About Christoph Koettl

Christoph Koettl is an advisor and trainer for technology for human rights. He specializes in the use of satellite imagery and video in human rights investigations, and is the founder and editor of Amnesty International’s Citizen Evidence Lab, the first dedicated resource on social media authentication for human rights researchers. 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, video authentication and social media forensics. He feels passionate about crisismapping, digital storytelling and photography.
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Homs at Gunpoint: Satellites Track Assault on Syrian Cities

Field Guns Cropped

Field guns deployed at the Shinshar artillery base oriented towards Homs. DigitalGlobe Natural Color Image, Feb. 22, 2012, Shinshar artillery base, Shinshar, Syria, 34 36 23N 36 45 08E

Syrian authorities are continuously escalating tactics to ensure a complete media blackout, as witnessed last week by their deadly attack on a makeshift media center in Homs that killed and wounded several foreign journalists. To counter that blackout, Amnesty has secured satellite imagery to track developments on the ground and document human rights violations.

The images from Homs and Hama show clearly that armed forces have not been removed from residential areas, as demanded by the U.N. General Assembly resolution from mid February. In Hama, the images reveal an increase in military equipment over the last weeks, raising the specter of an impending assault on the city where the father of current President Bashar al-Assad unleashed a bloody 27-day assault three decades ago, with as many as 25,000 people killed. With reports of a ground assault underway in Homs, the analysis of imagery identifies military equipment and checkpoints throughout Homs, and field guns and mortars actively deployed and pointing at Homs. Additionally, the images show the shelling of residential areas in Homs, concentrated on the Bab ‘Amr neighborhood. Artillery impact craters are visible in large sections of Bab ‘Amr, from where we have received the names of hundreds killed throughout the period of intense shelling.

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Satellite Image Shows Homs On Fire

homs syria pipeline fire

Pipeline on fire in Homs, February 15. Source: (c) 2012 DigitalGlobe

In the latest blow to the beleaguered citizens of Homs, a pipeline close to the city exploded yesterday. Satellite images captured the magnitude of the fire and the thick smoke covering the city. The pipeline was reportedly on fire at the edge of Baba Amr district, a neighborhood that experienced some of the heaviest attacks by government forces.

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Syria: Why The Security Council Matters

Update: Take action now by urging the Russian government to join others on the UN Security Council in putting an end to the bloodshed in Syria.

The crisis in Syria has reached a pivotal point. The situation on the ground has sharply deteriorated over the last few days, prompting the Arab League to suspend its mission.

In New York, the UN Security Council will be briefed today by Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby, followed by a potential vote on a new draft resolution later this week. A Syrian activist currently based in the U.S. described this new development yesterday by stating: “It has become the last chance for the Security Council to act.”

I agree that it is high time for the Council to end its silence—if demands to end the serious and widespread human rights violations are front and center of the resolution. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

The Year of Rebellion

egypt demonstration protest

Demonstrators' resilience in 2011 has changed the regional context for human rights © AP Photo / Tarek Fawzy

This week, we  approach the first major anniversary of the popular uprisings that began to sweep through the Middle East and North Africa last year. On January 14, 2011, Tunisia’s long time president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, fled the country to Saudi Arabia. Since December Ben Ali has been on trial – in absentia – along with about 40 other senior officials, for the killing of protesters.

The following weeks will be marked by the anniversaries of uprisings and the resignations of repressive dictators who were ultimately swept away by “a power governments cannot suppress” (transporting a Howard Zinn term to a different region).

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How Many More Syrians Have To Die Before The UN Acts?

One of the many public actions mapped out on the Eyes on Syria map: Amnesty International Croatia demonstrated on July 20, 2011, in Zagreb to demanded an end to the bloodshed in Syria. © Amnesty International

Despite ongoing human rights violations, which we believe amount to crimes against humanity, the UN Security Council has shamefully failed the Syrian people so far. Several weeks ago, an already watered down resolution was vetoed by key members of the Security Council. Since this vote, the darkest hour of the Security Council in the context of the MENA uprisings, many more peaceful protesters were killed.

In recent weeks, we have also seen sporadic armed attacks by army defectors against government forces, raising the specter of a full blown civil war.

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Crisis Mapping 2011 – State Of The Art

Over the last years we have explored the use of Information and Communications Technologies for human rights research and campaigning, using satellite images to document human rights violations, ranging from attacks against civilians during armed conflict to housing demolitions, to the impact of oil spills on communities.

At Amnesty International we are looking more and more to expand our work, trying to take advantage of technological progress and new communications tools. We’re not alone.  Others around the world are also using cutting edge technologies to bring about change and many are meeting this week in Geneva at the annual Crisis Mappers conference.

So instead of writing my own blog entry, I thought I’d give you a peak on what’s happening in the world of crisis mapping.

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(S)Hell In The Niger Delta: Satellite Images Document Oil Spills

Bodo Nigeria Before-After

Right: (4 December 2006): A false-color image of the waterways around Bodo. Healthy vegetation appears bright red. Left: (26 January 2009): This image, taken during the second oil spill in Bodo, shows vegetation death concentrated mainly near the river and its tributaries. (c) 2011 GeoEye and Digital Globe (Produced by AAAS).

Newly released satellite images visualize the devastating impact of the 2008 oil spills in Bodo, Nigeria, part of a pattern of destruction by oil companies in the region.

The images from 2006, 2009 and 2011 document the destruction of large swathes of vegetation near Bodo’s riverbanks. The true and false-color satellite images show rainbow slicks in the water ways, discoloration of the intertidal zone and vegetation death around Bodo. Three years after the oil spills, the pollution is still visible in the images.

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Syrian Government Targets Wounded And Health Workers

A few weeks ago we reported how Syrian authorities went global with their repression by targeting Syrian activists abroad.

In a sign of further escalation, Syrian authorities have turned hospitals and medical staff into instruments of repression in their efforts to crush the unprecedented mass protests and demonstrations.

People wounded in protests or other incidents related to the uprising have been verbally abused and physically assaulted in state-run hospitals, including by medical staff, and in some cases denied medical care, in gross breach of medical ethics, and many of those taken to hospital have been detained.

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Repression Goes Global: Syrians in US Targeted By Syrian Embassies

Syrian Embassy in London

Syrian Embassy in London

While the United Nations Security Council keeps bickering and remains inactive, Syrian authorities go global with their repression of free speech and assembly.

By now it’s well documented by both NGOs and the United Nations that crimes committed by Syrian security forces against peaceful protesters may amount to crimes against humanity. Since mid-March, more than 2,200 people are reported to have been killed and thousands of others have been arrested.

However, now Syrian authorities are taking it to the next level. In more than four years of working on international human rights crises, I have never seen a foreign government systematically targeting peaceful protesters globally, which is exactly what the Syrian government is doing.

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UN Security Council: Stop Bickering And Vote For Human Rights In Syria

Will member states of the United Nations Security Council finally stop their bickering and start supporting the human rights of the Syrian people?

We might find out over the next 24 to 48 hours, as European member states circulated a new draft resolution to be voted on shortly. The new resolution was naturally watered down to appease opposition from Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa, who so far have opposed tough actions against the regime in Syria.

Death in custody case shocks the world

The human rights situation in Syria continues to be dire, most recently expemplified by the shocking story of eighteen-year-old Zainab al-Hosni of Homs who was decapitated, apparently while in custody of Syrian security forces. While an extreme case, her story is unfortunately hardly unique.

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