Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Satellite Imaging and Mapping Helps Human Rights

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)—-with funding from the MacArthur Foundation, the Oak Foundation, and the Open Society Institute—-is expanding the application of geospatial technologies to human rights issues. AAAS is using satellite imagery, geographic information systems, global positioning systems, and other geographic mapping technology and software to track human rights abuses. Analysis of maps can provide information on conflict, indigenous rights, environmental and social justice issues, and other human rights violations. AAAS and Amnesty International used satellite imagery in 2007 to monitor threatened villages in Darfur and to provide evidence of atrocities being committed, such as the destruction of villages and burning of towns. These technologies offer strong evidence of abuses, and may influence policy makers, courts, and governments to take action.

The World Bank is also making use of global positioning systems to promote sustainable development. They distributed handheld GPS devices to Mbendjele Pygmies in the Republic of Congo so that they can map sacred trees, hunting grounds, and plants that they use for to survive. Anthropologist Jerome Lewis adapted the devices so they are more accessible by the Mbendjele Pygmies. The GPS maps guide loggers away from marked territory in order to preserve Pygmy territory. Whether or not this will actually prevent a larger ecological impact and lead to sustainable development remains to be seen.

AAAS – Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project

AAAS Press Release on Satellite-Based Human Rights Work

Ping Magazine Article on Mapping for Human Rights

Indigenous Group use GPS to Protect Congolese Forests