Satellite Imagery Offers Glimpse on Sri Lankan War Zone

Before and After: Right image (May 10) shows significant removal of IDP shelters compared to left image (May 6). Copyright 2009 DigitalGlobe.

Before and After: Right image (May 10) shows significant removal of IDP shelters compared to left image (May 6). Copyright 2009 DigitalGlobe.

New satellite imagery analysis released by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) offers a glimpse on Sri Lanka’s northeastern war zone. The analysis – initially requested by Amnesty International USA and Human Rights Watch – compares two images from May 6 and May 10, 2009, in order to produce additional evidence on the recent attacks. It “reveals evidence of probable artillery shelling as well as major population displacement”, according to a press release by AAAS. The images show numerous possible shell impact craters and destroyed houses. The most visible feature of the image comparison is the removal of thousands of likely IDP shelters from the central part of the so-called “Safe Zone” between May 6 and May 10. The image analysis shows several new possible shell craters primarily in the area of removed IDP structures.

This image shows apparent impact craters in the “Safe Zone” on May 10, 2009, which were not present in the May 6 image. Copyright 2009 DigitalGlobe.

This image shows apparent impact craters in the “Safe Zone” on May 10, 2009, which were not present in the May 6 image. Copyright 2009 DigitalGlobe.

Over the weekend, more than 400 people – including more than 100 children – are reported to have been killed in a two-day bombardment of the 2 square kilometre area designated as a “Safe Zone” by the Sri Lankan army. Both sides have been accused of the attacks, with neither side taking responsibility. It is hard to determine who actually shelled the area, let alone the exact death toll or number of civilians in harm’s way, because journalists and outside organizations, except for the International Committee of the Red Cross, are not allowed in the area.  As a result, this has been dubbed a “war without witnesses“. On Sunday, the government deported a British news team, further weakening the transparency.

Despite calls from the UN to halt the bloodshed and protect civilians, reports today claimed that a school in the area that was converted to a makeshift hospital has been shelled, killing 47 and wounding more than 50. The hospital was housing many of the wounded from this weekend’s attacks. Many of those injured over the weekend were scheduled to be evacuated by the International Committee of the Red Cross today, as food and medical supplies are scarce, but this was unable to happen due to the continuation of heavy artillery fighting. In recent weeks, almost 200,000 civilians have fled the L.T.T.E. controlled area. The L.T.T.E must ensure that those civilians remaining in the area are protected, provided with basic necessities, and given the option to leave. In addition, the Sri Lankan government must end indiscriminate attacks on civilians and allow aid agencies and independent observers – including journalists – into the region so that the crisis is portrayed in a transparent way and those responsible for human rights violations can be held accountable.

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55 thoughts on “Satellite Imagery Offers Glimpse on Sri Lankan War Zone

  1. From AAAS press release:
    (…)
    “The narrow peninsula that makes up the civilian safety zone in Sri Lanka clearly has undergone very dramatic physical changes,” said Lars Bromley, director of the AAAS Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights project, part of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program. “By comparing before-and-after satellite images, we were able to see a significant movement of the region’s human population, suggesting widespread displacement. We also saw destroyed structures and circular, crater-like features consistent with widespread shelling.”

    Bromley emphasized that his image analysis remains preliminary. “This fast-turnaround interpretation of three satellite images should not be considered definitive,” he said, adding that he hopes other researchers will now review his assessments. “We also have no way of knowing what groups or events might have triggered the destruction and displacements that we see in the images.”
    (…)
    However, said Bromley’s colleague, AAAS Senior Project Coordinator Jonathan Drake, “People generally don’t move in the numbers we’re observing unless they’re being forced to do so.”

    The Defense Ministry of Sri Lanka issued a statement contending that rebels were “bombarding their own civilians.” Other sources have accused the government of shelling the civilian-populated region, which was declared a no-fire zone on 12 February. Journalists have meanwhile reported being banned or ejected from the region.

  2. From AAAS press release:
    (…)
    “The narrow peninsula that makes up the civilian safety zone in Sri Lanka clearly has undergone very dramatic physical changes,” said Lars Bromley, director of the AAAS Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights project, part of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program. “By comparing before-and-after satellite images, we were able to see a significant movement of the region’s human population, suggesting widespread displacement. We also saw destroyed structures and circular, crater-like features consistent with widespread shelling.”

