Launched by the International Bar Association in 2015, eyeWitness to Atrocities (eyeWitness) is celebrating seven years of helping human rights defenders capture and use verifiable footage of atrocities. To mark the occasion, we want to take a moment to reflect on our journey so far and our major milestones.
eyeWitness has helped expose atrocities in countries such as DRC, Ukraine, Senegal, and Palestine. ©Original photos captured by Anastasia Taylor-Lind and TRIAL International
The eyeWitness to Atrocities camera app has been used by human rights defenders in more than 18 countries around the world. To date, users have uploaded almost 27,000 verifiable photos, videos and audio files of atrocities and human rights abuses to eyeWitness’ secure server for verification and safe storage. Footage received is reviewed, tagged, and indexed by eyeWitness’ legal team with the support of a roster of pro bono lawyers from Linklaters, Hogan Lovells, Debevoise & Plimpton, and DLA Piper.
The app is currently being widely used by journalists, civilians, businesses, and civil society groups in countries such as Ukraine, Nigeria, and Palestine.
So far, eyeWitness’ legal team has submitted 26 dossiers of evidence to various national and international accountability mechanisms. Such submissions have contributed to the conviction of two warlords in Democratic Republic of the Congo for crimes against humanity, the uncovering of environmental crimes in Senegal and The Gambia, and the exposure of JCB’s lack of human rights due diligence in Palestine.
In the last few years, eyeWitness has begun supplementing the footage with additional investigations to draft our own submissions to accountability mechanisms. This enables eyeWitness to advocate for footage received from contexts where there are no open investigations or avenues for redress. The first of these submissions was in 2021 when – in partnership with University of Essex’s Digital Verification Unit – eyeWitness filed a report regarding attacks on civilian housing in Ukraine to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing.
Our primary role is to support our partners’ audio-visual documentation work and amplify the reach of their footage for accountability. By working in close partnerships with individuals and civil society organisations, eyeWitness’ outreach team offers documentation training and guidance, ongoing technical support, legal expertise, and feedback to those using our app.
While eyeWitness still prioritises in-person training where possible, one of our achievements during the covid pandemic has been to adapt our training programme to better incorporate online trainings and find ways to continue to support partners remotely, particularly those in areas with poor internet connectivity.
To date, eyeWitness has delivered workshops and training to more than 90 organisations across 35 countries.
The security of eyeWitness’ partners and footage is our main priority. As such, as well as having numerous security features, the app is subject to frequent professional penetration and vulnerability tests, and eyeWitness’ secure database is hosted and protected by LexisNexis Legal & Professional.
Moreover, the app is also regularly updated to make ongoing improvements and accommodate partners’ needs. For example, the app was translated into Burmese in 2021 and Ukrainian in 2022 to better support human rights defenders responding to crises.
eyeWitness is at the forefront of using digital evidence in the pursuit of justice, and we are regularly approached to offer our insight and expertise to leading pieces of research such as the Public International Law & Policy Group’s Human Rights Documentation Solutions and the Nuremberg Academy’s Digital Evidence project.
Additionally, our team regularly hosts and presents at many events. Recent events include the Center for Truth and Justice’s conference, NOVACT’s Activism and New Technologies sessions, and eyeWitness' International Criminal Court Assembly of State Parties side event. eyeWitness is also currently facilitating a RightsCon panel event, Using tech tools to document environmental crimes: activists’ and lawyers’ perspectives.
In the last seven years, eyeWitness has demonstrated the value of verifiable footage and the necessity of accessible technology for justice.
Moving into 2022 and 2023, eyeWitness will be continuing to develop close partnerships with human rights defenders around the world. Whilst the app is free for anyone to install and use, partnerships greatly improve the chances of the technology being used effectively and footage being actively used as evidence. Finally, eyeWitness will continue to work with and support our partners to investigate, identify and pursue accountability options.
A special thank you to our supporters, particularly the International Bar Association, LexisNexis Legal & Professional, Linklaters, Hogan Lovells, Debevoise & Plimpton, and DLA Piper.