Supporting the collection of evidence to document violations committed during the war in Ukraine

A maternity ward and children’s hospital are hit by an airstrike. Schools and apartment blocks are shelled. A psychiatric facility is attacked. Ukrainian civilians trying to flee through agreed-upon humanitarian corridors are being targeted.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which started on 24 February 2022, is unfolding as a series of atrocities committed against civilians and non-combatants. All this is in contravention of international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes.

If these events are not to become mere anecdotes of history, they need to be properly documented and archived for later use. This is where our partner organization HURIDOCS (Human Rights Information and Documentation Systems) comes into play. HURIDOCS is a long-time supporter of civil society organizations and human rights defenders who use human rights documentation strategies and tools as a means to strengthen accountability and advocate for justice.

What does HURIDOCS exactly do?

To effectively and safely assist the community, there is a need for strong digital tools to

  • gather
  • process
  • preserve
  • manage
  • protect and
  • analyze the rapidly growing bodies of potential evidence, including large amounts of storage-intensive video

While the effective documentation and storage of evidence may be the primary goal, these strategies can also have a deterring effect on potential war criminals, who might refrain from the worst violations because they fear later prosecution.

The Alfred Landecker Foundation is supporting HURIDOCS in their assistance to civil society groups in Ukraine who already participate in documentation efforts. This includes training and consultation on information collection, setting up digital information repositories to securely store sensitive data as well as hardening and scaling infrastructure to preserve and protect large amounts of information.

“Although the circumstances have shifted over the years, accessible information remains crucial to protecting the dignity and freedom of all people”, says Oleksandra Matviychuk, Head of the Center for Civil Liberties and Board Member of HURIDOCS.

Criminal investigations

Four days into the Russian invasion, the International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor opened an investigation into potential war crimes being committed in Ukraine. In conjunction with the investigation, the ICC launched a contact portal and anyone with relevant information is urged to come forward and share the details with the ICC.

The Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Germany has launched an investigation by collecting evidence of suspected crimes on civilians and critical infrastructure. Germany’s probe is based on the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows countries to prosecute crimes against international law outside of its borders.

“In the context of Ukraine, it is evident that the systematic documentation of human rights violations, irrespective of who is committing the transgression, is critical to achieving justice and accountability”, says Dr. Andreas Eberhardt, CEO of the Alfred Landecker Foundation.

The role of civil society

When state infrastructures break down in the wake of an ongoing war, civil society plays a key role in efforts to document and monitor violations, and to build and strengthen cases for accountability. Civil society actors are usually the first to respond to crises, have the deepest community reach and can mobilize the people who are living through these experiences.

All these efforts are informed by the insight that documenting human rights violations as they happen is imperative in the process of restoring justice.

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