Tuesday, April 13, 2010

High-Resolution Satellite Imagery and the Conflict in Sri Lanka

In May 2009, the Science and Human Rights Program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) acquired and analyzed commercial high-resolution satellite imagery of the Civilian Safety Zone (CSZ) and surrounding area in northeastern Sri Lanka. The project was done at the request of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, who expressed concern over the status and safety of civilians due to the heavy fighting occurring 9-10 May, 2009. Comparing the May 6 and May 10, 2009 images of the CSZ, AAAS found significant removal of IDP shelters. In addition, imagery showed evidence of bombshell craters, destroyed permanent structures, mortar positions, and 1,346 individual graves. AAAS’s analysis was based on images from various publically accessible commercial satellites, US Army Field Manuals, and open-source information from public statements and media reports.

Strengths - Satellite imagery analysis is a useful way to assess the situation on the ground during conflicts in which no outside parties are allowed in the area.

Weaknesses – None

Source: http://shr.aaas.org/geotech/srilanka/srilanka.shtml


  1. Satellite imagery is definitely a good way to observe conflict areas; however, dealing with deception is a problem for most analytical tools and methods. How does satellite imagery analysis account for this?

  2. Really interesting article find. Though it's not a tool I would immediately associate with human rights groups I think its application could be very interesting. I think it's easy with human rights issues for two sides to get into a war of words over witness credibility and agendas. Satellite imagery could be a powerful tool in holding governments accountable.

  3. Very interesting article, however I find it hard to believe that there are no weaknesses associated with it. Did the article elaborate on this point at all? I think one weakness that comes to mind after having read the previous articles would be possible analyst misinterpretation, such as tire piles being construed as standing pools of water...

  4. In time of war satellite imagery can be used in so many different ways.In Sudan, the United Nation and USAID both used satellite imagery to identify the villages that have been destroyed and to find safe sites for constructing refugee camps. The UN also used the images to protect Sudan’s western border with Chad from the rebellion’s penetration.

  5. @Jeff - Weakness in all satellite imagery may be the possibility of misinterpretation. Also, advanced satellite imaging techniques would require a high level of skill and training which can be difficult to come by.