U.S. Department of State
The U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) created the Conflict Observatory program in the early days of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The program leverages commercial and publicly available data collection technologies, including satellite imagery and social media, to document possible atrocities. This data is made available to others engaged in documentation efforts, as well as to domestic and international mechanisms for their use in making data-based decisions and determinations in pursuit of justice and accountability. In May 2023, using the same platform and geospatial data feeds, the program expanded to document conflict activities impacting civilians in Sudan and to provide assistance to ongoing humanitarian operations. The Conflict Observatory is a capability to immediately respond to emerging crisis situations around the globe.
The Conflict Observatory is how the U.S. Department of State is using the latest scientific methodologies and bringing together government officials, private industry and academia to make sure that technology works for democracy. The capability can be deployed anywhere in the world.
As a team of teams, the Conflict Observatory program is comprised of nearly 70 subject matter and technical experts across organizations and research institutions including the Yale Humanitarian Research Lab, the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative, Planetscape Ai, Quiet Professionals and Esri. These teams document war crimes and other atrocities using commercial satellite imagery and other sources.
Filtration operations, where Russia’s forces and proxies interrogated, detained, and forcibly deported Ukrainians were identified by the Yale team who mapped these operations by collecting satellite data, geolocating images, videos and text evidence.
The team released a report on February 14, 2023 on the forced relocation of thousands of Ukrainian children, documenting movements to at least 43 sites across Russia and subjecting some to military-style training. One month later, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for this war crime.
The Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative and its partners at the Virginia Museum of Natural History’s Cultural Heritage Monitoring Lab and the University of Maryland maintain a location database of 28,000 cultural heritage sites, using thermal detection data from NASA satellites to detect heat signatures from sites that might be damaged so they can be investigated further.
The Sudan Conflict Observatory was launched in the spring to monitor events in context of the Jeddah Declaration and affirms the U.S. commitment to transparency by working with partners to bring an end to the military conflict in the country, address human rights violations and abuses and aid humanitarian access.
The U.S. Department of State will continue to leverage innovative geospatial tools to better anticipate, prevent, and respond to conflicts globally that undermine U.S. national interests.