eyeWitness to Atrocities
eyeWitness to Atrocities seeks to bring individuals who commit atrocity crimes to justice by providing human rights defenders around the world with a mobile app that can capture verifiable footage related to these crimes. By ensuring that information can be authenticated for use in criminal investigations or trials, eyeWitness becomes an ongoing advocate for the footage it receives, promoting accountability for the most heinous crimes. As a global platform, their footage has contributed to investigations and analyses conducted by the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, different European war crimes units, domestic courts, and international police forces. eyeWitness was initiated as a nonprofit project by the International Bar Association (IBA), with the financial and pro bono support of the IBA and several global law firms.
Theory of Change
Using technology to document mass atrocity crimes and ensuring their legal validity in investigations and in court allows perpetrators of the worst international crimes to be held accountable for their actions, thus challenging cultures of impunity.
eyeWitness aims to bridge the gap between the documenters of grave human rights violations and the legal requirements of investigators, by providing an innovative system that addresses existing pitfalls. First, the mobile camera app allows witnesses to capture photos and videos that are embedded with metadata, helping to verify when and where the footage was taken, and whether it was altered or not. Second, storing footage on the eyeWitness server creates a trusted chain of custody, ensuring that the original information is preserved, and allowing these photos and videos to be used as evidence in court. Finally, eyeWitness catalogues the footage it receives and compiles it into dossiers for submission to international or national investigators. They also provide services for partner organizations, such as training, support on strategy and management of the data usage, providing links to investigators and issuing affidavits on the authenticity of original media files and footage, as requested.
To this day, the eyeWitness mobile camera app has received more than 13,000 photos and videos from around the world and 21 dossiers have been submitted to legal investigations. The app currently has more than 10,000 downloads and the website has been accessed in 130 countries. In September 2018, a military tribunal in Bukavu (Democratic Republic of the Congo) condemned two high-ranking commanders for murder and torture constituting crimes against humanity. These convictions represent the first time eyeWitness app video footage was submitted to proceedings as incriminating evidence, and an all-time first in the DRC. Further, eyeWitness submitted authenticated footage of potential war crimes in Palestine to the International Criminal Court’s preliminary examination, followed by the launch of an official investigation. Moreover, with the assistance of eyeWitness technology, field documenters in Eastern Ukraine took 159 photographs of shell craters and property damage, assessing whether objects protected under international law had been targeted. The trusted metadata was then integrated into a visual map, shared with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and submitted to law enforcement bodies.