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Ground-breaking eyeWitness to Atrocities journey detailed in just-released article

Monday 28 June 2021

‘Once or twice in a reporting lifetime, a journalist is allowed by events to participate
in a project that can affect history.’

Jon Snow
Channel 4 News, veteran journalist

In a striking LexisNexis & Professional pictorial feature the eyeWitness to Atrocities app’s journey towards contributions of 22 dossiers to international justice, including investigations by the International Criminal Court, the United Nations, European war crimes units, domestic courts and police forces is detailed by Corinna Bold.

IBA President, Sternford Moyo, Senior Partner and Chairman at Scanlen & Holderness law firm in Zimbabwe, said of the eyeWitness endeavour that was launched in 2015: ‘It is always an excellent sign when a project receives unanimous Board consent, as was the case with the eyeWitness project. Everyone recognised the long-term impact this innovative tool could have in aiding victims of atrocities in their quest for justice in a court of law. This, together with upholding, protecting and promoting the rule of law are cornerstones of the IBA. Perpetrators of crimes must be held to account for their actions. I am so very proud to continue my predecessors’ support for the pioneering tool’.

In Bringing war criminals to justice: The story behind the eyeWitness to Atrocities app, Ms Bold reveals the deep thinking behind the development of the first tool to collect, verify, catalogue and protect images to aid efforts in bringing perpetrators of atrocious crimes to justice. In the simplest of terms, the functionality of the eyeWitness app needed to ensure that:

  • images collected on mobile phones by witnesses to war crimes could be authenticated and would meet the rigorous standard for them to be admissible as evidence in a court of law; and
  • safeguards are in place to protect, as far as is possible, the brave citizen documentarists taking the photos and/or videos in challenging and dangerous circumstances.

The piece details the conception of eyeWitness based on a request by Channel 4 News to provide analysis of footage showing the killing of civilians by government forces in Sri Lanka and the subsequent denial of the incident by the government, which asserted the video was faked.

Wendy Betts, Director of eyeWitness, said, ‘We are empowering the actors on the ground who are taking these risks and helping them transform information into something that has greater reach. It is very rewarding to be able to provide a service that’s expanding the potential for affected communities to obtain justice’.

Click here to read Bringing war criminals to justice: The story behind the eyeWitness to Atrocities app.

Research and development of the app was conducted over four years. The team spoke with activists and undertook meticulous testing in the field to understand the nature of threats posed. This resulted in technological innovation, whereby:

  • images are not saved in a phone’s photo gallery, but in a password-protected area within the app;
  • content can be deleted quickly and easily, as can the app itself should the need arise; and
  • icons unrelated to human rights can be used to disguise the app on the user’s phone.

Security has always been at the forefront of the development of the app as the tool was going to be used in very dangerous situations, so a significant amount of time was spent on this in the design stages.

Witnesses decide whether to upload the images to the eyeWitness database, which is hosted by LexisNexis & Professional – renowned for safeguarding sensitive and confidential material. To ensure the authenticity of images and no tampering, at the point images are captured, the app runs the pixel value of the footage through an algorithm to generate a digital fingerprint. Simultaneously, eyeWitness creates a record of who has had access to the captured images. Uploaded images are encrypted and kept in a secure repository. Questions can be answered with certainty about location, date, time, authenticity and chain of custody, which must be unbroken to stand-up as evidence in a court of law.

Ian McDougall, LexisNexis Legal & Professional’s general counsel and President of the LexisNexis Rule of Law Foundation commented, ‘We are a technology company. We have thousands of technologists around the world. And the ability to produce evidence that’s reliable and that helps with the administration of these kinds of court cases falls squarely in our fourth pillar of the rule of law, which is access to remedy. In times like this where individuals ought to be held to account for the crimes they commit, the eyeWitness app can play a meaningful role’.

As the global voice of the legal profession, the IBA, through its international reach, has attracted many partners in a pro bono capacity to support eyeWitness’ work, including DLA Piper’s New Perimeter, which, inter alia, determines the admissibility requirements for evidence in courts around the world.  In addition, the lawyers at law firms Linklaters, Hogan Lovells and Debevoise & Plimpton review video footage, tag and catalogue it to meet the requirements of investigators prior to its submission as evidence.

ENDS 

Notes to the Editor

  1. Click here to read Bringing war criminals to justice: The story behind the eyeWitness to Atrocities app by Corinna Bold.
  2. eyeWitness to Atrocities was founded by the International Bar Association and is a registered charity in the UK. ‘We believe in a simple vision: A world where those who commit the worst international crimes are held responsible for their actions. We use an innovative approach, combining law and technology, to make this a reality.’
  3. Volunteers are given training in reviewing traumatic content, and offered help, advice and strategies for how to cope with distressing images they may come across. Particularly graphic videos are tagged and reviewers are told what they will be seeing the night before to allow them to decide whether or not to participate.
  4. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

    The IBA acts as a connector, enabler, and influencer, for the administration of justice, fair practice, and accountability worldwide. The IBA has collaborated on a broad range of ground-breaking, international projects with the United Nations, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, The Commonwealth, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, among others.

    In the ensuing 70 years since its creation, the organisation has evolved from an association comprised exclusively of bar associations and law societies to one that incorporates individual international lawyers and entire law firms. The present membership is comprised of more than 80,000 individual international lawyers from most of the world’s leading law firms and some 190 bar associations and law societies spanning more than 170 countries.

    The IBA has considerable expertise in providing assistance to the global legal community, and through its global membership, it influences the development of international law reform and helps to shape the future of the legal profession throughout the world. 

    The IBA’s administrative office is in London, United Kingdom. Regional offices are located in: São Paulo, Brazil; Seoul, South Korea; and Washington DC, United States, while the IBA’s International Criminal Court and International Criminal Law Programme (ICC & ICL) is managed from an office in The Hague, the Netherlands. 

    The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide. 

  5. Find the IBA and IBAHRI on social media here:

    IBA (@IBAnews)

    IBAHRI (@IBAHRI)

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