Washington: Satellites that have been helpful in gathering data from the most inaccessible hostile places on earth can also help monitor human rights violation that cause misery and pain to millions of people around the world.

Experts believe that human rights abuses can be tracked by inferring into the digital images that satellites transmit to earth, which could one day help in preventing such atrocities.

US researcher Lars Bromley has proved its effectiveness when he watched the final days of the Sri Lankan conflict unfold with the help of satellites peering down from above.

As part of the Science and Human Rights Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Bromley went through digital satellite photos, measuring 16 feet by 16 feet, in a lab in Washington, a report said.

Bromley, a geographer, wanted to determine if the Sri Lankan Army was attacking a civilian safety zone during the war against the Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009.

The rectangular grids of Tamil Tiger cemeteries grew every day in the new photos, revealing dozens of new graves. The Sri Lankan government denied targeting civilian areas.

The Worldview-1 satellite built by the Colorado-based company Digital Globe, supplied much of the imagery that Bromley used in Sri Lanka. It orbits Earth at 17,000 mph and photographs a 10-mile by 60-mile strip of land at 20-inch resolution in 25 seconds.

The fact that information still got out so quickly from a region off-limits to outsiders is testament that satellites have made the world more accessible than ever.

Since 1999, nearly a dozen commercial imaging satellites were launched into orbit by companies that sell imagery to governments and organisations involved in urban planning, telecommunications, environment and human rights.

Learning ways to use data

AAAS had documented home demolitions by Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe's regime in its first satellite project in 2005. Burning of hundreds of villages in Darfur was revealed in a 2007 project. Others have probed abuses in Myanmar, Gaza, North Korea, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

After anti-government protests erupted in the Arab world, human rights organisations started reviewing imagery from Libya, Egypt, and other locations, the Monitor said.

Analysts who examined photos of the Kyrgyz city of Osh last July saw something that shocked them: 'SOS' was painted on roads and fields in more than 100 places ravaged by ethnic violence. Such events highlight the limits of satellites.

Human rights isn't the only area in which satellites have unforeseen impact. Satellites launched to study basic science questions have also located natural resources that could help poor countries, said the report last week.