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.

Satellite Images Show Grave Crimes Continue in Darfur

UPDATE: Please take action to ensure accountability  for crimes committed in Darfur

While the whole world is watching the outcome of the South Sudan referendum, Darfur continues to burn. New satellite images released by Amnesty’s Science for Human Rights Program provide shocking evidence that grave human rights violations continue in Darfur 8 years after the outbreak of the conflict. The situation has deteriorated in the run up to the referendum in South Sudan last month.

More alarmingly, the escalation in violence has been largely ignored by the international community, which is focusing on the formation of a new state in the south of the country.

Click to see full graphic

The Negeha region of South Darfur
The images were analyzed by our partners from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and show irrefutably that civilians were targeted in the Negeha region of south Darfur with whole villages burned to the ground as recently as December. We have previously reported that in December alone more than 20,000 people were displaced by government attacks, including in Dar Al Salam, Shangil Tobaya and Khor Abeche displacement camps in north and south Darfur.

Based on new reports of offensives in the Negeha region in December 2010, we sought to document any apparent violations of international law through the targeting of civilian dwellings. According to reports, the villages of Negeha and Jaghara were burned in December 2010, resulting in more than 7,000 internally displaced persons. Satellite imagery of the region was collected and compared from three time periods: December 2005, January 2010, and December 2010.

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Don't Ignore the Dire Human Rights Situation in Sudan

This posting is part of the Sudan Referendum Watch series

While many observers are optimistic that the referendum in South Sudan this Sunday will go ahead peacefully, the last few months do not bode well for the future human rights situation in the country (no matter what the outcome of the referendum will be).

Thousands have been displaced by the government’s military offensive in Darfur, while the international community’s attention is focused on preparations for the referendum and the negotiation of a peace agreement for Darfur.  Since December 2010, more than 20,000 people in Darfur have been displaced during attacks by the Khartoum government’s attacks on various parts of North and South Darfur, including camps for the displaced in Dar Al Salam, Shangil Tobaya and Khor Abeche. The international community shouldn’t repeat its mistakes from 2004 and 2005, when focus on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) led to an ignorance (and acceptance) of grave crimes committed in Darfur.

The April 2010 elections were marked by human rights violations and threats to freedom of expression in both the south and north of the country and  we remain concerned that such violations would occur again during or after the referendum.

Human rights should be at the heart of this coming referendum. The governments of unity and of south Sudan should make it clear that human rights violations will not be tolerated. The respect, protection and promotion of human rights in Sudan are vital to the success of this historic vote.

An Amnesty International delegation recently returned from Juba in southern Sudan where it assessed the human rights situation ahead of the referendum. To get detailed information about our human rights concerns in Sudan, please take a look at some of our resources:

For an interesting non-AI resource, don’t forget to follow the Sudan Vote Monitor (SVM), which was launched today. SVM is a Sudanese civil society initiative to monitor the referendum and is based on the powerful Ushahidi plattform.

Sudan: The Best Monitored Crisis in History?

This posting is part of the Sudan Referendum Watch series

No matter how uncertain the weeks following the referendum will be for Sudan, one thing is guaranteed: The situation in South Sudan is the best monitored and documented potential human rights crisis in history, with no shortage of comparisons to Rwanda and similar human rights catastrophes. What is different this time around is the fact that there is also no shortage of new monitoring tools to record – and potentially deter – human rights abuses.

Geography of Risk

For download of the background briefing, click on the image (pdf, 5.5 MB).

We have just put out a background briefing called “Geography of Risk” (pdf) that provides a series of maps to give a better context of the situation on the ground and to visualize some of the issues that we are concerned about (e.g. attacks against civilians). You can download all maps for use in your own advocacy and campaigning work about human rights in Sudan. This is only a small contribution to document the human rights situation in the

Heat map of attacks against civilians in South Sudan. © Amnesty International USA. Data source: CRMA/UNDP.

run-up to the referendum and we will continue to monitor the situation closely over the next months. Our ongoing concerns include abuses in both the north and south of the country; and don’t forget that there is still an active conflict going on in Darfur, a topic the public seems to have forgotten recently.

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Forcible Medication Now, Lethal Injection Next

The medical profession, whose prime directive is “do no harm,” gets dragged into the mud when health care providers are required, or choose, to get involved in executions.  Back in January, Ty Alper, associate director of Berkeley Law School’s Death Penalty Clinic, wrote an important paper on the participation of doctors in executions, or rather the widespread failure to exclude their participation.  “Nearly all capital punishment states specifically call for doctors to be involved in some way,” he told Canada Views, which was reporting on an award he has received this week for his work.

But there are also ways outside of the execution chamber that health care professionals can contribute to the execution of a prisoner, in violation of their basic oath.  One area where the medical profession and the death penalty collide is in the execution of the mentally ill, a distressingly regular practice of our capital punishment system.  Tennessee, for example, is still scheduled to execute a seriously mentally ill man, Stephen West, on Nov. 9.  A similar execution in Texas has been postponed, as Lone Star State authorities try to forcibly medicate a severely mentally ill manSteven Kenneth Staley – so he can become temporarily competent enough to be put to death. 

