Citizen digital evidence and international crimes

Civil society and other private actors have been involved in international criminal justice efforts since the founding of ad hoc tribunals to address atrocities in the 1990s. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is even seen to be a ‘global civil society achievement’. In addition, private actors – such as NGOs – have traditionally gathered witness statements, interviewed victims and written reports for advocacy and accountability purposes. In recent years, a new trend has emerged: more and different types of private actors have started to collect digital evidence of international crimes. By using techniques such as ‘open-source investigation’ and advanced technological means, groups of civilians created online platforms to investigate atrocities.

These new initiatives could be seen as filling a gap. For example, where investigations on the ground are problematic due to security or political issues, digital investigations by these private actors could offer more information on crimes committed. In addition, when the ICC cannot or will not start an investigation, private actors can collect digital evidence and hand this over to prosecutors for use in universal jurisdiction cases. Moreover, the overabundance of digitally available evidence of international crimes means the involvement of private actors may be necessary to collect, document and analyse all of this information.

This development seems to demonstrate a shift in international criminal justice concerning who is investigating as well as how is being investigated. A limited number of scholars have delved into legal questions on the admissibility of digital evidence gathered by private actors in national and international courts. However, empirical socio-criminological research into these actors is lacking.

This research project aims to conduct empirical research into private actors gathering digital evidence of international crimes to eventually categorise these actors and analyse this development. In particular, the project will address the background and motives of these private actors, as well as their ways of working. This information will be entered into a database and several interesting case studies will be further examined. The ultimate purpose of the research project is to write a sequence of articles that give an overview and analysis of the different types of private actors involved in digital investigations of international crimes. The research uses a multidisciplinary approach to find actors and cases that fall within the framework of the study. Various types of information will be consulted through newspaper analysis, literature review, court files analysis, observations and interviews.

For more information contact Isabella Regan