Claims Of Military Shelling Of Hospitals
- UN War Report: Satellite Images
By Abdul H. Azeez
Alarming satellite images have emerged in the UN Advisory Panel report (now released to the public) that claim to show damage inflicted to hospitals in Civilian Safety Zones (CSZ) as a result of artillery fire from the Sri Lankan Army.
The images are displayed in a separate annexure of the report and show areas surrounding six hospitals hit by artillery fire. The Udaiyaarkaddu, Vallipunam, Ponnampalam, Puttumatalan and Mullaivaikal hospitals were shown along with arrows indicating areas of damage. Further maps and diagrams were provided in the report detailing trajectories of artillery fire and the layout of the firing pattern in terms of the location of the CSZs.
The images were processed by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) Operational Satellite Applications Program (UNISAT). UNISAT is also the current home of researcher Lars Bromley (as evidenced by his profile on linkedin.com) who was a key part of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) that first analyzed pictures from the last stages of the Eelam war.
The Sunday Leader last week (April 24) detailed the manner in which the satellite images used in the UN war crimes report were obtained and processed. First, ‘airtime’ was purchased from satellites circling above the conflict zones at the time of the war. They were then routed to UNOSAT, AAAS and other interested agencies where they were analysed and studied for evidence of war crimes.
Bromley and his team analyzed pictures on giant 16 feet by 16 feet screens and went through complex algorithms to determine the flight path of mortars and artillery fire to see where they originated from. They subsequently pointed the finger at the Sri Lankan army and claimed that artillery fire originated from their batteries. The war crimes report has the following ‘explanatory note’ ;
“With support from the United Nations Office of Military Affairs and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR-UNOSAT), the Panel reviewed and assessed key satellite imagery – obtained from the public domain – of the conflict zone. The attached are examples of some of the images. The caption and analysis for these images were done by UNOSAT. The first six images show damage to hospital buildings consistent with artillery impact, with estimated dates of those impacts. While it is not possible to determine from the images which artillery hit the hospitals, it is clear that the damage is consistent with artillery fire. They also corroborate other information received by the Panel.
The second ten images show artillery batteries and their projected fire bearing and range capabilities, derived from the direction in which their barrels were pointed (which is visible from satellite imagery). The series of diagrams were designed by UNOSAT to show that artillery batteries were redirected over time from the first to the second and then the third No Fire Zones. The last image is a map of official and makeshift hospitals which operated in the Wanni Region prior to and during the final stages of the war, commissioned by the Panel.”
The authenticity of the pictures and the analysis that led to the conclusions made by the UN are yet to be challenged by the government. The report said that damage to hospital buildings was consistent with artillery damage and that artillery fire was directed over the no fire zones. The latter was apparently derived by looking at their projected fire bearing and range capabilities of artillery fire. No conclusions can immediately be made by simply looking at the images presented in the report. The small size renders the finer details unclear and additional annotations provided by UNOSAT conceal finer detail.