Essex students’ work featured in Amnesty report on Lebanon protests

  • Date

    Thu 28 Jan 21

Essex students have played a significant role in new research by Amnesty International, looking at the role played by French law enforcement equipment in a crackdown by Lebanese security forces on largely peaceful protests.

Student members of our award-winning Digital Verification Unit (DVU), based at the Human Rights Centre, have contributed to new research published by Amnesty International which alleges use of unnecessary or excessive force by Lebanese security forces against protesters, using French-manufactured weapons.

Students from Essex DVU worked alongside a similar unit from University of California Berkeley as part of Amnesty’s Digital Verification Corps (DVC). The DVC and members of Amnesty’s Crisis Evidence Lab verified and analysed over 100 videos of the protests in Beirut, documenting possible instances of the unlawful use of force. Based on the evidence gathered, Amnesty have alleged that equipment supplied by the French government was used to commit or facilitate serious human rights violations.

Dr Daragh Murray, who heads up Essex DVU, said: “Digital verification techniques play an increasingly important role in human rights accountability. Our students develop skills which allow them to view video footage and verify when and where it was shot. This footage can provide vital evidence, and our students play an important role in improving accountability.

“Human rights law sets clear rules for the use of less lethal weapons. Our students’ work has helped support Amnesty’s work in establishing what really happened during the Beirut protests, and whether human rights violations occurred.”

Sophia Mashadi, a second year LLB Law student, said: “Our team carried out a stage in this project which verified videos and images attached to this violation and abuse of human rights. Our task to determine precise locations to these pieces of media gave us the opportunity to learn a tangible skill in human rights work, particularly open-source investigation. We are taught to use programs that allow us to get so close at to determine the time of day in any given setting - all of which goes into the verification of proving who, what, and where.”

On 17 October 2019, mass protests broke out across Lebanon. These protests continued until March 2020, and resumed after the Beirut port explosion in August 2020. 

Reports suggest at least 1,000 protesters were injured due to unlawful force by Lebanese security forces. Amnesty has alleged that these forces were using French- supplied chemical irritants, such as tear gas, and kinetic impact projectiles, such as rubber bullets, and related launchers. French-made armoured vehicles are also used by the Lebanese security forces.

Between October 2019 and October 2020, lawyers filed at least 40 complaints to public prosecutors on behalf of injured protesters, but Amnesty has criticised a lack of independent investigations and accountability in the way allegations are investigated.

In November 2019, Essex DVU was recognised for its role in Amnesty’s Digital Verification Corps. Amnesty DVC, a partnership with six universities, was named International Collaboration of the Year at the Times Higher Education Awards. In June 2020, Essex staff and students contributed to a new online platform focusing on Tear Gas.

In addition to its work with Amnesty International, Essex DVU has contributed to United Nations investigations, and verified evidence of environmental damage.