Co-written with contributions to video advocacy tools by Arul Prakkash, WITNESS’ Program Manager for Asia-Pacific.

Recording Violence

The future of the half a million Rohingya refugees who have been forced to flee to Bangladesh due to the recent crisis in Myanmar (Burma) is unknown. The United Nations’ Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, recently declared the situation as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

Between 25th and 28th August 2017, satellite sensors detected fires along a 100km-long strip of Rakhine State, affecting the two townships of Rathedaung and Maungdaw. Media reports quote the government alleging that Rohingya insurgents—the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA)—had attacked a series of police posts and an army base. The ARSA accuse the government of committing abuses.

burnings

Human Rights Watch noted that the satellite data correspond to eyewitness statements it had collected within the same period, and corroborate with media reports. They also observed that this collective set of data shares a close resemblance to reported arson attacks in Rakhine State during another violent surge of attacks against the Rohingya in 2012 and 2016. Human Rights Watch’s analysis of satellite imagery from October to November 2016 show over 1,500 buildings destroyed by arson. The full extent of the latest spurt of deadly attacks in August 2017 remains to be seen, pending further verification by evidence. 

Influx of Data

While neither the military nor insurgents have presented any proof to support their allegations, there appears to be an increasingly large virtual mine of videos. For example, see the Evidence and Eyewitness curated video lists by RohingyaVision and a data log of textual evidence by activist Jamila Hanan that can help verify reports that are surfacing online.

These videos and photos serve as crucial evidence in efforts to prove that crimes against humanity have been committed. Activists, human rights organisations and citizen witnesses are continuing to share and archive this type of digital evidence. Cyberspatial narration coupled with visual data could go a long way toward holding perpetrators accountable.

A court in Sweden has already taken advantage of social media to convict a Syrian national of war crimes. Recently, the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, the Netherlands, issued an arrest warrant against an official of the Libyan Special Forces for committing war crimes. Evidence mined from social media consisted of seven videos depicting seven separate incidents which provided enough proof for the ICC to arrest the Libyan national. In another instance, journalists and activists in Mexico challenged the government’s repressive narrative of education protests by openly sharing verifiable metadata from their released images.

Value in Verification

It is urgent and imperative that activists, media personnel and citizen journalists who document the truth about human rights abuses can better leverage their voices. By bolstering these voices, we can help ensure the veracity of documentation and strengthen the chances that authenticated evidence may be used, for instance, in an international court of law.

Because WITNESS recognises the enormity of dangers that courageous truth-tellers take, we want to make sure their efforts to ring in justice matter.

If you plan to document incidents pertaining to the rights abuse of Rohingya people, WITNESS has tips and tools that will help distinguish your evidence from what is fabricated. These techniques include protecting the safety and security of your subjects and yourself.

Contact witness@asia.org for additional support.

Resources 

  • Before you start filming, check out these simple mobile filming tips.

Meghana Bahar is WITNESS’ Social Media & Communications Consultant for Asia-Pacific. She is a gender & media specialist, with 18 years of experience in transnational women’s and human rights movements.

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