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UN Commission uses photos to identify locations of major incidents in Palestine

21 March 2019

eyeWitness to Atrocities (eyeWitness) provided verified photos and videos captured by Palestinian human rights organisation, Al Haq, to the United Nations (UN) Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Al Haq’s footage helped confirm the location of major incidents.

The arm of a protestor holding a roll of paper in their hand in front of a Palestinian flag

© Yousef Salhamoud

Investigating alleged human rights abuses in Gaza

Between March and December 2018, tens of thousands of Palestinian protestors arrived at the fence separating Gaza and Israel to protest. They called for Palestinian refugees to be granted the right of return to Israel and for the end of the Israeli blockade.The protests have been called the ‘Great March of Return’.

News quickly spread that the Israeli Security Forces (ISF) were allegedly shooting unarmed demonstrators. In turn, the ISF claimed that the demonstrators were a security threat, and that some individuals were even launching explosive kites and balloons, as well as Molotov cocktails.

Consequently, the UN Commissionwas created in May 2018 to investigate all alleged crimes committed between 30 March 2018 and 31 December 2018.

Photos and videos: essential for investigating the events of the Great March of Return

Between 2016 and 2018, eyeWitness received 2,696 potentially actionable photos and videos from individuals and organisations documenting events in the Middle East, including Palestinian human rights organisation, Al Haq.These images depicted ongoing human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law committed by both state and non-state actors.

After reviewing and cataloguing the footage, eyeWitness analysts noted that the images captured by Al Haq were relevant to the Commission’s mandate. At Al Haq’s request, eyeWitness contacted and briefed the UN investigation team. In collaboration with the UN team, eyeWitness selected and shared 235 authenticated photos and videos captured between 30 March 2018 and 31 December 2018. eyeWitness also provided all technical documentation required by UN analysts for a source evaluation.

The Commission relied heavily on videos, photos, social media and witness testimony to gain a visualisation of events, particularly as the Israeli government refused to grant the Commission access to the site.

“The centrality of photos and videos to the Commission’s investigation confirms their value and importance, especially in locations that are inaccessible,” said eyeWitness to Atrocities Director, Wendy Betts. “Al Haq’s footage was used by investigators to determine the locations of major incidents. This is a huge success and demonstrates how verifiable material can help bolster the reports of civil society by tying exact times, dates and locations to the events depicted.”

In addition to their eyeWitness App footage, Al Haq independently supplied the Commission with key evidence such as witness statements and technical reports.

Recognising human rights violations in Gaza

The Commission's final report,released in 2019, found reasonable grounds to believe that the ISF violated the right to life, including the right to a life with dignity, the freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and of association, children’s rights to life, peaceful assembly, expression and the highest attainable standard of health, among other rights. As for violations of International Humanitarian Law, the Commission found that the ISF violated the principle of distinction, of proportionate use of force, and of protection of medical personnel, journalists and children.1

It confirmed that at least 187 people died at the hands of the ISF, the majority of whom were civilians, including children. Moreover, ISF snipers, firearms, rubber bullets and tear gas canisters gravely injured more than 6000 people.2

On the Palestinian side, the Commission found that Hamas failed in their due diligence obligations to prevent and stop the use of indiscriminate weapons. In one instance, this principle of distinction was also violated by the demonstrators.3

Challenging misinformation

The Report revealed several instances where unverified photos and videos were used by both sides to spread misinformation. In one example, a video was used to “prove” that a volunteer paramedic, Razan al-Najjar, was a human shield and rioter for Hamas. However, the Commission found this video to be falsified.4 The Report emphasised that such fake news and doctored footage “created challenges for the Commission during its investigation” and “affected the credibility of information reaching the international community”.5

“Misinformation and disinformation are major barriers to justice,” said Betts. “This is why it is so important that human rights organisations and individuals documenting major events capture fully verifiable footage from the outset. At eyeWitness, we work closely with all our partners to help them not only capture verifiable footage, but to also ensure that it gets the international attention it deserves.”

eyeWitness continues support several human rights organisations in the Middle East, including Al Haq, in their efforts to gather verifiable proof of atrocities and human rights abuses.

1. Human Rights Council, Report of the detailed findings of the independent international Commission of inquiry on the protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, A/HRC/40/74, P.199 – 201. 2019. (Accessed 04.02.2021)
2. Ibid, p.104
3. Ibid, p.201
4. Ibid, p.193
5. Ibid, p.193