Perpetrators of human rights violations make great efforts to dismiss testimonies of violations as fabricated or exceptional, or to severely hamper access for independent monitors. Confronted with these tactics, human rights watchdogs are well advised to develop innovative ways to counter denials and circumvent restrictions.
Over the last six years, Amnesty International has pioneered the use of satellite images for human rights research and advocacy. Originally applied to document forced evictions and violations committed in the context of armed conflict, we have progressively tested and expanded the use of this tool. Recent efforts that demonstrate the possibilities of this technology include documenting the effects of oil spills and gas flaring on communities in the Niger delta, and using imagery as a warning tool for conflict escalation in Aleppo, Syria.
Importantly for efforts to secure justice and accountability for the gravest of crimes under international law, remote sensing is replicable, and offers evidentiary value as we move closer toward a system of international justice that minimizes impunity for these grave crimes. These relatively new data - such as remote sensing data and corresponding analysis - cannot be intimidated or threatened, and enjoy permanence that allows for even retrospective documentation.