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High-Resolution Satellite Imagery and Human Rights

The focus of this assignment will be the use of high-resolution satellite imagery for detecting mass graves in Sheberhan, an area in Afghanistan (AAAS, 2017b). The American Association for the Advancement of Science first reviewed the human rights issue in 2009 upon the request of Physicians for Human Rights, which is an organization that focuses its efforts on using science and medicine to “document and call attention to mass atrocities and severe human rights violations” (PHR, 2017a, para. 1).

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PHR approached the American Association for the Advancement of Science because it is a multidisciplinary scientific society that uses the latest technologies for purposes such as the advancement of international cooperation or resolving societal issues (AAAS, 2017a).

According to the report conducted by AAAS (2017b), the review of satellite imagery was performed to investigate the creation of mass graves at Dasht-e-Leili; Physicians for Human Rights had a suspicion that the graves were established much earlier, around 2001. Before 2008, however, the site was revisited, and two large pits were dug. Physicians for Human Rights requested an investigation to be performed by AAAS for determining the initial date when the two cavities (possibly containing mass graves) were created.

AAAS used high-resolution satellite imagery provided by the Ikonos, QuickBird, TopSat, and SPOT-5 satellites operated by different companies such as GeoEye, DigitalGlobe, and Spot Image. All images gathered from archives pointed to the existence of the pits. After data collection, AAAS used coordinates provided by PHR to analyze the images. It was concluded that the vehicles captured in the images appeared to be consistent with dimensions of a hydraulic excavator and a truck that could be involved in the digging of the mass grave.

AAAS undertook a survey for determining whether the figures captured by the satellites were indeed similar to a hydraulic excavator and compared its dimensions to the dimensions other models produced by Caterpillar and Volvo. It was concluded that the images did contain both the excavator and the truck that was located near two possible gravesites and provided assistance during excavation. Based on these findings, the Obama administration facilitated a US government review of the incident to investigate it further.

The type of analysis and reporting conducted by AAAS can be considered sufficient when investigating events such as the incident at Dasht-e-Leili. Earth Observations technologies were helpful in documenting a possible violation of human rights and thus warranted an assessment performed by a scientific organization. According to PHR (2017b), the conclusion of the investigation revealed that the mass graves in Afghanistan had been dug up and removed, which is a serious issue of justice and can be considered a war crime.

Organizations involved chose satellite images to study and report the issue of mass graves’ removal because it was the least invasive method that could allow them to collect data without the involvement of authorities in Afghanistan. An issue of human rights was at stake during the investigation, so both PHR and AAAS did not want to encounter hostility from a foreign country that could have restricted their access to relevant information. Also, modern technologies have developed as far as allowing scientists to use high-resolution satellite images that are easy to review and analyze. Therefore, PHR and AAAS used Earth Observation technologies to their advantage and achieved success during the investigation.

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AAAS. (2017a). About AAAS. Web.

AAAS. (2017b). High-resolution satellite imagery and possible mass graves in Sheberghan, Afghanistan. Web.

PHR. (2017a). About PHR. Web.

PHR. (2017b). Frank Donaghue on the Dasht-e-Leili mass grave in Afghanistan. Web.

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