The Rise of GEOINT: Technology, Intelligence and Human Rights

  • James R. WalkerEmail author
Part of the Global Transformations in Media and Communication Research - A Palgrave and IAMCR Series book series (GTMCR)


The “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine and the increasingly interventionist position of UN-mandated peacekeeping operations testify to fundamental changes in the international community’s response to humanitarian and human rights crises. Part of this development involves a growing reliance upon technology designed for the modern battlefield but adapted for peacekeeping operations, which has resulted in the emerging field of human rights-oriented Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT) analysis. Centered on visual imagery derived from remote sensing (RS) platforms such as satellites and drones, GEOINT serves to imbed distinct, militaristic epistemologies into human rights narratives. As such, this chapter explores the “vertical geopolitics” of RS imagery and questions the “view from nowhere” that underlies GEOINT. A review of the UN mission in the D.R.C (MONUSCO) highlights both the positive and negative implications that the adoption of GEOINT has had on the rhetoric and practice of crisis response and humanitarian intervention in the twenty-first century.


  1. Adey, P., Whitehead, M., & Williams, A. J. (2011). Introduction: Air-Target Distance, Reach and the Politics of Verticality. Theory, Culture & Society, 28(7–8), 173–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Apuuli, K. P. (2014). The Use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (Drones) in United Nations Peacekeeping: The Case of the Democratic Republic of Congo. ASIL Insight, 18(13).
  3. Bacastow, T., et al. (2009). Redefining Geospatial Intelligence. American Intelligence Journal, 27(1), 38–40 (National Military Intelligence Association).Google Scholar
  4. Bromley, L. (2010). Relating Violence to MODIS Fire Detections in Darfur, Sudan. International Journal of Remote Sensing, 31(9), 2277–2292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brunstetter, D., & Braun, M. (2011). The Implications of Drones on the Just War Tradition. Ethics & International Affairs, 25(3), 337–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Card, B. L., & Baker, I. L. (2014). GRID: A Methodology Integrating Witness Testimony and Satellite Imagery Analysis for Documenting Alleged Mass Atrocities. Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal, 8(3), 49–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Clinton, W. (1999). Statement on Kosovo. Charlottesville: Miller Center at the University of Virginia. Retrieved from
  8. de Waal, A. (1995). Humanitarianism Unbound: The Context of the Call for Military Intervention in Africa. Trécaire Development Review, 29–45. Google Scholar
  9. Dodge, M., & Perkins, C. (2009). The ‘View from Nowhere’? Spatial Politics and Cultural Significance of High-Resolution Satellite Imagery. Geoforum, 40(4), 497–501.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Evans, G., & Sahnoun, M. (2002). The Responsibility to Protect. Foreign Affairs, 81(6), 99–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Falco Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), Pakistan. (2016). Retrieved from
  12. Graham, S. (2004). Vertical Geopolitics: Baghdad and After. Antipode, 36(1), 12–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gregory, D. (2011). From a View to a Kill Drones and Late Modern War. Theory, Culture & Society, 28(7–8), 188–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Janaby, M. G. (2015). The Legal Status of Employees of Private Military Security Companies Participating in UN Peacekeeping Operations. Northwestern Journal of Human Rights, 13(1), 82–102. Google Scholar
  15. Joint INGO Position on Humanitarian Use of UAVs. (2014, July 16). Relief Web. Retrieved from
  16. Kakaes, K. (2015, July). Chapter 10: The UN’s Drones and Congo’s War. In Drones and Aerial Observation: New Technologies for Property Rights, Human Rights, and Global Development a Primer (pp. 87–94). Washington, DC: New America Foundation. Google Scholar
  17. Karlsrud, J., & Rosén, F. (2013). In the Eye of the Beholder? UN and the Use of Drones to Protect Civilians. Stability: International Journal of Security and Development, 2(2), Art. 27.
