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Drone and Satellites Expose Myanmar’s Pain

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An Oct. 5, 2017 image taken from a video released by Arakan Rohingya National Organization shows villagers preparing to cross a river towards the Maungdaw township in the Rakhine state that borders Bangladesh.
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London- The Rohingya refugee crisis is an age-old tale of displacement and suffering, but technology is providing new tools to tackle it, rights groups and charities said on Wednesday.

Powerful drone and satellite images are bringing to life the urgent needs of more than 800,000 Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar, while also providing strong evidence of abuses, which could be used to lobby for justice.

“We can describe for hours the large numbers of refugees crossing the border and how quickly existing camps have expanded, but one image captures it all,” said Andrej Mahecic, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).

More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh since the military in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar launched a counter-insurgency operation after attacks on security posts by Rohingya militants in late August.

The UNHCR is using videos and photographs shot with drones to show the scale of the displacement crisis and bring it to life to spur action from the public and donors.

It is also using satellites to count and identify refugee families by their location in the Bangladesh camps to target assistance to those most in need, Mahecic told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an email.

The use of drone footage of refugees entering Bangladesh has boosted donations for medical care, water and food, according to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), an alliance of 13 leading British aid agencies.

Rights monitors also hope satellite images can provide evidence that to help bring perpetrators to justice.

Satellite photos were used in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to prove mass executions in 1995 in Srebrenica.

But the technology has yet to achieve its potential because of limited budgets and a lack of standardised methodologies accepted by courts, experts say.

Human Rights Watch has shared satellite images showing the burning of almost 300 villages in Myanmar, refugees’ mobile phone footage and their testimonies with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“We have found the debris field in satellite imagery where people were executed, corroborating multiple eyewitness statements,” said Josh Lyons, a satellite imagery analyst with the U.S.-based rights group.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has called the violence against Rohingya in Myanmar “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” and his office is working to determine whether it meets the legal definition of genocide.(VOA)

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Facebook ‘Too slow’ in Fighting Hate Speech in Myanmar

Facebook said it is working with a network of independent organisations to identify hate posts

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Facebook said that as of June, it had over 60 Myanmar language experts reviewing content and will have at least 100 by the end of this year. VOA

The ethnic violence in Myanmar is horrific and we have been “too slow” to prevent the spread of misinformation and hate speech on our platform, Facebook acknowledged on Thursday.

The admission came after a Reuters investigation on Wednesday revealed that Facebook has struggled to address hate posts about the minority Rohingya, the social media giant said the rate at which bad content is reported in Burmese, whether it’s hate speech or misinformation, is low.

“This is due to challenges with our reporting tools, technical issues with font display and a lack of familiarity with our policies. We’re investing heavily in Artificial Intelligence that can proactively flag posts that break our rules,” Sara Su, Product Manager at Facebook, said in a statement.

According to Facebook, in the second quarter of 2018, it proactively identified about 52 per cent of the content it removed for hate speech in Myanmar.

“This is up from 13 per cent in the last quarter of 2017, and is the result of the investments we’ve made both in detection technology and people, the combination of which help find potentially violating content and accounts and flag them for review,” said Facebook.

Facebook said it proactively identified posts as recently as last week that indicated a threat of credible violence in Myanmar.

“We removed the posts and flagged them to civil society groups to ensure that they were aware of potential violence,” said the blog post.

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Facebook App on a smartphone device. (VOA)

In May, a coalition of activists from eight countries, including India and Myanmar, called on Facebook to put in place a transparent and consistent approach to moderation.

The coalition demanded civil rights and political bias audits into Facebook’s role in abetting human rights abuses, spreading misinformation and manipulation of democratic processes in their respective countries.

Besides India and Myanmar, the other countries that the activists represented were Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, the Philippines, Syria and Ethiopia.

Facebook said that as of June, it had over 60 Myanmar language experts reviewing content and will have at least 100 by the end of this year.

“But it’s not enough to add more reviewers because we can’t rely on reports alone to catch bad content. Engineers across the company are building AI tools that help us identify abusive posts,” said the social media giant.

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Not only Myanmar, activists in Sri Lanka have argued that the lack of local moderators — specifically moderators fluent in the Sinhalese language spoken by the country’s Buddhist majority — had allowed hate speech run wild on the platform.

Facebook said it is working with a network of independent organisations to identify hate posts.

“We are initially focusing our work on countries where false news has had life or death consequences. These include Sri Lanka, India, Cameroon, and the Central African Republic as well as Myanmar,” said the company. (IANS)

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