Satellite Images Reveal Massive Destruction in Kyrgyzstan

Satellite images released and analyzed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Amnesty International’s Science for Human Rights Program show the dramatic impact of the recent violent events on the city of Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan. The new findings were released shortly after a top U.N. official warned the Security Council that ethnic tensions in Kyrgyzstan continue, along with fears that there could be another wave of violence in the strategic Central Asian state.

Comparison of buildings in the Cheremushki neighborhood, Osh (2007 vs. 2010). Houses without roofs indicate destruction by fire. CLICK TO EXPLORE. After Image: © 2010 DigitalGlobe. Before Image: © 2010 DigitalGlobe © 2010 Google Earth. Produced by AAAS.

Entire neighborhoods are burnt down (1,640 structures are damaged or destroyed in total), leaving only empty shells of houses behind. You can see a sample of the Cheremushki neighborhood at our interactive explorer or check out the in-depth analysis from our colleagues at AAAS. Additionally, and even more distressing, we found more than one hundred “SOS” signs throughout Osh, mainly in still intact areas. The varying sizes, shapes, and orientations of these images show little regard for the viewing angle or perspective of ground-based observers. As such, it is likely that many of them would be difficult to read, except from above, indicating that the population is aware that it is being observed from above. To the remaining residents in Osh we would like to say that we have documented your distress and captured your dozens of large SOS signs from space.

Today’s release of satellite images comes amidst reports that the Kyrgyzstani interim government is not in full control of its security force and that Uzbekistani authorities started expelling refugees to Kyrgyzstan. The Uzbekistani authorities should refrain from forcibly removing, coercing or persuading refugees from Kyrgyzstan to return until they can do so in safety and dignity. We are also very concerned that encouragement by the Kyrgyzstani interim government for refugees and internally displaced persons to return to their homes is premature as Kyrgyzstani security forces do not appear to be able to ensure the safety and security of these persons.

We have issued several Urgent Actions to protect displaced people. Join us in urging the government of Uzbekistan (pdf) to refrain from the forcible return of refugees.

SOS signs in the Cheremushki neighborhood, Osh, June 18, 2010. © 2010 Digital Globe. Analysis performed by AAAS. CLICK TO SEE FULL GRAPHIC.

The deadly violence is said to have started with clashes between rival gangs of mostly Kyrgyz and Uzbek youths on 10 June and rapidly escalated, reportedly leaving more than 2,000 people dead and thousands injured. Around 400,000 people are reported to have fled their homes and about 100,000 are believed to have fled to Uzbekistan.

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Visualizing the Human Rights Crisis in Northwest Pakistan

Amnesty International recently released a new report and website on human rights abuses in northwest Pakistan. This guest-posting is part of our Eyes on Pakistan blogging series.

The Northwestern Pakistan region is remote and has a mountainous physical geography. Over the past several years it has become a dangerous place to collect data and conduct research. Relatively little is known about the overall situation in the region, as no one has gathered enough relevant data to make sense of the situation.  Using geographic information techniques, AAAS (the American Association for the Advancement of Science) at the request of AI-USA, worked to visualize the ongoing human rights situation in Pakistan through Eyes on Pakistan. Focusing on the years 2005-2009, we have created a database of human rights incidents for the Northwestern Frontier Province (NWFP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). This database is meant to increase understanding of the situation occurring in Pakistan, both in terms of its recent developments and to determine major trends in the events.

Screenshot of Dawn.com

Media outlets report daily on a wide range of events occurring in the area and were key to the creation of the site. Researchers gathered media reports from popular news sources such as BBC, the Dawn, and the New York Times and created a coding system to identify the main facts of each incident, including: the number of people killed or wounded, the agent of the incident (the group or source responsible for an incident), and the attack methods used (tactic or method employed by agents). Agent was an important category to include in the database so that incidents could be looked at for trends of particular groups acting in certain locations within the two provinces. Agents were parsed into 14 categories, ranging from air strikes, ground offensives, insurgency targeting civilians, collective punishments, to extrajudicial executions. The category attack method was a distillation of the various types of weaponry or attacks used in the incidents reported within the database. Again, it was important to derive spatial trends from the database of media reports, and the ability to see which types of attacks were prevalent in which areas were seen as a crucial set of facts for later data analysis and access by users of the website. Many attack methods were documented, including air strikes, drones, suicide attacks, arrests, and others.
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Satellite Images Show Fire Damage in Jos, Nigeria

Over the past decade, Nigeria has seen its fair share of violence. On January 17th, Nigeria came back into the headlines as violence erupted in the central city of Jos and in surrounding villages. Although there is disagreement over the exact number of people killed during January’s violence, most residents and aid workers estimate that around 400 people lost lives. Around 18,000 were displaced by the violence.