Texas capital punishment and science have always had an uneasy relationship.  From trying to quash an investigation into bad forensic science, to paying psychiatrists (including Dr. James Grigson, aka “Dr. Death”) to convince juries of someone’s “future dangerousness”, to seeking to hide basic information about the drugs used for executions, to attempting to revive the scientifically invalid practice of scent lineups, Texas capital punishment enthusiasts have never had a problem taking steps that undermine the respectability of the medical and scientific professions. 

But even by these standards, if the state is calling on doctors, or other medical professionals, to forcibly medicate a man for the sole purpose of killing him, that is pretty low.

International Community Fails Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstani officials failed to effectively protect all of its citizens during the outbreak of violence, in particular the Uzbek community. (c) Viktor Drachev/AFP/Getty Images

We could read their signs of distress from outer space.

People trapped on the blood-stained streets of southern Kyrgyzstan painted massive signs on roads and sports fields for the sake of sending one simple message that the entire world could understand - “S.O.S.”

This international code for help was as clear as day from our satellite images of the country. However, nearly two months after the worst of the violence has subsided, the international community has failed to push for justice. To this day, entire neighborhoods are still burned to the ground and the people who lived there are still looking for a place to call home.

Reports are prevalent that Kyrgyzstani law enforcement abused its authority by failing to protect those citizens who were being targeted during the period of unrest.

Now that video and photographic evidence from local journalists and residents who documented this abuse of power are beginning to surface, law enforcement officers are re-igniting a new wave of terror – silencing journalists and anyone who dares to reveal the truth about the horrific acts of violence that were perpetrated primarily against Kyrgyzstan’s ethnic Uzbek population.

It wasn’t bad enough that Kyrgyzstan’s government failed to protect its citizens from violence, now the perpetrators of the violence are about to get away with impunity.

Don’t let Kyrgyzstan’s government get away with this outrageous abuse of power. Call for an impartial, international investigation into the recent violence in southern Kyrgyzstan.

Urge Your Representative TODAY to Demand Accountability for Sri Lanka Crimes

For new developments on Sri Lanka and updates on this action, follow me on Twitter.

UPDATE (July 30): Our action is working! We almost got one new co-signer per hour within the first 24 hours of the start of our action, collecting 22 additional signatures. Even more important, due to the traction we got on this topic over the last days, the deadline to sign on was extended to next Friday, August 6Thursday, August 5! Please keep urging your representative to sign and spread the word. Thanks to everyone who has already done so.

After a US State Department official called for reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka last week, US lawmakers are now taking concrete action to hold the State Department to its own word (unfortunately the State Department seems to support the insufficient domestic investigation into the war crimes). Currently, a congressional sign on letter is circulating at Capitol Hill, gaining support to identify those responsible for the crimes committed in the final stage of

Civilians, in between Kilinochchi and Mulathiv, Sri Lanka, May 2009, during the last few months of the war. (c) Private

Sri Lanka’s civil war. The letter, sponsored by Representatives Jan Schakowsky and James McGovern, urges Secretary Clinton to publicly call for an independent international investigation into alleged war crimes committed by both sides during the war in Sri Lanka. We urgently need your help in asking your representative to sign on. To achieve the highest impact with this congressional letter and keep up the pressure for true accountability, we must collect enough signatures now.

Last year, activists like you spearheaded the global Unlock the Camps in Sri Lanka campaign, leading to the release of tens of thousands of civilians who were detained after the end of the war. Now we need your help again. Please take action today by asking your representative in the House to sign the congressional letter, demanding an international investigation. The letter will be closed this Friday, July 30, so please urge your representative now!

Here‘s how you can take action:

  1. Take action online, urging your House representative to sign on to the letter.
  2. Call the Congressional switchboard at 202 224-3121 and ask for your representative. Tell him about the letter and encourage him to support it.
  3. If your representative has a Facebook page or twitter account, encourage him through these platforms to sign on (for an example how to do this on twitter, follow our lead).

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While We Read About Drones, Civilians Are Suffering in Pakistan

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

We have written extensively on this blog about the human rights crisis in northwest Pakistan over the last few weeks. The northwest region of the country is covered on a daily basis in the mainstream media. However, the focus in reporting is on counter-terrorism issues, and no attention is given to the impact of the conflict on civilian communities who live in the area. You just have to check today’s news to find that the top stories in regard to Pakistan are on a new drone strike and the five Americans who were recently convicted on terrorism charges.

To counter this trend and to change the debate about northwest Pakistan in the US media, we are launching the Eyes on Pakistan Writing Contest. Since this is such a frequent topic, we encourage you to challenge the current media reporting and raise human rights concerns in northwest Pakistan by writing op-eds, letters to the editors, blog entries or news stories on the human rights crisis in northwest Pakistan (Take a look at this example). The best entries will receive a Flip HD camera and get a chance to be re-published on this blog and the Eyes on Pakistan website!

We are providing enough resources to get you started, and you should especially check out our new website Eyes on Pakistan. Through the Eyes on Pakistan project, we have a powerful new tool to track and monitor the human rights situation on the ground. Policy makers from Islamabad to Washington would be well advised to heed the alarming trends it demonstrates. Eyes on Pakistan reveals the human toll of a conflict that is all too often described in the abstract. The site presents irrefutable proof that northwestern Pakistan has become the scene of a grave human rights and humanitarian crisis.

Change the debate now: Start writing and send us your published piece.

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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