LONDON, June 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - 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, a leading legal body
said as it launched the app on Monday.
Mobile phone footage of human rights abuses, mainly shared
on social media in recent years, is often fake, impossible to
verify or lacking the information necessary to be used as
evidence in court, said the International Bar Association (IBA).
The "EyeWitness to Atrocities" app records the user's
location, date and time, and nearby Wi-Fi networks to verify
that the 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,"
said IBA executive director Mark Ellis.
"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,"
Ellis told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
The app was devised following controversy surrounding mobile
footage aired by British broadcaster Channel 4 in 2011 which
purported to show Sri Lankan troops executing Tamil prisoners.
Sri Lanka's government initially dismissed the footage as
fabricated, then broadcast its own version of the video, and
said the killers were rebels in army uniform. Channel 4 rejected
the claim, saying its work had been meticulously checked.
Millions of YouTube viewers were fooled in November last
year by the video of the "Syrian hero boy", who appeared to
brave 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 in
order 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, which was designed based on the rules of evidence
in international, regional and national courts, allows the user
to decide whether or not 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 analyse the footage and identify the appropriate authorities
to pursue criminal charges, according to the IBA.
The IBA, an international organisation of lawyers and law
firms, 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, Iraq and Ukraine.
(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Ros Russell; Please
credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of
Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights,
trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)