“Capturing social media from Ukraine is an incredible source of evidence,” said Alex Whiting, deputy prosecutor at the Kosovo Specialist Prosecutor’s Office in the Hague, to Wired in April 2022. Bellingcat has been collecting evidence and created a map of civilian harm in Ukraine, while the US has demanded that all social media platforms archive evidence of war crimes. Social media can be seen to play an increasingly important role in trials.
In May 2021, we talked to Yvonne McDermott Rees, professor of law at the Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law University of Swansea, and Karolina Aksamitowska lecturer in Law at Tallinn University about how domestic war crimes prosecutors are dealing with social media evidence.
Some of the most documented conflicts in history – before Ukraine – have been happening in Syria and Iraq. There’s tonnes of material out there on social media networks. And there have been huge influxes of refugees to Europe; victims, witnesses or even perpetrators of atrocities.
War crimes units across the continent have been investigating these conflicts. For evidence, they have often relied on social media and they have had to find ways to effectively collect, process and analyse such ‘user-generated data’ evidence, like photos on Facebook or videos on Youtube.
For background do check out Karolina’s paper in the Journal for International Criminal Justice, and a recent project Yvonne did together with GLAN – the Global Legal Action Network – and Bellingcat, who have become synonymous with investigating and analysing social media videos. Here are the links – videos 1 and 2 – to the mock hearing in front of a real British judge with real British lawyers in a fictional Yemen war crimes case, intended to test whether such evidence would be accepted.
Karolina found the time to watch The Serpent on Netflix and read We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China’s Surveillance State by German journalist Kai Strittmatter. Yvonne is reading Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo and listening to The Battersea Poltergeist podcast.