About Christoph Koettl

Christoph Koettl is the Emergency Response Manager at Amnesty International USA and works on urgent human rights situations such as armed conflicts and large scale repressions of civil society. In his work he focuses on exploring the intersection of technology and human rights and specializes in utilizing geospatial technologies such as satellite imagery or interactive maps for human rights research and advocacy. He previously worked and studied in Austria, the Netherlands and Italy and holds an MA in International Relations from Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). His expertise is in International Humanitarian Law, conflict analysis, crisis mapping, video validation and social media forensics and he is a regular speaker on technology and human rights. He has testified on war crimes in Sri Lanka before the United States Congress and his work is covered regularly by numerous national and international media, including Associated Press, BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera and Reuters.
Author RSS Feed
Follow @ckoettl on Twitter

Why The New Investigation Into North Korean Human Rights Violations Matters

This posting is part of the North Korea Revealed blogging series, published in the context of efforts to establish a Commission of Inquiry at the current session of the UN Human Rights Council (February 25 – March 22). Join the conversation through #NKRevealed.

With overwhelming support from member states, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva today established a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the deplorable human rights conditions in North Korea. Today’s development should be considered a milestone for international justice. While an independent investigation will not yield the ultimate impact we want—the much-needed closure of the political prison camps—it represents a crucial first step in uncovering the widespread and systematic nature of the crimes, and could ultimately lead to holding the perpetrators accountable. As an immediate impact, the commission has the potential to pressure North Korean officials to end their outright denial of the existence of the camps. We heavily campaigned for this outcome over the last few months – by putting the vast network of political prison camps on the map, uncovering a new security zone next to the infamous Camp 14, and most importantly, by sharing the powerful stories of survivors of the forgotten prisons, with the world.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Inside Syria: Documenting The War On Civilians

Citizen video coming out of Syria continues to uncover abuses that would otherwise go unnoticed (Photo Credit: ZAC BAILLIE/AFP/Getty Images)

Citizen video coming out of Syria continues to uncover abuses that would otherwise go unnoticed (Photo Credit: ZAC BAILLIE/AFP/Getty Images)

As the Syrian crisis hits its two-year mark, the toll on civilians continues to grow exponentially. Peaceful protests that started in March 2011 were quickly met by government authorities responding with deadly force, leading to systematic and widespread human rights violations amounting to crimes against humanity. Followed by the escalation into a full-fledged armed conflict by mid-2012, today, both government and armed opposition forces continue pursuing a military solution to the conflict. Caught in the middle are civilians, paying a horrendous price for this deadly stalemate.

Based on field research conducted over the last weeks, an Amnesty researcher inside Syria uncovered new evidence of the government’s assault on civilians, and its outright disregard for the laws of war. This is most dramatically symbolized by the government’s recent ballistic missile strikes against eastern Aleppo, flattening entire blocks and killing 160 residents; or by the increased use of internationally banned cluster bombs.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Is North Korea Turning Into One Big Prison?

(c) DigitalGlobe 2013. Panchromatic Imagery, February 7, 2013. 39 38 02 N, 125 59 52 E

(c) DigitalGlobe 2013. Panchromatic Imagery, February 7, 2013. 39 38 02 N, 125 59 52 E

This posting is part of the North Korea Revealed blogging series, published in the context of efforts to establish a Commission of Inquiry at the current session of the UN Human Rights Council (February 25 – March 22). Join the conversation through #NKRevealed.

Amnesty International is releasing new satellite images today that raise fears that the North Korean government is starting to blur the line between the country’s horrendous political prison camps and regular villages. This disturbing new development gives further fuel to a previous warning by a UN expert that authorities are turning the country into “one big prison,” and stress the urgent need for the UN Human Rights Council to establish an independent Commission of Inquiry.

We commissioned satellite imagery analysis from DigitalGlobe after reading reports about a potential new political prison camp. The original speculations were based on Google Earth satellite imagery from the fall of 2011. We were able to secure imagery from February 2013, allowing us to provide the most up-to-date snapshot possible of worrisome developments in a valley adjacent to prison camp 14.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

North Korea: Stories From The Forgotten Prisons

Explore the system of political prison camps in North Korea

Explore the system of political prison camps in North Korea

This is the first of several postings of the North Korea Revealed blogging series, published in the context of efforts to establish a Commission of Inquiry at the current session of the UN Human Rights Council (February 25 – March 22). Join the conversation through #NKRevealed.

I was born in North Korea in 1982. I was born in a political prison camp (…) and lived there until I escaped in 2005 (…) I was born to an imprisoned mother and father. —Shin Dong-hyuk, the only known North Korean born in a political prison camp to have escaped.

Shin’s shocking story personifies the horrors of North Korea’s vast network of political prison camps, believed to house over a hundred thousand prisoners. His story is emblematic for the daily forced hard labor, calculated starvation and torture that prisoners have to endure. It also reflects the system of collective punishment that results in the incarceration of several generations of one family, often for life. You can hear more from Shin on a new video playlist, together with testimonies of other escapees and exiles. Their voices urge immediate action to stop the horrors of the prison camps. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Twitter to the Rescue? How Social Media is Transforming Human Rights Monitoring

Syrian youths, inside a vehicle, film a protest against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with their phones in the northern city of Aleppo.

