The Digital Verification Unit works with Amnesty International and other partners to conduct investigations into human rights violations around the world, using open source techniques.
Recent advances in digital communications technology – and in particular social media and the spread of the smartphone – have revolutionized the practice of human rights. Victims of, and witnesses to, human rights abuses can now document their experiences and share them directly with the world. This information can then contribute to broader human rights documentation and accountability mechanisms. Indeed, the recent International Criminal Court arrest warrant issued against Mahmoud Mustafa Busayf al-Werfalli was based entirely on open-source digital information.
Building on longstanding work in the field, Essex Human Rights Centre launched a Digital Verification Unit in 2016 to strengthen the use of emerging technologies in human rights investigations and prosecutions. We have since created one of the first university-based Human Rights Investigations Units of its kind to conduct open-source investigations for international organizations and courts.
Amnesty International is our principal partner, and we are a member of their Digital Verification Corps. We also work with other partners such as NGOs and UN Commissions of Inquiry to advance human rights documentation and strengthen the veracity of information.
Students are trained to verify user-generated information – think videos or photos posted to social media, or shared on messaging services - and to use this information to investigate and document potential human rights violations or war crimes.
The Digital Verification Unit works to document and verify digital evidence pertaining to human rights abuses, and to use open source investigative techniques in the pursuit of accountability. It is run by Daragh Murray, Nathan Derejko, Sam Dubberley, and Esme Marshall.
In November 2019, the DVC won the Times Higher Education Award for International Collaboration of the Year.
The Digital Verification Unit operates under the umbrella of the Human Rights Centre Clinic, is affiliated with the Human Rights, Big Data & Technology Project, and is a member of the University of Essex Armed Conflict and Crisis Hub.
All students studying at the University of Essex are invited to apply.
In order to apply, please send a one-page email to firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘DVU’ in the subject line. This email should include information on your background; what you are studying, why you want to work with us, as well as any relevant experience or skills (in particular languages).
The Digital Verification Unit is open to all students studying at Essex, from undergraduates to PhD candidates. In order to create a diverse group, we actively recruit students with different backgrounds, experiences, and skillsets, from professionals with years of human rights experience to people taking their first steps in this field. So don’t worry if you don’t have any specific human rights skills or experience, we will train you. No technical expertise is necessary.
If you wish to be involved in the Digital Verification Unit for 2020-2021, the application process opens during Welcome Week and will close at 4pm on 14 October 2020.
The Digital Verification Unit is part of many projects, the following is an example of our contributions.
In 2018, The Centre of Governance and Human Rights in Cambridge co-hosted the 2018 Digital Verification Corps Summit in collaboration with Amnesty International and with support from Open Society Foundations.
In December 2019, The Digital Verification Corps was named International Collaboration of the Year at the Times Higher Education Awards.
Director and Principal InvestigatorDigital Verification Unit, University of Essex
Senior lecturer, School of Law