Can Social Media Posts Prove War Crimes?


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Since Russia invaded Ukraine, we are confronted daily with images of atrocities. But what constitutes proof of a war crime in the digital age? It’s a question a new generation of experts is answering. In December, the United Nations Human Rights Office teamed up with lawyers at UC Berkeley to release a new set of legal guidelines for gathering and verifying war crimes. The “Berkeley Protocol” establishes norms for authenticating open source and social media evidence of human rights violations, and it stands to usher in a new era for punishing those who commit these horrors. In the past, war crimes were proven with extensive witness testimony and conventional forensic evidence, often gathered slowly and well after the fact by government agencies. Now, researchers can use an array of digital tools, including social media videos, satellite imagery, and geolocation, in real time. By codifying professional standards in the field, the Berkeley Protocol aims to shore up the admissibility of digital evidence in court and could change the future of prosecuting these heinous crimes.

On this week’s episode of WorldAffairs, Ray Suarez talks with Alexa Koenig, executive director of the Human Rights Center and Investigations Lab at Berkeley Law, which has been at the forefront of this new legal frontier in human rights.

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