Capturing Evidence of War Crimes on Smartphones


A new mobile phone app enabling civilians in conflict-torn countries to capture and share verifiable footage of war crimes will help authorities to prosecute the perpetrators.

The International Bar Association (IBA) said it was working with rights groups to ensure the app would be used in some of the world’s most severe conflict zones, including Syria and Iraq.

Mobile phone footage of human rights abuses, shared mainly on social media in recent years, is often fake, impossible to verify or lacking information necessary to be used as evidence in court, the IBA said.

The EyeWitness to Atrocities app records the user’s location, the date and time, and nearby Wi-Fi networks to verify that footage has not been edited or manipulated before sending it to a database monitored by a team of legal experts.

“This could be a real game-changer in the fight for human rights and international justice … and provide a solution to the evidentiary challenges surrounding mobile phone footage,” IBA Executive Director Mark Ellis said.

“It will also allow media outlets to use the footage and remove any doubts regarding authenticity that may have previously prevented them from showing mobile phone videos,” he said.

Millions of YouTube viewers were fooled in November 2014 by the video of the “Syrian hero boy” who appeared to have braved gunfire to rescue a young girl hiding under a car. The video was in fact produced in Malta by Norwegian filmmakers who used actors and presented the footage as real to highlight the plight of children in conflict zones.

“Until now, it has been extremely difficult to verify the authenticity of these images and to protect the safety of those brave enough to record them,” Ellis said.

The app, designed based on the rules of evidence in international, regional and national courts, allows the user to decide whether to be anonymous when uploading footage.

Once a video is submitted, it is stored in a virtual evidence locker, where it can only be accessed by legal experts who analyze the footage and identify the appropriate authorities to pursue criminal charges.