Syrian youths, inside a vehicle, film a protest against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with their phones in the northern city of Aleppo on October 12, 2012. (Photo: TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images)

Social media is increasingly helpful to not only monitor emerging human rights emergencies, but also to uncover incorrect information. A recent example is when Twitter helped me to spot incorrect contextual information on a newly uploaded execution video from Syria. This is just one instance in which crowdsourced expertise from social media can open up new opportunities for human rights organizations. Having that said, the challenges and pitfalls are numerous. I thought about these issues a lot while preparing for a Truthloader debate last week on how citizen journalism is changing the world. Current case in point is the upcoming elections in Kenya, which are probably the best (citizen) monitored elections in history.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

UN Alarmed Over Syrian Humanitarian Funding Shortfall

Humanitarian Aid for Syria.

Humanitarian Aid for Syria. Click to explore interactive map.

Ahead of a crucial donors conference for Syria tomorrow, UN officials are warning of a funding shortfall that severely might affect the response to the spiraling humanitarian crisis. John Ging, the Director of Operations for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), cited “a funding shortfall that is affecting the ability of the UN and its partners to deliver vital assistance, including food, water and medical supplies”, according to the UN News Centre.

Already last week, Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos, urged more funding ahead of the donors conference:

We also need more resources. The humanitarian community has requested US$1.5 billion to help displaced people and the communities hosting them in Syria – and in neighbouring countries – for the next six months.

There is a funding conference on the 30th of this month, in Kuwait, which will be hosted by the Secretary-General of the UN and the Emir of Kuwait. We hope that the conference will yield the resources we need. If we do not receive these funds, we will not be able to reach the poorest and most vulnerable families who so desperately need our help.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Fleeing Syria: Entire Towns Empty As Refugee Crisis Grows

Syrian refugee map

The UN is expecting up to one million Syrian refugees by mid 2013. Click to explore full map.

Faced with shelling and shortages of food, water and fuel, civilians have fled their homes, becoming refugees in neighboring countries or finding themselves internally displaced. Towns and villages across Latakia, Idlib, Hama and Dara’a governorates have been effectively emptied of their populations. Entire neighbourhoods in southern and eastern Damascus, Deir al-Zour and Aleppo have been razed. The downtown of Homs city has been devastated.
—Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria. December 20, 2012.

The impact of Syria’s spiraling conflict can be increasingly seen in neighboring countries, as indiscriminate attacks are sending hundreds of thousands of Syrians fleeing from their homes across borders in search of safety and shelter. According to the latest update from the Independent International inquiry on Syria—released just hours ago—entire towns and villages have been emptied of their populations. The intensified fighting around Damascus and the mounting atrocities across the country are accompanied by increasing reports of sectarian violence. While we can’t predict the outcome of the conflict, one thing seems certain: the cycle of violence and displacement of civilians will go on for months. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Snapshot Of The Surging Violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State

Rakhine, Myanmar

Hundreds of homes were destroyed in the city of Kyaukphyu, Rakhine state. This Digital Globe satellite image from October 25th captures the aftermath. (c) DigitalGlobe 2012

In the Rakhine state (also called “Arakan” by some) of Myanmar, the unfortunate evolution of discrimination, unequal application of the law, and forced displacement into violence and humanitarian crisis has come to bear. Since June, fits of violence between Buddhist and Muslim Rakhine, and Muslim Rohingya communities have likely left tens of thousands displaced and scores dead.

In the most recent incident of ethnic clashes, thousands of Rohingya muslim, but also Rakhine Buddhist, homes have reportedly been burned down. Part of the destruction was captured by a satellite image (courtesy of Digital Globe): The image of Kyaukphyu from October 25 shows a cindery scar on the face of the earth where hundreds of homes used to be (see the area before the destruction here). SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Mali: Alarming New Reports Of Amputations And Child Soldiers

Explore the human rights and humanitarian situation in Mali

Armed conflict and political instability led to a human rights and humanitarian crisis

A few months ago, I blogged about the forgotten human rights crisis in Mali, where armed conflict and political instability created a severe vacuum for human rights protection. Today, the situation remains dire. While world leaders are discussing the situation at the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York this week, a quick fix seems elusive.

Civilians keep bearing the brunt of the current conflict: Amputations and other corporal punishments, sexual violence, daily harassment with the aim of imposing new moral codes, child soldiers, extra-judicial executions are ongoing violations against civilians.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Justice For Syria: How Satellites Can Help

helicopters aleppo syria

Suspected attack helicopters at Aleppo airport. (c) 2012 GeoEye, produced by AAAS

Newly released satellite images of Aleppo show a highly militarized city, with dozens of roadblocks throughout the city and military vehicles operating in its streets. We used satellite images a couple of months ago to ring the alarm over the increased risk of turning a highly populated area, such as Aleppo, into a battlefield. Our warning turned out to be justified. The weeks that followed saw indiscriminate attacks that have killed and injured scores of civilians in Aleppo and elsewhere in northern Syria.

Today’s analysis, released by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and based on imagery from August 9 and 23, provides a detailed follow up to our initial assessment from earlier in July. As the conflict in Syria escalates, the increased deployment of battlefield equipment and tactics in urban areas emerge in satellite images. Here are some of the key findings of the new analysis:
SEE THE REST OF THIS POST