    Bromley emphasized that his image analysis remains preliminary. “This fast-turnaround interpretation of three satellite images should not be considered definitive,” he said, adding that he hopes other researchers will now review his assessments. “We also have no way of knowing what groups or events might have triggered the destruction and displacements that we see in the images.”
    (…)
    However, said Bromley’s colleague, AAAS Senior Project Coordinator Jonathan Drake, “People generally don’t move in the numbers we’re observing unless they’re being forced to do so.”

    The Defense Ministry of Sri Lanka issued a statement contending that rebels were “bombarding their own civilians.” Other sources have accused the government of shelling the civilian-populated region, which was declared a no-fire zone on 12 February. Journalists have meanwhile reported being banned or ejected from the region.

  3. Pingback: Latest satellite images reveals evidence of SL’s continuing use of heavy weaponry in ‘no fire safe zone’ « Australian Tamils ‘Fast unto Action’ to call for a Ceasefire in Sri Lanka

  4. War without witness. I am not sure what that means. Amnesty and people who support to keep a humane world are witnesses. Like Michael Franti says you know you are not alone. we are a witness and we are the people.

  5. War without witness. I am not sure what that means. Amnesty and people who support to keep a humane world are witnesses. Like Michael Franti says you know you are not alone. we are a witness and we are the people.

  6. You can tell which side (Govt or LTTE, or both) did the shelling through an analysis of the impact craters. Having served in the military myself, I assure you that there are experts who can determine the size of the shells used and which direction the shells came from. Such an analysis with knowledge of existing artillery emplacements via satellite photos and military records will greatly aid in this process.

  7. Please take action to stop killing Tamil civilians by Srilankan armed forces.
    Please……….

  8. You can tell which side (Govt or LTTE, or both) did the shelling through an analysis of the impact craters. Having served in the military myself, I assure you that there are experts who can determine the size of the shells used and which direction the shells came from. Such an analysis with knowledge of existing artillery emplacements via satellite photos and military records will greatly aid in this process.

  9. Please take action to stop killing Tamil civilians by Srilankan armed forces.
    Please……….

  10. The old saying is "Sweep Around Your Own Front Door Before You Sweep Around Mind".

    How can a president tell someone how to round their country when the U.S in not in order?

    President and Vice President- Get your priorities straight. We have abuse, poverty, homelessness………….

    Clean It Up!

  11. The old saying is “Sweep Around Your Own Front Door Before You Sweep Around Mind”.

    How can a president tell someone how to round their country when the U.S in not in order?

    President and Vice President- Get your priorities straight. We have abuse, poverty, homelessness………….

    Clean It Up!

  12. In regards to the comment made by Pamela Lichele Lewis:

    President Obama just came into administration. It will take some time to sort through and clean up the mess Bush left behind. Please be patient and you will see some change.

  13. Well when people are dying everyday, losing their homes, jobs, family because of government's negligence, there is not time to be patience.

    Typing errors above:

    "Mines"
    "When the U.S. is not"

  14. In regards to the comment made by Pamela Lichele Lewis:

    President Obama just came into administration. It will take some time to sort through and clean up the mess Bush left behind. Please be patient and you will see some change.

  15. Well when people are dying everyday, losing their homes, jobs, family because of government’s negligence, there is not time to be patience.

    Typing errors above:

    “Mines”
    “When the U.S. is not”

  16. 25,000 injured victims are crying out for medical help. No other catastrophe is as great as this now. It goes against the conscience of the world to not send a rescue operation to save civilians trapped and dying every minute. This is not the time for debate, action that has been delayed for five months must be delivered now. Amnesty, please record all the images of atrocities for meting out justice. Thank you

  17. 25,000 injured victims are crying out for medical help. No other catastrophe is as great as this now. It goes against the conscience of the world to not send a rescue operation to save civilians trapped and dying every minute. This is not the time for debate, action that has been delayed for five months must be delivered now. Amnesty, please record all the images of atrocities for meting out justice. Thank you

  18. During 37 years with more than 70,000 victims, there are so many losses. And when the one side claimed that they are the winner but actually they lose..the WAR however means DEFEAT, defeat to fight their own self who can't control their anger. There are so many ways to solve the problems not solely to force the will. So pls STOP the war and do action to help the peoples are trapped in the war. They need foods, medicines, and safeness..they suffered physically and psychic. And Amnesty pls record the images, it would help.

