10 January 2023
Open-source information – e.g. satellite images, social media posts, information published by the government, and content made available on information-sharing platforms – strengthens the prospects of accountability and is transforming the way human rights violations and international crimes are documented, investigated and prosecuted. At the same time, national and international prosecution, fact-finding, and UN human rights bodies that address compliance with international humanitarian law increasingly rely on open source information to document violations, as highlighted by the current armed conflict in Ukraine.
‘Technological innovation has increased the availability, quality and dissemination of evidence, helping investigators overcome long-standing challenges around accessing sites of violations, evidence loss, contamination and witness testimony. But this also raises fundamental questions concerning the administration of justice, the management of data, and impacts on the humanitarian space’ explains Erica Harper, Head of Research and Policy Studies at the Geneva Academy.
A one-day consultation organized at the end of December 2022 under the auspices of our Swiss IHL Chair and of our IHL Expert Pool precisely aimed at discussing with a variety of experts – lawyers, judges, prosecutors, IT experts, academics, NGO and social media representatives, as well as UN staff – the challenges, opportunities and best practices arising from an increased reliance on open source information in accountability processes.
Via four panels, experts discussed open source information and its use in investigations and trials concerning violations of international humanitarian law and human rights from a variety of perspectives – legal, technological, and humanitarian.
They notably discussed whether it has become the new normal in international fact-finding, its added value (and higher stakes) for humanitarian organizations, the admissibility of open source evidence in criminal proceedings and the substantive consequences of this technical choice.
‘Exchanges were fascinating and we were very grateful to have so many experts in the room who brought their knowledge and practical experience to the discussion’ says Dr Francesco Romani, Research Fellow at the Geneva Academy.
The discussions notably highlighted the following key issues:
The presence of two prosecutors from Ukraine was a stark reminder of the relevance and everyday implications of these exchanges.
The expert consultation also aimed at facilitating inter-sectoral information sharing and engaging all relevant stakeholders to reflect on recent standards and documents on open source information, in order to reach a comprehensive understanding of the implications of its use for different accountability mechanisms – fact-finding, national and international prosecution.
The meeting was followed by the IHL Talk Towards Greater Accountability with Open-Source Information in order to further discuss this important issue with a wider public in Geneva and online.
The discussion will input an upcoming Geneva Academy publication on open source information and accountability for international crimes.
‘We are also planning – with our IHL Expert Pool – to increase our partnership with UN bodies, including commissions of inquiry, fact-finding missions and UN special procedures in the field of open source information for accountability purposes. In this context, we are preparing a submission to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in the context of its thematic study on new technologies and enforced disappearances’ says Erica Harper.
To provide the international community with the most up-to-date overview of these online tools and databases, our Geneva Human Rights Platform is proud to unveil its new DHRTTD Directory.
The Geneva Academy has been granted leave by the Court to intervene as a third party in this case – along with 26 governments – and submitted its third-party intervention on 28 April 2023.
The Annual Conference of the Geneva Human Rights Platform will take place in New York to explore the links between Geneva and New York, the relevance of Geneva's outputs in New York debates, and the implications for human rights.
In this book launch, Patryk Labuda will discuss with leading experts and practitioners his new book International Criminal Tribunals and Domestic Accountability. In The Court’s Shadow.
This online short course focuses on the specific issues that arise in times of armed conflict regarding the respect, protection and fulfilment of human rights. It addresses key issues like the applicability of human rights in times of armed conflict; the possibilities of restricting human rights under systems of limitations and derogations; and the extraterritorial application of human rights law.
This online short course will cover the ‘nuts and bolts’ of implementation, including national legislation, dissemination and training, and discuss the mechanisms such as the International Fact-Finding Commission, as set out in the treaties.
This project facilitated a multistakeholder consultative process to identify knowledge gaps, generate new evidence and co-design evidence-based tools to support regulatory and policy responses to human rights challenges linked to digital technologies.
The Rule of Law in Armed Conflicts project (RULAC) is a unique online portal that identifies and classifies all situations of armed violence that amount to an armed conflict under international humanitarian law (IHL). It is primarily a legal reference source for a broad audience, including non-specialists, interested in issues surrounding the classification of armed conflicts under IHL.