Research Case Study

Impact: Reporting wartime rights abuses

Essex scientists have shown how harnessing social media can revolutionise the way we monitor human rights abuses.

  • Tagged under

    Global perspectives and challenges
    Technology, data and innovation
    Human Rights

  • Lead Academics

    Professor Udo Kruschwitz
    Professor Massimo Poesio

Elderly Iraqi man

The Iraq war, prolonged civil unrest and the emergence of ISIS in the region have created an humanitarian crisis and made life for ordinary Iraqis difficult, and often deadly.

Now the power is shifting and the people of Iraq have a tool, developed by our scientists, to report rights abuses.

“Iraqi civilians are on the frontline of a war and a protracted humanitarian crisis but this project empowers them to go beyond the role of victims. Today their voices are heard,” said Mark Lattimer, Executive Director, Minority Rights Group International.

The impact of prolonged armed conflict on Iraqi citizens has been difficult to monitor)
The impact of prolonged armed conflict on Iraqi citizens has been difficult to monitor

Harnessing the power of social media

Even in the most atrocious situations, people are using their phones. In Iraq, and other regions affected by conflict, people are recording what happens to them and others through social media. Photos, videos, and status updates are all being used to document human rights abuses.

But still crimes like torture, killings and sexual violence have not been formally reported. The new online tool makes civilian-led monitoring of crimes real and helps the international community respond.

Scientists from Essex’s Language and Computation Group worked with Minority Rights Group International and the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights to develop the tool.

What the tool does

The online reporting tool uses crowd-sourcing technology, including live mapping and social media data mining, to provide a secure and anonymous platform enabling real-time reporting of violations in a format compatibly with international legal standards.

It supports reporting in Arabic and English.

Data submitted through the secure tool are used to create a more accurate and up-to-date picture of the situation in Iraq which crucially can be verified.

Applying the tool beyond Iraq

Today the tool is helping to motivate a more effective national and international response, and strengthen calls for accountability in Iraq. Tomorrow it could be applied around the world allowing civilians to take control and produce much-needed data about violations in other armed conflicts where traditional fact-finding missions do not work.

This project has been funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Innovate UK.

Research team