The US government has said it will fund the collection of data on the conflict in Ukraine. In addition to laying the groundwork for war crimes prosecution, the measure would share critical real-time data with humanitarian organizations.
The newly established Conflict Observatory will use open source and satellite imagery research techniques to monitor the conflict in Ukraine and gather evidence of possible war crimes. External organizations and international researchers could access the resulting database, a U.S. State Department spokesman confirmed in an email.
Conflict Observatory partners include Yale University Humanitarian Research Laboratory, Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative, PlanetScape Ai and Esri artificial intelligence company, a systems systems company. geographic information, according to a State Department press release. The Observatory will have access to commercial data and satellite imagery from the U.S. government, which “will allow civil society groups to move at a faster pace, toward a speed previously reserved for northern intelligence. says Nathaniel Raymond, a professor at Jackson School at Yale. of Global Affairs and co-leader of the Humanitarian Research Laboratory.
Raymond himself is no stranger to using technology to investigate conflicts and crises. More than a decade ago, he was the chief operating officer of the Satellite Sentinel Project, co-founded by actor George Clooney, who used satellite imagery to control the conflict in South Sudan and documented human rights abuses. . It was the first such initiative, but it would be too costly and would require a lot of resources for other organizations to replicate.
“This kind of work requires a lot of manpower,” says Alexa Koenig, executive director of the Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley Law School. “I think in terms of money and capacity, we are at a time when a lot of these organizations have to think about the information environment in which they work. Open source information can be invaluable at the stage of ‘preliminary investigation, as it is planning humanitarian aid or to carry out a legal investigation’.
None of the data that the Observatory will use and disseminate is classified; satellite imagery will be extracted from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s commercial contracts with private companies. But having access to many types of data in one place, rather than being shared by many different entities, and the ability to analyze them, would make it powerful. Although the Observatory would use publicly available data, it does not plan to make its data open source, unlike many other humanitarian projects, according to Raymond.
“The level of detail and the speed with which image data can be collected, in some cases, means it could be of value to those looking to target civilians and protected infrastructure such as hospitals and shelters,” he says.
Raymond is especially aware of these types of risks. While on the Satellite Sentinel, a report released by the group may have led to the abduction of a group of Chinese road workers by the South Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Although the image was unidentified by removing longitude and latitude, Raymond says locals may have recognized the terrain and identified where the road crew was.