Syria: Thousands of digital activists to track how US-led air strikes destroyed Raqqa
Thousands of digital activists around the world will take part in an innovative new crowdsourcing data project Amnesty International is launching today, which uses satellite imagery to help plot how the US-led military coalition’s bombings destroyed almost 80% of the Syrian city of Raqqa.
“Strike Tracker” is the next phase of an in-depth Amnesty International investigation, in partnership with Airwars, into the shocking scale of civilian casualties resulting from four months of US, UK and French bombardment to oust the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS) from Raqqa.
Amnesty International’s field investigations and analysis since the battle ended in October 2017 presented compelling evidence of apparent violations of international humanitarian law (the laws of war) by the US-led Coalition. They prompted the Coalition to revise its civilian death toll statistics upwards from 23 to more than 100 – a 300% increase.
“Based on our meticulous on-the-ground investigations, hundreds of interviews amid the rubble of Raqqa, and expert military and geospatial analysis, we’ve been able to push the US-led coalition to admit to almost every civilian death case we’ve documented so far. But with bodies still being recovered from the wreckage and mass graves more than a year later, this is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Milena Marin, Senior Adviser for Tactical Research on Amnesty International’s Crisis Response team.
With thousands of ‘Strike Trackers’ on the case to help us narrow down precisely when and where Coalition air and artillery strikes destroyed buildings, we can significantly scale up our ability to map out the apocalyptic destruction in Raqqa.
“There is a mountain of evidence left to sift through, and the scale of the civilian devastation is simply too large for us to do this alone. With thousands of ‘Strike Trackers’ on the case to help us narrow down precisely when and where Coalition air and artillery strikes destroyed buildings, we can significantly scale up our ability to map out the apocalyptic destruction in Raqqa.”
How it works
“Strike Tracker” will allow anybody with a mobile phone or laptop to contribute to Amnesty International’s vital research into the pattern of civilian devastation – including potential violations of the laws of war – that the Coalition has been unable or unwilling to acknowledge so far.
UN data shows that more than 10,000 buildings in Raqqa were destroyed or damaged over the course of the battle in 2017. “Strike Tracker” will help to narrow down the timeframe of the destruction of each of these from months to weeks – or even days. Volunteers will track a building across a timeline of satellite images during the battle, looking for changes and marking the dates before and after the building’s destruction.
It is expected that anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 digital activists will get involved in the month-long project. To ensure data quality, the aim is to have each destroyed building analysed multiple times by multiple trackers.
What happens next?
The results of “Strike Tracker” will contribute to Amnesty International’s wider efforts to:
- raise awareness of the devastating impact on civilians trapped in Raqqa during the battle;
- move the US-led Coalition’s position on civilian casualties from ongoing denial to accepting greater responsibility and carrying out meaningful investigations; and
- assist and empower victims’ families and survivors to seek justice and reparation.
In a September 2018 letter to Amnesty International, the US Department of Defense – whose forces carried out most of the air strikes and all the artillery strikes on Raqqa – made clear it accepts no liability for the hundreds of civilian casualties it caused. The Coalition does not plan to compensate survivors and relatives of those killed in Raqqa and refuses to provide further information about the circumstances behind the strikes.
“The Coalition’s blatant denials and shoulder-shrugging are unconscionable – their military offensive killed and maimed hundreds of civilians and then left the survivors to pick up the pieces,” said Milena Marin.
The Coalition’s blatant denials and shoulder-shrugging are unconscionable – their military offensive killed and maimed hundreds of civilians and then left the survivors to pick up the pieces.
“The data we glean from ‘Strike Tracker’ will take us one step closer to establishing the staggering scale of civilian casualties and will build on the legal obligation, as well as the moral imperative, for the Coalition to take full responsibility for its actions. It must acknowledge and properly investigate these cases once and for all, paving the way for justice and reparation.”
Amnesty International and Airwars will publicize the results of “Strike Tracker” as part of an interactive digital platform in early 2019.
Background on Decoders
“Strike Tracker” is the latest in a series of Amnesty International crowdsourcing data projects called Decoders. Since Decoders launched in June 2016, Amnesty International has successfully completed four projects, mobilizing more than 50,000 digital activists from 150 countries. The volunteers sifted through huge volumes of data, processing more than 1.5 million tasks. They helped Amnesty International researchers to analyse the success of urgent action campaigns; detect destroyed villages in remote Darfur; hold oil companies to account for thousands of oil spills in Nigeria; and analyse tweets to detect online abuse and threats against women