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.
As every year and in the framework of the IHL core course given by Professor Marco Sassòli, 16 students of our LLM in IHL and Human Rights pleaded on the 2014 armed conflict in and around Gaza.
The Geneva Human Rights Platform contributed to the proceedings of an international seminar on national mechanisms for implementation, reporting and follow-up (NMIRFs).
This event, co-organized with Amnesty International, will discuss the gains made since the UDHR adoption, challenges to the international normative framework on human rights and what the international community needs to do for a better future.
In this Human Rights Conversation, panelists will discuss the challenges that neurotechnologies raise for the enjoyment of human rights and the current work of the UN Human Rights Council Advisory Committee on this issue.
This training course will examine how the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights have been utilized to advance the concept of business respect for human rights throughout the UN system, the impact of the Guiding Principles on other international organizations, as well as the impact of standards and guidance developed by these different bodies.
Organized by the Geneva Academy and the ICRC, the Advanced IHL seminar for academics and humanitarian policymakers aims to enhance the capacity of academics to teach and research IHL and contemporary issues arising during armed conflict, while also equipping policymakers with an in-depth understanding of ongoing legal debates and their relevance to decision-making.
Olivier Chamard / Geneva Academy
The Treaty Body Members’ Platform connects experts in UN treaty bodies with each other as well as with Geneva-based practitioners, academics and diplomats to share expertise, exchange views on topical questions and develop synergies.
This project aims at providing support to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association Clément Voulé by addressing emerging issues affecting civic space and eveloping tools and materials allowing various stakeholders to promote and defend civic space.