Last summer, the EIJI collaborated with researchers from Leiden University to conduct a Digital Evidence Verification Project. One of our research teams, in partnership with the Cameroon Anglophone Crisis Database of Atrocities, worked on verifying incidents of human rights abuses perpetrated by the Cameroon military or members of non-state armed groups. This project has since been extended into this year. Edinburgh International Justice Initiative is delighted to report that the project has been an outstanding success, with the publication of 3 reports. The success of the project led to an expansion in our legal research teams and the scope of investigation for digital evidence verification.
The Anglophone Crisis is an ongoing conflict in Cameroon’s North-West and South-West regions. For some further information on the Anglophone Crisis, please review this previous blog post.
For an introduction to digital evidence verification and its role in the international law community, have a look at this interview the EIJI previously conducted with Dr. Emma Irving, Assistant Professor of Public International Law at Leiden University.
About the Cameroon Anglophone Crisis Database of Atrocities
The Database is an apolitical, nonpartisan project established in December 2019 that stores evidence around atrocities and human rights violations that occurred over the course of the Anglophone crisis. The aims of the Database are to secure and verify evidence that can be used in future accountability procedures and the reconciliation process in the long term and to counter the culture of impunity pervading this conflict.
Hosted at the University of Toronto, the Database is staffed entirely by trained volunteers, and securely stores all incident information that is (anonymously) submitted through their website, WhatsApp, Signal, or email. The evidence ranges from incidents of police officers acting with excessive force against civilians to graphic instances of burning and looting of villages. The Database currently stores more than 1200 pieces of evidence, from photos to videos, audio clips, and other documents.
Researchers attempt to verify the incidents of the most significant investigative potential and determine when and where they happened and who was involved, through geolocation, chronolocation, and additional evidence. Each incident forms the basis of a verification report, which may be used in future justice and accountability procedures.
The role of the EIJI research team
Our researchers make use of OSINT (Open-Source Intelligence) to verify incidents – this includes Google Earth satellite images, weather data, Invid, and other visual data on the Internet. Before undertaking a project, researchers receive full training from our contacts at the Database in digital evidence verification.
Researchers are able to geolocate by identifying distinctive features in the photo or video (such as the curvature of roads, distinctive hills, or any such unnatural features) and using corroborating satellite imagery to pinpoint the coordinates in Cameroon. The date and time of the incident can be similarly determined through sun and weather data.
Corroborating evidence plays an essential role in digital evidence verification. For example, if the main evidence is a video clip, our researchers use Invid to run a reverse image search of notable frames in the video, to find similar images. If the evidence is difficult to analyse (such as a low-resolution video or a ‘generic’ image), social media can help find similar images, videos, or eyewitness evidence taken in the same suspected location. The Database also partners with on-ground organisations in Cameroon, such as CHRDA (Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa), a local NGO, to bolster investigations.
After receiving and analysing a piece of evidence, the team begins to write the verification report. In these reports, our team gauges the probative value of this evidence (if it could be used in accountability procedures) and details the corroborating evidence used. This process usually takes 3 weeks to a month, with close collaboration between our research team and the Database.
The EIJI research team has successfully published 3 verification reports since the project began in summer 2020. The first report related to protests which occurred in 2016 at the University of Buea which were met with military violence. Our researchers successfully geolocated 8 video clips taken over the city and the university campus. The other reports involve evidence collected about a certain village in North-West Cameroon in early 2020, where the Cameroon military allegedly participated in looting and burning down houses and marketplaces.
Currently, there is one research team at EIJI working on the digital evidence verification project. Ultimately, the work of the Database and our research team has helped to store and analyse information about atrocities committed during this conflict, and aid the long-term process of restoring peace and justice to the region after the conflict ends.
We would like to extend a huge thank you to the Legal Research Team and to the Database for not only their work on the project but also for their help on this piece. We look forward to continuing our work with the Database for the rest of the academic year.
*This blog post discusses sensitive information that may be triggering for some individuals. EIJI is an impartial organization that seeks to inform people about contemporary issues of international justice. Views, information, and opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect EIJI, its team or Edinburgh University. If you are interested in hearing more about our content approach please read our previous post on EIJI content philosophy.*