  19. During 37 years with more than 70,000 victims, there are so many losses. And when the one side claimed that they are the winner but actually they lose..the WAR however means DEFEAT, defeat to fight their own self who can’t control their anger. There are so many ways to solve the problems not solely to force the will. So pls STOP the war and do action to help the peoples are trapped in the war. They need foods, medicines, and safeness..they suffered physically and psychic. And Amnesty pls record the images, it would help.

  20. Srilankan govt should be brought to war crime tribunal.It cannot be trusted to look after Tamil's interest.God save Srilankan Tamils!!!

  21. Srilankan govt should be brought to war crime tribunal.It cannot be trusted to look after Tamil’s interest.God save Srilankan Tamils!!!

  22. The slaughter of Tamils over the weekend is unparalleled in the brutality unleashed by the Sinhalese Government since independence. Over two thousand Tamil lives were snuffed out in a hail of artillery shells and bombs in plain sight of the International Community.

    With theories of ‘internal conflict’ and ‘terrorism’, one is unable to comprehend how the Sinhala state could tread the Devil’s path in annihilating the Tamils. The International Community has knowingly and deliberately allowed the slaughter to proceed in the ‘NO FIRE ZONE’. By Sri Lankan standards, in the ideological fixation of’ fighting terrorism’ and ‘ending armed conflict’ by destroying the Liberation Tigers, any number of Tamil civilians is expendable.

    In doing so, Mahinda has made it possible that there is only one solution for us now in an independent, sovereign state of Tamil Eelam.

  23. The slaughter of Tamils over the weekend is unparalleled in the brutality unleashed by the Sinhalese Government since independence. Over two thousand Tamil lives were snuffed out in a hail of artillery shells and bombs in plain sight of the International Community.

    With theories of ‘internal conflict’ and ‘terrorism’, one is unable to comprehend how the Sinhala state could tread the Devil’s path in annihilating the Tamils. The International Community has knowingly and deliberately allowed the slaughter to proceed in the ‘NO FIRE ZONE’. By Sri Lankan standards, in the ideological fixation of’ fighting terrorism’ and ‘ending armed conflict’ by destroying the Liberation Tigers, any number of Tamil civilians is expendable.

    In doing so, Mahinda has made it possible that there is only one solution for us now in an independent, sovereign state of Tamil Eelam.

  24. What about the survivers of the longest US penial lockdown at Cider Juntion Walpole Ma.1996?????????????????????????????????????????????????? What about us?????? 9 Block , Bristal 2 , Essex 1 , 10 block? what about us ? American citcens? I was gulty but did I derserve to be tortured? what the hell is the point of Two years psycotherpy. when the end result is permission to take human life?

  25. What about the survivers of the longest US penial lockdown at Cider Juntion Walpole Ma.1996?????????????????????????????????????????????????? What about us?????? 9 Block , Bristal 2 , Essex 1 , 10 block? what about us ? American citcens? I was gulty but did I derserve to be tortured? what the hell is the point of Two years psycotherpy. when the end result is permission to take human life?

  26. I am victim of LTTE terrorism for many years. They took my children forcefully to their army. Killed my next door man because he did not give money for terror work. All area in north have bomb caters. This no fire zone was a fire zone before it was told a no fire zone. Now we can live in peace because no LTTE

  27. I am victim of LTTE terrorism for many years. They took my children forcefully to their army. Killed my next door man because he did not give money for terror work. All area in north have bomb caters. This no fire zone was a fire zone before it was told a no fire zone. Now we can live in peace because no LTTE

