Science for Human Rights Program Unveils New Toy

AGM Countdown: In the run up to Amnesty International’s Annual General Meeting in New Orleans this weekend, the Science for Human Rights program will be posting a new blog entry every day this week. All of the projects presented this week—and many more—will be at display in New Orleans.

For this year’s Annual General Meeting, the Science for Human Rights Program (SHR) is unveiling a cool new toy. This new toy, which we’re calling the “SHR Explorer,” enables you to check out a selection of the satellite images we have acquired and analyzed over the years, and lets you really see the extent of human rights violations in all different parts of the world. By using the slider, you can really see the striking differences between before and after images taken of the same exact place.

Screenshot of the SHR Explore. Copyright 2010 DigitalGlobe. CLICK IMAGE TO GO TO SITE

Screenshot of the SHR Explorer. Copyright 2010 DigitalGlobe. CLICK IMAGE TO GO TO SITE

Images from Zimbabwe and Chad show the extent of housing demolitions in select areas of those countries. In both Porta Farm, Zimbabwe, and N’Djamena, Chad, housing demolitions have caused immeasurable pain and suffering to people who have been made homeless by their own government.

In Lebanon, Georgia and Nigeria, violence has caused widespread damage and destruction to civilian infrastructure. Satellite images of Beirut, Lebanon, appear to prove that Israeli forces used cluster bombs in civilian areas during the August 2006 conflict, and those of Tskhinvali, Georgia, show many missing rooftops as result of the war between Georgian and Russian forces in August 2008. In Nigeria (our most recent project) the images show how many structures in the city of Jos have been destroyed by fire during recent clashes in the region.

And in New Orleans, aerial photographs demonstrate the slow pace of reconstruction in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The first aerial image shows the flood that happened right after Katrina hit, and the second image shows what the same area looks like 4 years later, in 2009.

The Explorer is really going to be a powerful new tool as we continue to document and monitor, and do advocacy and campaigning work on various human rights abuses all over the world.

Check it out today!

Research mission to Chad uncovers heartbreak from broken homes

This posting is part of our Forced Evictions in Africa Series.

Amnesty International researchers just completed a research mission to Chad to investigate the recent mass housing demolitions and forced evictions being conducted by Chadian authorities.  Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty Canada, has been documenting the mission:

“We are broken, just like our houses.”

Those heartbreaking words were shared with us by a woman describing the agonizing days that led to the destruction of her home, alongside the homes of hundreds of her neighbors, in one of the many parts of N’Djamena that have been cruelly razed to the ground over the past two months.

We are broken.

And what we heard from her and from so many others did tell anguished stories of broken lives, broken lives that people are now rebuilding with tremendous courage and determination.

We have been to about 15 different sites over the past three days and are getting a sense that this ‘human drama’, as one neighborhood leader termed it, has likely effected more than 50,000 people. They come from so many different backgrounds: impoverished and middle class; opposition supporters and civil servants; men and women; young and old; fearful and outspoken.

That has perhaps been the most difficult aspect to understand in the midst of this tragedy – who has been targeted and why? There seems to be no answer. And the fact that there is no clear answer has, in many respects, compounded the sense of injustice and fearfulness. It has shattered any confidence and trust people had in their government. It has left people feeling that they could be next. And that what comes next could be the loss of their home, or any other arbitrary abuse or act of violence.

As another woman put it to me, “I no longer feel like I’m a Chadian.” I recall hearing very similar words from people throughout eastern Chad in late 2006, who felt utterly and completely abandoned by their government as Janjawid attacks rolled across the border from Darfur.

Two things are clear. The first is that destroying homes has in fact destroyed lives. Not only have people lost their shelter, sometimes it is the home their family has lived in for decades. Beyond shelter, livelihoods have been shattered, as seamstresses, ironworkers, hairdressers, mechanics and so many others have lost their businesses. Beyond shelter and livelihoods, children’s futures are now desperately at risk. Many are now separated from their parents and are no longer able to school.

