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Subverting Surveillance with Joshua Lyons

Sydney Opera House

Assessing what has really happened in a conflict was once close to impossible, but Human Rights Watch’s Joshua Lyons is using technology in new ways, to reveal the truth in war.

Gathering and analysing video imagery from satellites, drones and even social media, he is able to sort truth from propaganda and his work helps expose human rights abuses, and bring perpetrators to justice.

At ANTIDOTE 2018 he gave an insight into the methodology of Human Rights Watch (HRW) investigations. Listen above and see some of the images from his presentation.

“This is what genocide in microcosm looks like.”

A recently declassified satellite image of Lhasa, Tibet, taken March 1966 at the start of the Chinese cultural revolution which led to widespread destruction of buildings and cultural artefacts. This image was taken by the world’s first earth observation system. The top secret program, Corona, was designed for conducting Cold War military surveillance.
This image, taken in 1976, is of the exact same location in Tibet, by the world’s first non-military earth observation system. An American civilian project called Landsat. Not designed for conducting detailed surveillance, it was created for research. For 23 years, this remained the state of the art quality available to civilians. It shows the contrast between available technologies for state and civilians. “Because of this monopoly on the technology, in order to document human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, you have to physically go to where the abuses are happening, you have no other alternative.”
One of Joshua’s colleagues in Yemen, interviewing survivors of a Saudi coalition airstrike that killed his son. “This is what it means to conduct a traditional human rights investigation on the ground. Collecting testimony from witnesses, survivors and the perpetrators themselves, with nothing more advance than a pen, paper and camera.”
Colin Powell presents images of evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to the UN. Or so he thinks.
Human Rights Watch satellite images prepared for reports into the genocide of Rohingya people.
“What we can see is the selectivity of the destruction”.
“This is what genocide in microcosm looks like”
A report prepared by Human Rights Watch on the damage of Rohingya villages in 2016.
This deeply offends Burmese military Zaw Htay, Director General of State Counsellor’s office for Myanmar. To counter the report, Burmese military takes their own images of the same sites and denounces HRW report as fake news, saying conditions were exaggerated.
The images taken by the Burmese military showed destruction was worse than the HRW findings and actually supported the initial report.
A similar incident happens at the same time in Syria, about a Russian drone strike on a school.
Human Rights Watch was tipped off about a Youtube that matched not only footage they had captured, but footage from the Russian drone footage.
HRW was able to compare the footage and match the drone strike to the YouTube video.

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