Using the power of satellite images, which were acquired and analyzed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), we were able to document the impact of January’s violence on infrastructure in Jos. The image on the left depicts an area of Jos before the violence and the one on the right depicts the same area but after the main bouts of violence of January 2010. What you can see most clearly from these images is the widespread damage caused by fires in this neighborhood of Jos. And this is just one example. Satellite images of other areas of Jos showed similar damage. Throughout many neighborhoods of Jos, the damage to the physical environment reflects the violence suffered by the inhabitants of the area.

In imagery collected after the events of January 2010, this area of the city appears to have been extensively burned. (9.9397N, 8.8831E). ©2010 DigitalGlobe

In imagery collected after the events of January 2010, this area of the city appears to have been extensively burned. (9.9397N, 8.8831E). Before image: ©2010 DigitalGlobe & Google Earth. After image: ©2010 DigitalGlobe

 

 

Sadly, the story doesn’t stop here. On March 7th, attacks on predominantly Christian towns near Jos lead to the death of an estimated 200 people, most likely in retaliation for the violence of January, during which mostly Muslims were killed. Some estimates are even higher, suggesting that as many as 500 people may have died.

I am deeply concerned that there has been more inter-religious violence, with appalling loss of life. I appeal to all concerned to exercise maximum restraint. Nigeria’s political and religious leaders should work together to address the underlying causes and to achieve a permanent solution to the crisis in Jos - UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon, March 8, 2010.

The communal violence in and around Jos is years-old. AIUSA joins the widespread calls for justice for these crimes through prompt investigations and prosecution of those responsible. The Nigerian government must fulfill its responsibility to provide security for those living in areas of conflict Nigeria. This includes ensuring that the Nigerian security forces respect human rights and comply with international standards on the use of force.

Juliette Rousselot contributed to this blog post.

War Crimes in Afghanistan. Or: What You Don't Learn in Science Class

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) demonstrated in a more than impressive way this week how science and technology can advance the cause of human rights. Using forensic analysis and satellite imagery, they did an excellent job in documenting a war crime—and the subsequent US supported cover-up—in Afghanistan, where in the wake of the US led invasion in 2001 hundreds of prisoners of war were killed by a US backed warlord and dumped in a mass grave in Dasht-e-Leili. Check out this must see video:

The New York Times has covered the story in an extensive piece last weekend. PHR has set up its own website, where you can also urge Attorney General Eric Holder to halt the cover-up.  The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)—who supported the project and with whom AIUSA’s own Science for Human Rights project has a longstanding partnership—also provided a detailed analysis of the gravesite and its cover-up. Here’s a quick summary of the story:

In 2002, PHR investigators discovered the presence of a mass grave site in Dasht-e-Leili, outside of the city of Sheberghan in northern Afghanistan.  The grave site is reported to contain anywhere from hundreds to thousands of Taliban prisoners of war. Forensic analysis suggests that most of the prisoners died from suffocation. They reportedly died while inside closed metal shipping containers.

Upon returning to the site in 2008, Stefan Schmitt, Director of PHR’s International Forensic Program, noticed that the mass grave might have been tampered with.  To gather additional evidence, PHR requested satellite imagery from the area, which showed two sizeable pits, compromising the original area. The satellite imagery obtained by the AAAS indicated that there was earth-moving equipment present on August 5, 2006 along with one of two new pits.  Later imagery on October 24, 2007, revealed the second pit in the same location as the earth-moving equipment from August 5.  

The left image shows the Dasht-e-Leili site on August 5, 2006, and indicates one open pit visible at the mass grave site, with two likely vehicles atop the area which would become the second pit. The right image shows the Dasht-e-Leili site on October 24, 2007, with both open pits visible. © 2009 Digital Globe. Images taken from http://shr.aaas.org/geotech/afghanistan/afghanistan.shtml

 

The Bush Administration discouraged any attempts to investigate the episode, as the warlord suspected of committing the crimes, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, was on the C.I.A.’s payroll, while his militia worked alongside the United States Special Forces in 2001.  The Department of State has urged the Obama administration to oppose Gen. Dostum’s reappointment in the Afghani government; however the president has yet to take action on this issue.
As we still wait for the President to ensure accountability for past human rights violations of the Bush administration, this is another test of Obama’s commitment to human rights.  It will be interesting to see if the administration fully investigates the 2001 killings in Afghanistan, at a time when Obama is sending an additional 21,000 more troops to battle the increasing Taliban insurgency. A first response by Obama to PHR’s work seems at least promising.

Jacki Mowery contributed to this post