How do you document destruction in a particular region when the government and its militia forces have restricted access to tourists, journalists, and even humanitarian organizations? Go over their heads—literally.
Robin Mejia, a former CIR correspondent, writes in the Washington Post magazine about a unique project that uses satellites with high resolution cameras to capture images of razed and burned villages in Africa and Asia. The project is a collaboration between Amnesty International and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The process has been most useful in tracking violence in Sudan’s Darfur region, where the satellite photos show a marked contrast between the distinctive round huts that make up traditional Sudanese villages and the black swaths of burned land that today cut across Darfur. As Mejia reports, the activists hope that the revealing photos will bolster pending claims of destruction in the International Criminal Court which Sudan has ignored in the past, citing a lack of evidence. They also hope that the images will send a message to the Sudanese government that the international community is watching—the project is currently building an archive of current pictures of existing villages that are believed to be threatened.
Amnesty believes that it can use the same methodology in other regions with civil strife, but each situation presents its own unique challenges. Take Burma, for example, where the activists hope that the images will prove that the government has targeted villages of the Karen, an ethnic minority that lives in the jungle. There, the project faces an obstacle that not even satellites can penetrate: the cloud cover of the impending monsoon season.