence for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, the field remains experimental and ill-defined, while useful court evidence cannot be produced without a standard methodology and code of ethics. In this paper, members of the groundbreaking Satellite Sentinel Project review the historical development of satellite documentation and some of its landmark projects, and propose necessary measures to advance the field forward.