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Using new technologies to protect rights

Graphic: GPS device

Human rights experts in Asia recently took part in a workshop to learn how new technologies can help them monitor human rights violations.


Experts working to promote and protect human rights in Asia recently took part in a workshop to learn how new technologies, such as satellite imagery and GPS devices, can help them monitor human rights violations.

The workshop, hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), included staff from the national human rights institutions of Afghanistan, India, Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as researchers from other human rights organisations in the region.

Speakers outlined a range of new technologies to document human rights abuses, including satellite imagery, GPS (Global Positioning System) devices for tracking and locating sites of concern, and computerised GIS (geographic information system) resources for organising and presenting data via maps and graphics.

The AAS Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights project has a broad goal to increase the use of satellite imagery and other tools to document violations of human rights, destruction of cultural resources and environmental degradation that can affect the well-being of local populations, according to project director Susan Wolfinbarger.

Geospatial technology also can be used to monitor regions for signs of potential problems, such as the movement of troops or equipment in advance of a conflict, she said.

Sri Nur Fathya, from the National Commission on Human Rights in Indonesia, told the AAAS that geospatial technologies would be helpful in an ongoing investigation into encroachment on the lands of indigenous peoples in her country.

In many cases, the geographic coordinates of the lands in question are problematical, she said, and better maps must be made to protect the rights of local peoples.

Ahmad Ali Yaqubi, an officer with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said the use of satellite images would help obtain evidence from "very remote areas" regarding civilian casualties that continue to occur in the country.

"We could use it for spotting and documenting the human rights violations that are taking place right now in Afghanistan," Ali Yaqubi told the AAAS. "It could be national forces or international forces."

The workshop, held from 8-9 December 2014 in Washington DC, was part of an effort "to increase the understanding of technologies among human rights organizations," Ms Wolfinbarger said.

AAAS information sessions have previously been run for a broad range of groups around the world, including the European Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights.

A longer version of this article is available on the AAAS website.

Date: 8 January 2015


Image credits

  1. GPS device - Computer Science Geek, Flickr Creative Commons