The second is the timing of this rampage. Close to 2 weeks after rebels came close to capturing N’Djamena, the Chadian government declared a state of emergency here on February 14th, and extended it through to March 15th. And it is precisely during those four weeks that the government launched the evictions and destructions. At a time when rights had been suspended and the rule of law was in disarray. At a time when people felt they had no right to speak out or complain. At a time when people in N’Djamena needed a greater sense of security and protection from their government. That is instead when authorities here chose to increase the fear and instability that continues to haunt this country.

Amidst the broken lives, we have spoken with many determined men and women who are organizing to respond to this injustice. Crisis committees and neighborhood committees have been established. People are working to document the extent of their losses. They have begun to petition government ministers. They are looking to lawyers and human rights groups for assistance.

And they very much hope that the rest of the world will put pressure on the Chadian government to right the terrible wrongs that have happened here. We have assured them we will stand alongside them in that struggle.

>> Read more from the Amnesty International Chad mission blog

Documenting Housing Demolitions for Dummies

This posting is part of our Forced Evictions in Africa Series.

New report documents housing demolitions and forced evictions in N’Djamena, Chad.

New report documents housing demolitions and forced evictions in N’Djamena, Chad. Photo credit goes to Patrick Fort/AFP/Getty Images.

A few days ago we published a new report on housing demolitions and forced evictions in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad. Here is a little background info about how to conduct such a project.

1. Becoming aware of the problem
In my case, that meant reading the news. IRIN published an article this past January, describing the frightening scale of housing demolitions in N’Djamena. A few weeks before, Amnesty International had published a comprehensive report on human rights violations in connection with the attack by armed opposition groups on N’Djamena in February 2008. It included a chapter on housing demolitions and forced evictions. This is the key passage for me in the report:

Official figures from the N’Djaména municipal government state that 1,798 compounds were destroyed in 11 different neighbourhoods. It would appear however that there were evictions beyond those 11 neighborhoods. For example, Amnesty International documented extensive housing destruction in the neighbourhood of Farcha, which does not appear on the list of neighbourhoods provided to Amnesty International delegates by municipal officials. (…) The municipal government’s figures are clearly inadequate. Beyond the incomplete figure of 1,798 compounds destroyed in 11 neighbourhoods, no official figures have been gathered. There are no figures indicating the number of buildings in each compound and no information as to how many people lived in each house and/or compound.

Now compare a Human Rights Watch press release (yes, these are two different documents):

According to documents from the office of the mayor of N’Djamena obtained by Human Rights Watch, municipal authorities destroyed 1,798 homes in 11 neighborhoods in the capital during the 30-day state of emergency that ended on March 15. Human Rights Watch saw hundreds of demolished structures in two neighborhoods in the capital that were not included in the official figures, making it likely that the total number of homes destroyed exceeds 2,000. Human Rights Watch estimates that more than 10,000 people have been left homeless by the mass evictions. Many of those Chadians who fled N’Djamena following the February coup attempt returned to find that their homes had been destroyed.

2. Analyzing satellite images
In order to provide some of the missing information described in the above quoted excerpts, we ordered satellite images from N’Djamena from 3 different points in time: January 2008, November 2008 and January 2009. We compared and analyzed the images and thus clearly documented the shocking pace of housing demolitions: In a 12-month period, the government had demolished 3,700 homes and businesses, leaving tens of thousands of people homeless.

3. Sending in the research troops
While the satellite images could provide us with hard numbers of homes demolished, they could not tell us which demolitions were clearly illegal. Our investigators on the ground gathered additional evidence, took photographs and collected testimonies. For example, they learned that the residents in the neighborhood of Chagoua 2 had lodged a complaint in court, which ruled that planned demolitions should cease, pending a final decision. Despite this order, the mayor of N’Djamena continued to demolish the houses.

Abakar Sakin, who has lost his motorcycle business in N'Djamena. (c) AI

Abakar Sakin, who has lost his motorcycle business in N'Djamena. (c) AI

Another story our researchers collected is about two business owners: Abakar Sakin, a motorcycle mechanic, and Ibrahim Abdulayhe Bulako, an auto mechanic, had operated their businesses in the 6th block in the neighborhood of Farcha for 25 years and 23 years respectively. Abakar Sakin employed four others and Ibrahim Abdulayhe Bulako employed five. They were given less than 48 hours notice before their homes, where they operated their businesses, would be destroyed. They lost everything associated with their trades and have received no compensation.

