Remote Sensing in Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Monitoring: Concepts and Methods [Dagger]

By Marx, Andrew; Goward, Samuel | The Geographical Review, January 2013 | Go to article overview

Remote Sensing in Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Monitoring: Concepts and Methods [Dagger]


Marx, Andrew, Goward, Samuel, The Geographical Review


The crimes committed against humanity during World War II shocked the global community into action. As the world continued to uncover the full extent of the Holocaust, international leaders in the newly formed United Nations (UN) drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and established a mandate to protect human rights and prevent atrocities. However, certain situations increase the likelihood of human-rights violations and therefore the need for human-rights monitoring of conflicts (Edwards and Koettlzon). Because of ongoing abuses, the UN, along with other governmental and nongovernmental organizations (NGOS), conducts widespread and intensive human-rights monitoring campaigns. Broadly described by the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights as the "active collection, verification and immediate use of information to address human rights problems" (OHCHR 2001, 3), human-rights monitoring documents any violations that include governmental and nonstate transgressions of human rights and the failures of the state to protect those rights.

Remote sensing is a tool that improves detection of and potentially provides a deterrent to human-rights violations. Remote-sensing platforms include helicopters and fixed-wing or unmanned aerial vehicles. However, these platforms are limited in several aspects, including limited range and the need for basing facilities near conflict areas, which are often in very remote locations. These platforms also require overflight permission from the host government, which is often the alleged transgressor. For these reasons, organizations that monitor human rights have increasingly turned to space-based imagery to identify and document conflict.

Organizations that use remote sensing are able to quickly order images of specific locations to verify an alleged human-rights violation, an activity known as "human-rights mapping." They are also able to use images to conduct a systematic human-rights monitoring campaign to observe a region. Information gathered using remote-sensing products such as DigitalGlobe imagery helps the UN and NGOS provide evidence of international law violations to fact-finding bodies and criminal courts and supports UN peacekeeping missions (Pisano 2011). In the future, these organizations expect to conduct larger human-rights monitoring campaigns (UNOSAT 2009; Pisano 2011).

THE BASIS OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN LAW

Human rights are those rights that protect individuals and groups from governmental actions that interfere with fundamental freedoms and human dignity (OHCHR 2001). International humanitarian law, the body of law applicable in situations of armed conflict, is designed to protect humanity and diminish the evils of war. The four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the two 1997 Protocol Additions to those conventions provide important protections for persons taking no active part in hostilities, including detainees and those places hors de combat. All parties to a conflict, including nonstate actors, are obliged to comply with international humanitarian law.

A human-rights violation occurs any time a state or nonstate actor breaches any part of human rights. Remote sensing in human-rights monitoring tends to focus on violations that the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutes, defined as "the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole" (UN 1998, Art. 5, [section]1) (Table I), and which include violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, hereafter referred to as "international law violations."

TABLE I--JURISDICTION OF THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT, AS SPECIFIED IN THE COURT'S ROME STATUTE

PART 2. JURISDICTION, ADMISSIBILITY AND APPLICABLE LAW

Article 6: Genocide For the purpose of this Statute, "genocide" means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. …

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