New approach to human rights investigations addressed in textbook

  • Date

    Mon 2 Mar 20

Leading figures in a new and powerful area within human rights investigations have contributed to a first-of-its-kind textbook, edited by an Essex expert.

Dr Daragh Murray, from the School of Law and Human Rights Centre, is co-editor of Digital Witness, a comprehensive introduction to the use of open source information when investigating alleged human rights violations.

The first textbook in the area, it looks to equip a broad range of readers, including advocacy groups, journalists and human rights lawyers, with the skills needed to conduct investigations in today’s information-rich environment.

The book features contributions from individuals currently working for the Syrian Archive, Human Rights Watch, Bellingcat, WITNESS, the BBC and The New York Times.

Dr Daragh Murray said: “Open Source information - including satellite images, social media content and news reports - already plays a significant role in human rights investigations, providing context or evidence. 

“But this new approach also brings new challenges. Moving forward, we must continue to address the ethical issues around this content, the risks to investigators - including vicarious trauma - and the potential impact of deepfakes, verifying that the content we are using is real, not synthetic.”

The book has already received positive reviews. Prince Zeid Raad Al Hussein, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said it was “a volume that will fast become the standard text for anyone interested in human rights, the collection of evidence in the digital age, and the prosecution of those who perpetrate gross human rights violations.” 

David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, commented, “With expert input from around the world, Digital Witness is bound to become a key source for open source investigators – and for students and professionals aiming  to make visible what previously has only been hidden.”

Dr Murray and his fellow editors – Professor Alexa Koenig from the University of California, Berkeley and Sam Dubberley from Amnesty International - work together as part of Amnesty International’s Digital Verification Corps. 

This partnership between Essex, Amnesty and five other global universities won the International Collaboration of the Year award at the 2019 Times Higher Education Awards.

Essex Digital Verification Unit (DVU), based at the Human Rights Centre Clinic, is a founding member of Amnesty Digital Verification Corps and has investigated the use of chemical weapons in Syria, drone strikes in Somalia and extreme environmental pollution resulting from mining in Peru. They have also supported the work of two separate United Nations enquiries. 

Digital Witness: Using Open Source Information for Human Rights Investigations, is published by Oxford University Press.

You can listen to highlights from the book’s UK launch event at RightsCast, the Essex Human Rights Centre Podcast.