EWC Education Project Specialist Christina Monroe writes:
Just as quickly as you can end the previously hours-long debate on ‘what countries border Moldova’ with a Google search on your smartphone, human rights activists can now eliminate doubts that abuses are happening.
It’s a new open source transparency. But instead of sharing software for free, scientists and NGO workers are sharing tools to document events. These events used to happen in secrecy, but now they’re in the public domain for all to see. These tools, in the hands of willing citizens, can force public accountability and ultimately more transparency from powerful players in every society.
I recently took part in a briefing for East-West Center’s Asia Pacific Leadership Program fellows with the Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, DC. I’m fascinated by how they use GIS and remote sensing to support human rights organizations.
They can see by satellite, for example, that on a certain day and time heavy earth-moving equipment was used at the exact place an Afghan village claims a mass grave was excavated to destroy evidence. They can see which Niger delta gas flares still blaze despite the 2008 regulations mandating oil companies to sequester them. They are documenting daily changes in Aleppo by satellite to note fires and evacuations in anticipation that the evidence will be useful for international criminal trials in the future.
I’m reminded of a meeting in New York last year with Witness, an NGO that gets video equipment into the hands of persecuted communities and individuals. Next time these communities claim abuses, they can bring more than oral stories – they can bring video footage.
Thanks to new technologies in the right hands, reason and factual evidence are democratically distributed so that no one can obfuscate the truth. Now everyone can see with his or her own eyes. It’s the Age of Enlightenment 2.0.