Search
person in black long sleeve shirt using macbook pro

Beyond the Battlefield: How NGOs Leverage Digital Evidence to Fight Impunity

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Picture of Sabina Grigore

Sabina Grigore

Just Access Representative to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime

Ever wondered how technology is reshaping the fight for justice in conflict zones?  

Over the past decade, technological advancements have fundamentally transformed the ways in which human rights violations and international crimes are documented.  As conflicts continue to expand geographically and accessing conflict areas becomes increasingly difficult, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) emerged as key actors in harnessing the potential of a wide variety of digital tools. NGOs are using digital technologies to lift the veil on violations of human rights law and international criminal law, and their innovative approaches are instrumental in advancing justice worldwide.  

Amnesty International, for instance, conducted an extensive investigation into the genocide committed against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar in which they utilised digital, open-source methods to map out the destruction of Rohingya villages, highlighting the systematic nature of the violence perpetrated against them. 

At the local level, Truth Hounds, a Ukrainian NGO, is leading the way in documenting war crimes committed during the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Their use of digital tools enabled them to gather and analyse evidence to aid the public prosecutor in addressing more than 117,000 pending cases of war crimes, thereby contributing to the pursuit of justice amidst the ongoing conflict. These cases show that NGO investigations are able to fill critical gaps left by other actors such as governments and courts, which may lack the resources, jurisdiction, or political will to address certain situations.  

While NGO-collected digital evidence provides clear advantages to investigations of human rights crises, significant challenges remain regarding its admissibility in legal proceedings. The standards for admitting NGO-collected digital evidence into court in international criminal proceedings are still unclear, forcing many organisations to develop their own protocols that establish minimum requirements for collecting evidence admissible in a court of law. These protocols provide direction on topics like provenance research, metadata analysis, consent procedures, and long-term preservation methods, concomitantly accounting for the realities investigators face, and balancing ideals with pragmatic necessities in dangerous environments.  

These cases show that NGO investigations are able to fill critical gaps left by other actors such as governments and courts, which may lack the resources, jurisdiction, or political will to address certain situations.

The Berkley Protocol is a prominent example of one adopted by the United Nations that provides guidelines for the identification, collection, preservation, verification, and analysis of digital open-source information. Developed through collaboration between technologists, NGOs, and legal experts, the Berkeley Protocol establishes best practices for all actors who wish to be involved in digital investigations. Additionally, the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC together with EUROJUST created a document called “Documenting International Crimes and Human Rights Violations for Accountability Purposes: Guidelines for Civil Society Organizations”, to improve the role of civil society in data collection and address past issues related to the admissibility of evidence during trials. 

By navigating legal complexities and leveraging judicial partnerships, these protocols and guidelines can augment the human rights impact of NGOs, bringing more cases to light and boosting accountability. Nonetheless, a one-size-fits-all approach risks hindering the pragmatic collection necessary to expose ongoing crises. Striking the right balance of overarching principles and flexibility is crucial to maximise usability for frontline investigators, especially as technology continues to empower documentation, thus augmenting the roles of NGOs in exposing violations. Overall, this technology-driven approach can bring more perpetrators to account and aid in preventing future violations, making a tangible difference in the lives of affected communities.  

By navigating legal complexities and leveraging judicial partnerships, these protocols and guidelines can augment the human rights impact of NGOs, bringing more cases to light and boosting accountability.

Still, the impact of the information gathered by NGOs in international criminal proceedings remains to be uncovered.  

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related posts

REPUBLISHING TERMS

You may republish this article online or in print under our Creative Commons license. You may not edit or shorten the text, you must attribute the article to Just Access and you must include the author’s name in your republication.

If you have any questions, please email info@just-access.de

License

Creative Commons License Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlikeCreative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
Beyond the Battlefield: How NGOs Leverage Digital Evidence to Fight Impunity