Eritrea’s Independence: 20 Years of Brutal Repression

Explore the interactive map of suspected places of detention in EritreaExplore the interactive map of suspected places of detention in Eritrea (Photo Credit: Amnesty International USA).

Explore the interactive map of suspected places of detention in Eritrea.

As the 20 year anniversary of Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia approaches, the euphoria and – one may speculate – hope, that characterized celebrations on May 24, 1993 could hardly be more incongruent with the bleak reality faced by the Eritrean people today.

The scope of repression in Eritrea is truly striking. Thousands of prisoners of conscience and political prisoners have disappeared into a vast and secret system of detention, many never to be heard from again. This system of abuse is used to silent all dissent and punish anyone who refuses to comply, including suspected critics of the government, journalists, pastors and other members of “unregistered” religious groups, those who have been caught attempting to flee the country and those forcibly returned to Eritrea from other countries.

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Joseph Kony Was Here

Satellite image of likely LRA camp in Kafia Kingi. Click to see full image . (Photo Credit: Digitial Globe 2013).

Satellite image of likely LRA camp in Kafia Kingi. Click to see full image . (Photo Credit: Digitial Globe 2013).

Now where will the US go on the ICC?
While international justice has seen many milestones over the last months, including the surrender of “The Terminator” Bosco Ntaganda, one of the most well known fugitives from the International Criminal Court (ICC) remains on the loose. Joseph Kony, the Lord Resistance Army’s (LRA) notorious leader, has so far evaded arrest. However, as of today, attempts to locate his whereabouts have gotten a considerable boost. In fact, thanks to satellite imagery, we might know the exact coordinates of his recent location.

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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.

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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.

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Aleppo: Why We Should Be Alarmed

syria aleppo

Syrian men look at a destroyed Syrian army tank parked outside the Azaz mosque, north of the restive city of Aleppo, on August 2, 2012. (c) AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/GettyImages

News reports coming out of Aleppo paint a grim picture of the confrontation between opposition fighters and the Syrian armed forces, who are describing this as the “decisive battle”. If the past 16 months are any indication, we have to brace ourselves for a new wave of human rights violations, as well as grave breaches of international humanitarian law. As has been extensively documented by Amnesty International and others, the atrocities committed in Syria have steadily continued to climb.

For example, one of my colleagues who recently returned from Aleppo, documented crimes we believe amount to crimes against humanity. Her reporting from late May describes how government security forces and the notorious government-backed shabiha militias routinely used live fire against peaceful demonstrations in Aleppo, killing and injuring protesters and bystanders, including children, and hunting down the wounded, the medics who treated them, and opposition activists. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

#DemandJustice: The Website War Criminals Don’t Want You To Share

Six years ago, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda. Today, the effect of the failure to arrest him can be seen in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where he and other members of armed groups remain free to commit further human rights violations against civilians.

The DRC is one of several situations featured on our new Demand Justice website. It was launched on International Justice Day earlier this week in order to provide us with a more powerful tool to mobilize  activists around the globe to bring Bosco Ntaganda and others to trial.

If convicted war criminals, such as Thomas Lubanga Dyilo had a Twitter account, he probably would not share our new site. If war crimes suspects Joseph Kony and Omar al-Bashir were active on Facebook, they would hardly “Like” our Fugitives from International Justice infographic. Why not?
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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 Activist Ghayath Mattar Killed In Detention – Show Your Solidarity

Eight ambassadors to Syria took a dramatic step this week in condemning the Syrian crackdown by attending a vigil for a well-known Syrian activist. The activist, Ghayath Mattar, was reportedly killed under torture by security forces last week in Daraya, and his death was honored by hundreds of Syrians and the ambassadors from the US, Great Britain, Japan, and other EU countries.

The coordinated attendance of so many foreign leaders was an unprecedented and powerful statement of solidarity with the Syrian people that follows the deaths of an estimated 2,600 Syrians to date and confirmed reports of at least 95 deaths in detention.

The spiraling total of detainee deaths, together with the Syrian authorities’ failure to conduct any independent investigations, points to a pattern of systematic, government-sanctioned abuse in which every detainee must be considered at serious risk. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

High Tech #Activism: New Technologies in the Fight For Human Rights

Yes, I’m worried about tomorrow. Which is exactly why I am going – we cannot, will not let them scare us. #jan25

This statement, posted on January 24, 2011, and referring to the first day of protests in Egypt, was one of the early tweets using the hashtag #jan25. One dictator later, it has become the global short code to follow the uprising across the Middle East and North Africa.

Can a tweet bring fundamental human rights change? I don’t think so. However, after the events of the last few weeks in the Middle East, nobody will dispute the power of social media for organizing and for the advancement of freedom of speech. Social media is only one of many new tools human rights advocates use to bring about change. Other new areas are the emerging field of crisismapping, the use of remote sensing such as satellite images and systematic data analysis.

If you are interested to learn more about some of these new trends and how they are used by human rights advocates, join our event on “High Tech #Activism” (pdf) at Amnesty International USA’s upcoming Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

From sophisticated satellite imaging techniques and “crowd-mapping” to Facebook and Twitter, the new technological reality is dramatically shaping the human rights landscape in places such as Egypt, Haiti, Sudan and Sri Lanka. Experts from Amnesty are joining leaders in other fields to explore the potential and limitations of new technologies and scientific progress for human rights work:

What: A discussion with Patrick Meier, Director of Crisis Mapping and New Media at Ushahidi, Jim Fruchterman, Founder and CEO of Benetech, Scott Edwards, Director of AIUSA’s Science for Human Rights Program and Juliette Rousselot, International Justice Advocacy Staff at AIUSA.
When: Saturday, March 19th, 2011 @ 10:40 AM
Where: The Fairmont Hotel (Terrace Room), 950 Mason Street, San Francisco, California

Libya Crisis Map

#agm11
I am sure you did not see this coming, but you can follow the panel discussion on March 18 in San Francisco online by following #agm11 on Twitter.