  28. Genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka http://www.voiceagainstgenocide.org/vag/
    More than 100,000 Tamil men, women and children Killed or Disappeared
    Nearly 1 Million Tamils made to flee the country
    More than 600,000 Tamil Internal Refugees (Internally Displaced or Evicted)
    More than 20,000 Tamil orphaned children
    More than 35,000 Tamil widows
    Thousands of families (including infants, 22 UN staffs) in barbed wire fenced concentration camps operated by Sri Lankan Military.
    Half a million Tamils kept in an open prison in Northern Sri Lanka
    Thousands in custody – detention without trial, other widespread abuses
    Economic embargo imposed on traditional Tamil areas for more than 2 decades Supply of food, medicine, fuel, electricity and other essential items controlled by the Military Forced Starvation Mass Graves and systematic violations of fundamental human rights remain uninvestigated No International Media allowed into conflict areas Systematic destruction of Infrastructure
    Indiscriminate and wanton air attacks on traditional Tamil areas for more than 2 decades. Hundreds of thousands of livelyhoods and schools, hospitals, libraries, temples, churches, houses, villages destroyed

  29. Genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka http://www.voiceagainstgenocide.org/vag/
    More than 100,000 Tamil men, women and children Killed or Disappeared
    Nearly 1 Million Tamils made to flee the country
    More than 600,000 Tamil Internal Refugees (Internally Displaced or Evicted)
    More than 20,000 Tamil orphaned children
    More than 35,000 Tamil widows
    Thousands of families (including infants, 22 UN staffs) in barbed wire fenced concentration camps operated by Sri Lankan Military.
    Half a million Tamils kept in an open prison in Northern Sri Lanka
    Thousands in custody – detention without trial, other widespread abuses
    Economic embargo imposed on traditional Tamil areas for more than 2 decades Supply of food, medicine, fuel, electricity and other essential items controlled by the Military Forced Starvation Mass Graves and systematic violations of fundamental human rights remain uninvestigated No International Media allowed into conflict areas Systematic destruction of Infrastructure
    Indiscriminate and wanton air attacks on traditional Tamil areas for more than 2 decades. Hundreds of thousands of livelyhoods and schools, hospitals, libraries, temples, churches, houses, villages destroyed

  30. Genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka http://www.voiceagainstgenocide.org/vag/
    More than 100,000 Tamil men, women and children Killed or Disappeared
    Nearly 1 Million Tamils made to flee the country
    More than 600,000 Tamil Internal Refugees (Internally Displaced or Evicted)
    More than 20,000 Tamil orphaned children
    More than 35,000 Tamil widows
    Thousands of families (including infants, 22 UN staffs) in barbed wire fenced concentration camps operated by Sri Lankan Military.
    Half a million Tamils kept in an open prison in Northern Sri Lanka
    Thousands in custody – detention without trial, other widespread abuses
    Economic embargo imposed on traditional Tamil areas for more than 2 decades Supply of food, medicine, fuel, electricity and other essential items controlled by the Military Forced Starvation Mass Graves and systematic violations of fundamental human rights remain uninvestigated No International Media allowed into conflict areas Systematic destruction of Infrastructure
    Indiscriminate and wanton air attacks on traditional Tamil areas for more than 2 decades. Hundreds of thousands of livelyhoods and schools, hospitals, libraries, temples, churches, houses, villages destroyed

  31. Genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka
    http://www.voiceagainstgenocide.org/vag/
    More than 100,000 Tamil men, women and children Killed or Disappeared
    Nearly 1 Million Tamils made to flee the country
    More than 600,000 Tamil Internal Refugees (Internally Displaced or Evicted)
    More than 20,000 Tamil orphaned children
    More than 35,000 Tamil widows
    Thousands of families (including infants, 22 UN staffs) in barbed wire fenced concentration camps operated by Sri Lankan Military.
    Half a million Tamils kept in an open prison in Northern Sri Lanka
    Thousands in custody – detention without trial, other widespread abuses
    Economic embargo imposed on traditional Tamil areas for more than 2 decades Supply of food, medicine, fuel, electricity and other essential items controlled by the Military Forced Starvation Mass Graves and systematic violations of fundamental human rights remain uninvestigated No International Media allowed into conflict areas Systematic destruction of Infrastructure
    Indiscriminate and wanton air attacks on traditional Tamil areas for more than 2 decades. Hundreds of thousands of livelyhoods and schools, hospitals, libraries, temples, churches, houses, villages destroyed