  18. Kennedy, C., & Rogers, J. I. (2015). Virtuous Drones? The International Journal of Human Rights, 19(2), 211–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Levinger, M. (2009). Geographical Information Systems Technology as a Tool for Genocide Prevention: The Case of Darfur. Space and Polity, 13(1), 69–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lyons, J. (2012). Documenting Violations of International Humanitarian Law from Space: A Critical Review of Geospatial Analysis of Satellite Imagery During Armed Conflicts in Gaza (2009), Georgia (2008) and Sri Lanka (2009). International Review of the Red Cross, 94, 866.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. MONUSCO Peacekeepers Rescue 14 People from a Sinking Boat on Lake Kivu. (2014, May 8). MONUSCO. Retrieved from
  22. Müller, L. (2015). The Force Intervention Brigade—United Nations Forces Beyond the Fine Line Between Peacekeeping and Peace Enforcement. Journal of Conflict and Security Law, 20(3), 359–380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. NGOs Against MONUSCO Drones for Humanitarian Work. (2014, July 23). IRIN News. Retrieved from
  24. Parks, L. (2001). Satellite Views of Srebrenica: Tele-visuality and the Politics of Witnessing. Social Identities, 7(4), 585–611.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Parks, L. (2009). Digging into Google Earth: An Analysis of “Crisis in Darfur.” Geoforum, 40(4), 535–545.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Perugini, N., & Gordon, N. (2015). The Human Right to Dominate. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Public Redacted Version of the Prosecutor’s Application Under Article 58—Annex A. Situation in Darfur, the Sudan. (2008, May 14). International Criminal Court: Office of the Prosecutor. No.: ICC 02/05. Retrieved from
  28. Ramsbotham, O., Miall, H., & Woodhouse, T. (2011). Contemporary Conflict Resolution. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
  29. Saint-Amour, P. K. (2011). Applied Modernism Military and Civilian Uses of the Aerial Photomosaic. Theory, Culture & Society, 28(7–8), 241–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Sandvik, K., & Lohne, K. (2014). The Rise of the Humanitarian Drone: Giving Content to an Emerging Concept. Millennium—Journal of International Studies, 43(1), 9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Sandvik, K., et al. (2014). Humanitarian Technology: A Critical Research Agenda. International Review of the Red Cross, 96(893), 1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Slim, H. (2001). Violence and Humanitarianism Moral Paradox and the Protection of Civilians. Security Dialogue, 32(3), 325–339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Solvang, O. (2014). Razed to the Ground: Syria’s Unlawful Neighborhood Demolitions in 2012–2013. New York: Human Rights Watch. Google Scholar
  34. Tuathail, G. Ó. (1996). Critical Geopolitics: The Politics of Writing Global Space (Vol. 6). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  35. Tuathail, G. Ó. (1999). Understanding Critical Geopolitics: Geopolitics and Risk Society. The Journal of Strategic Studies, 22(2–3), 107–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. UN. (2014). Performance Peacekeeping: Final Report of the Expert Panel on Technology and Innovation in UN Peacekeeping. United Nations.Google Scholar
  37. UN Launches Unmanned Surveillance Aircraft to Better Protect Civilians in Vast DR Congo. (2013, December 3). UN News Center. Retrieved from
  38. Unmanned Drones Used by UN Peacekeepers in the DRC. (2014, July 15). World Vision. Retrieved from
  39. U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation. (2015). State of GEOINT 2015. Retrieved from
  40. Weizman, E. (2003). The Politics of Verticality: The West Bank as an Architectural Construction. In KW, Territories: Islands, Camps and Other States of Utopia. Berlin: Institute of Contemporary Art.Google Scholar
  41. Weizman, E. (2011). The Least of All Possible Evils: Humanitarian Violence from Arendt to Gaza. London: Verso Books.Google Scholar
  42. Williams, A. (2013). Re-orientating Vertical Geopolitics. Geopolitics, 18(1), 225–246. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. World Leaders Recommit to Modernize 120,000-Strong UN Peacekeeping Force. (2015, September 28). UN News Center. Retrieved from

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

Personalised recommendations