Research project

Digital Verification Unit

Principal Investigator
Dr Daragh Murray

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.


Apply for the Digital Verification Unit
 

How to apply

All students studying at the University of Essex are invited to apply.

In order to apply, please send a one-page email to d.murray@essex.ac.uk 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.

 

Logo for THE Awards 2019 Winner International Collaboration of the Year
Times Higher Award for international collaboration of the year

The Digital Verification Corps was named International Collaboration of the Year at the Times Higher Education Awards - the Oscars of higher education.

Read the article

Our contributions

The Digital Verification Unit is part of many projects, the following is an example of our contributions.

Investigations conducted by several UN investigative mechanisms (2018-2019)

Members within the Unit have worked with two UN Commissions of Inquiry.

Raqqa Project with Amnesty International

The Unit participated in the verification of images of airstrikes and images of destroyed buildings as part of Amnesty’s wider project on Raqqa. On 25th April 2019, Amnesty International launched War in Raqqa: Rhetoric Versus Reality, an immersive, interactive report detailing the civilian deaths and the scale of destruction inflicted upon the people of Raqqa, Syria as a result of airstrikes by the US-led Coalition in 2017.

The Potential Use of Cluster Munitions in Syria with Amnesty

The Unit investigated the attack on Shayrat Air Base, and possible use of chemical weapons like chlorine gas and white phosphorus. The Unit also collaborated with the Syrian Archive working through their database of photos and videos and verifying them.

Report to Council on Ethics

The Digital Verification Unit contributed to the work of the Centre for Climate Crime Analysis, conducting an investigation into potential crimes committed in relation to the Cerro de Pasco mine. This work contributed to a report submitted by CCA to the Council on Ethics of the Norwegian Pension Fund requesting divestment from Glencore.

Destroyed building in Raqqa, Syria
Digital Verification Unit students contribute to ground-breaking report by Amnesty International

Essex students have used social media content to help challenge official accounts of the bombing of the Syrian city of Raqqa.

Read more

Our members

2019-2020

Lina Abdelhafiz, Phiona Apio, Ryoko Arakawa, Amira Bayoumi, Noelle Bingireki, Cristina Blanco, Befekadu Bogale Biru, Alexander Devkota, Eloghosa Ehi-Imafidon, Samar Hassanen, Mariya Hoque, Serhii Ishynov, Bethany Jackson, Haruka Kanamori, Sophia Mashadi, Thomas Morgan, Hadeel Omara, Kristina/Charlotte Peitz, Alec Popper, Erika Rojas, Lea Rosner, Maria Salmanova, Coleen Scott, Hannah Turton, Bethany Webb-Strong, Phattranit Yaodam.

2018-2019

Current students studying at the University of Essex who are members of this year's unit include Dan O Eboka, Matteo Bassetti, Esme Marshall, Arlen S Millner, Mitchell E Paquette, Jasmine R Sinyinza, Kai W Cheng, Daniel Missenden, Valentine M B Hambye and Annalise A McWilliams.

2017-2018

Members of the unit in 2017-2018 who have since graduated from the University of Essex include; Katya Alkhateeb, Ayushi Kalyan, Francesca Fazio, Ilie Chirtoaca, Martin Kainz, Rebeca Nader Lopez, Angela Patino Palacios, and Tanya Roberts-Davis.

Essex Digital Verification Unit at the final dinner at Pembroke College Hall)
Essex Digital Verification Unit at the final dinner at Pembroke College Hall

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Get in touch
Get in touch
Dr Daragh Murray Director
Digital Verification Unit