Remote Sensing for International Human Rights Advocacy: Critiques and Responses

Authors: James Walker*, University of California - Los Angeles
Topics: Human Rights, Remote Sensing, Population Geography
Keywords: Remote Sensing, Human Rights, INGOs, Advocacy
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Harding, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In recent years the rise of Remote Sensing (RS) imagery – both satellite and drones – in International Human Rights (IHR) advocacy has begun to draw significant attention from the critical academic community. The combination of a “war dividend” technology and the growing vision of IHR as a co-opted hegemonic projection of Western Universalism has prompted some sharp critiques over the use of RS in advocacy narratives. This paper will engage with the various strains that emerge from the literature, and will contend that, for all their academic and theoretical rigor, they fail to capture the practical vision of RS that permeates throughout the modern IGO/INGO community. This paper identifies three significant reasons that the literature has misjudged the role of RS in IHR advocacy: the oft stated a-priori notion of RS as a source of prima facie evidence, an over-reliance on published INGO imagery and analysis, and the resulting limited understanding of the way in which RS use has changed over the past ten years. While specifically focused on RS use, this work is intended to engage in a rigorous debate over the practical and epistemological implications that stem from the adoption of new technologies into the advocacy and human rights arenas.

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