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.
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.
One dilemma that faces practitioners serving on monitoring, reporting, and fact-finding (MRF) missions concerns the protection of witnesses, victims, and staff. The paradox underlying the issue of protection is that, while statements from witnesses and victims account for the predominant evidence when investigating human rights violations, the very fact that victims and witnesses decide to come forward and contribute to the establishment of the truth can put these individuals at risk. Another dilemma emanates from the ad hoc nature of such missions, in contrast with the need to ensure protection on a long-term scale. In the often-volatile contexts in which MRF missions typically operate, security risks also arise for MRF staff members participating in on-the-ground operations. This paper analyzes how past MRF missions, whether commissioned by ad hoc bodies or by the UN, have grappled with these risks. The paper examines the sources of the obligations to protect witnesses, victims, and staff; the nature of the threats that could arise; the protective steps that have been taken; and the measures that could be taken by MRF professionals in the future. As this paper demonstrates, often a divide exists between aspirational notions of best practice and the reality of what can be delivered, leaving MRF practitioners frequently uncertain about the lengths and limits of their protective responsibilities.
The Georgetown Journal of International Affairs published an article authored by Signal Program staff in which they detail the technology, perceived impact and lessons learned from running operations for the Satellite Sentinel Project. This inside assessment of the Satellite Sentinel Project has been offered open source by the journal in order to inform humanitarian practitioners, scholars and the public.
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 mandate interpretation process is crucial to the implementation of fact-finding missions geared toward investigating alleged violations of international law, including human rights, international criminal law, and international humanitarian law. However, many disagreements exist about how fact-finding practitioners should weigh different factors in their mandate interpretation processes. This article—based in part on extensive interviews conducted by the author with fact-finding practitioners—examines areas of methodological agreement and disagreement, trends of professional decision making, and normative perceptions that practitioners hold about best practices regarding the interpretation of fact-finding mandates. Overall, the article aims to highlight points of convergence and divergence between past professional experiences and to illuminate the benefits and risks of different methodological choices.
The design and planning process is crucial to the implementation of monitoring, reporting, and fact-finding (MRF) mechanisms geared toward investigating violations of international law, including human rights, international criminal law, and international humanitarian law. However, many disagreements exist about how MRF actors should weigh different factors in their design and planning decision-making processes. This paper — to provide a point of reference indicating the implications of different methodological choices — examines areas of methodological agreement and disagreement, trends of professional decision-making, and normative perceptions that practitioners hold about best practices regarding the design and planning of MRF mechanisms. Based on an assessment of fifteen MRF missions implemented over the past decade, this paper analyzes how commissioners on these missions interpreted the mission’s investigative scope, examines the factors that guided decisions about the activities that the mission would undertake, and offers an overview of common staffing dilemmas. Overall, the paper aims to present a portrait of the state of MRF practice, in terms of how practitioners approach fulfilling their mandates.
This working paper examines how monitoring, reporting, and fact-finding (MRF) missions have responded to challenges regarding public communication and report drafting. Overall, the paper aims to present a portrait of the views and practices of the MRF community — as well as the implications of different approaches — regarding transparency. What should MRF practitioners communicate publicly? What information should be kept private? When a mission does communicate publicly, how should practitioners do so? What factors should shape practitioners’ communications strategies? How should these factors influence the ways that practitioners approach drafting MRF reports? This paper examines these questions, which — given that the effectiveness of an MRF mission hinges on the ability of commissioners to foster positive public perceptions of the mission’s credibility — are crucial to the overall success of the domain of MRF.
This project rigorously evaluated programming that addresses stigma against survivors. In this program evaluation, the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative’s Women in War program worked with the Congolese NGO, Centre d’Assistance Medico-Psychosociale (CAMPS) to assess which parts of their programming are most effective and how to continue to improve services related to reducing stigma.
As cities, especially coastal megacities, continue to grow often through rapid unplanned urbanization, populations are increasingly concentrated in climate change-affected hazard-prone spaces. How these populations interact with their environments will ultimately influence their vulnerability to climate-related disaster. Yet the interdependence between human and environmental systems, especially in the urban slum context, is under-researched and represents an important gap in our understanding. Using a socio-ecological system approach provides a holistic framework to understand vulnerability.
During armed conflict in East and Central Africa civilian dwellings are intentionally targeted and razed. These traditional civilian dwellings are known as tukuls which are primarily mud and thatch huts.
The intentional destruction of these dwellings, given their prevalence in these regions, is often one of the only available indicators of the intentional targeting of civilians observable in satellite imagery.
This field has lacked accepted methodologies for performing this type of analysis. This guide is the first to focus on tukuls because they are a uniquely valuable metric for both documenting attacks on civilians during armed conflicts and assessing potential mass displacement that can result from these incidents.
This guide is the second in a series of Satellite Imagery Interpretation Guides. Future satellite imagery interpretation guides from the Signal Program may focus on other, related phenomena and structures present in similar operational contexts.
Satellite Imagery Interpretation Guide: Displaced Population Camps is intended to help address the absence of public and standardized training resources for those seeking to use high resolution satellite imagery in support of refugee/IDP assistance operations. Students, general audiences, and volunteers studying and analyzing satellite imagery of displaced population camps may find this training resource beneficial.
The guide provides case studies of displaced population camps in East Africa and the Middle East. Dimensions, colors, shapes, and, when possible, unique identifying features of objects, including civilian shelters and humanitarian agency infrastructure, visible in high resolution imagery of the camps are identified. Objects are organized according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs humanitarian cluster system and three other categories unique to this guide. Imagery provided by Google's Skybox Imaging for the creation of this guide can be explored online by following the directions included inside the report.
At present, accepted methodologies for wind disaster damage assessments rely almost exclusively on responders having ground access to the affected area to document damage to housing structures. This approach can prove both time consuming and inefficient, and does not support the use of drones and satellites.
Geospatially-based damage assessments offer potential improvements to this process in terms of providing responding agencies with previously unavailable information about hard to reach, often non-permissive environments, at a scale and speed not possible through ground-based counts of damaged structures.
This guide provides the first standard method for conducting these types of damage assessments through the analysis of drone and satellite imagery. The “BAR Methodology” has been developed by the Signal Program on Human Security and Technology at HHI to address this critical gap in this evolving area humanitarian practice.