4. Publishing the Results and Taking Action
The analysis of the satellite images combined with on the ground investigations allowed us to show a very clear – and distressing – picture of the scale of housing demolitions and forced evictions in N’Djamena. Our brief report (pdf) gives a good summary of our findings, and you can also find more information on the Science for Human Rights project’s website. And if you feel as angry as me about this outrageous human rights violation, let the Chadian government know.

Extreme Makeover Needed in Chad: Government Kicks Tens of Thousands Out of Their Homes

This is the the first posting in the Forced Evictions in Africa Series
Click on image to see full graphic:
Demolished houses in N'Djamena. Despite a court order to cease the demolitions, the mayor continued with the demolitions. Click on image to see full graphic. © 2009 Digital Globe. All Rights Reserved. Produced by AIUSA.

Demolished houses in the neigborhood of Chagoua 2 in N'Djamena. Despite a court order to cease the demolitions, the mayor continued with the demolitions. Click on image to see full graphic. © 2009 Digital Globe. All Rights Reserved. Produced by AIUSA.


Authorities in Chad have demolished 3,700 homes and businesses in the capital city N’Djamena, leaving tens of thousands of people homeless. We have exposed the pace of housing demolitions – which can only be described as shocking – in a groundbreaking new research project. Instead of giving up after Chadian officials provided us with inadequate figures last year, we turned to the power of satellite technology to put hard numbers behind the scale of destruction. On the ground research confirmed that many of the housing demolitions were in fact illegal and in violation of both Chadian and international law. But let’s not forget that behind these hard numbers and facts are human beings who are now standing before the rubble of their belongings and livelihoods. As a Chadian women – whose family home was destroyed in the neighborhood of Farcha – pointedly described to us: “We are broken – just like our homes”.

Wave of demolitions in wake of armed attack
The first wave of demolitions immediately followed an armed attack by armed opposition groups on N’Djamena in February 2008. Government forces responded to the attack by bombing the areas from which they believed the opposition forces were attacking. Hundreds of civilians were killed or injured and more than 50,000 fled the capital to seek refuge in neighboring Cameroon. The government of Chad – supported by France – regained control of N’Djaména and opposition forces retreated toward Sudan. On 22 February 2008, Chadian President Idriss Déby himself issued a decree authorizing the destruction of what were called illegally constructed buildings and structures. The first decree applied to two neighborhoods of N’Djamena. However, the destruction was later extended into other residential neighborhoods and houses were still being demolished in late July 2009. Many people remain at risk of being forcibly evicted. Most of the forced evictions have been carried out by the security forces. They order people to leave their properties and bar any residents who are not at home from returning. Some families were evicted by the government in direct contempt of court orders prohibiting their removal. For example, residents in the neighborhood of Chagoua 2 lodged a complaint in court, which ruled that planned demolitions should cease pending a final decision by the court. Despite this order, Mahamat Zène Bada, the mayor of N’Djamena, continued to demolish structures in that neighborhood.

Mme Dibie, aged 75, with neighbors in front of the ruins of her home in Farcha, N'Djamena. She had lived there for more than 42 years and supported herself by selling local beverages. © Amnesty International

Mme Dibie, aged 75, with neighbors in front of the ruins of her home in Farcha, N'Djamena. She had lived there for more than 42 years and supported herself by selling local beverages. © Amnesty International

Extreme Makeover Needed
Only a clear policy reversal by the Chadian government can stop the pace of housing demolitions in Chad. So far, the government of Chad has evidently failed its legal obligations: It neither consulted with the affected communities, nor provided proper compensation. The Déby government is doing what it wants with its own citizens and continues to kick people out of their homes. I have my doubts that the government will change its policy from one day to the next, and I believe the international community has a clear responsibility to protest the demolitions and forced evictions. Where are France, the US, the UN, the AU and the EU on this issue? If they remain silent on this blatant crime, more homes and lives will be broken in Chad.