Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Ogaden: The Darfur of Ethiopia?

Darfur, the tormented region of Sudan, has played a pivotal role in demonstrating the power of satellite imagery for human rights ( as I discussed here) but a new region has come to light. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) released information on June 12 that satellite imagery has been used to uncover evidence of brutality in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia.

Lars Bromley, project director for the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program was behind the project and also handled obtaining the satellite imagery for the Crisis in Darfur map. The "before" and "after" images that were gathered displayed tangible proof that the Ethiopian military has attacked civilians and burned down villages within the region.

In addition, Human Rights Watch issued a report on the same day as AAAS about the surge in violence and extent of the abuse to which civilians have been subjected, including executions, torture and rape at the hands of the Ethiopian military.

Although the conflict has been brewing for years between the Ethiopian government and an Ethiopian Somali rebel movement, it came to a peak in mid-2007 with ethnic Somali civilians as the main victims.

The New York Times' Dot Earth Blog, covered AAAS' use of satellite imagery and considering the Ethiopian government has had a tight grip on who is allowed within the Ogaden region, more exposure is bound to result from something as concrete as these documented images.

While satellite imagery wasn't used for Darfur until years after the conflict had erupted, it has still paved the way for exactly the purpose it was meant for: to bring light to human rights issues at the beginning of the conflict. Yes, these images of Ethiopia are coming forth a year after the height of violence, but one year versus four years down the line (as in the case of Darfur) can make a dramatic difference. It demonstrates the evolution of the use of this technology and can hopefully be even more instrumental in uncovering humanitarian issues as they happen or even before they happen.

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