Share

Activists Build Human Rights Abuse Cases With Help From Cellphone Videos

Mohammad Al Abdallah, a executive executive of a Syria Justice and Accountability Centre, shows a video that was posted to YouTube of bootleg cluster bombing in Syria.

Meredith Rizzo/NPR


hide caption

toggle caption

Meredith Rizzo/NPR

Mohammad Al Abdallah, a executive executive of a Syria Justice and Accountability Centre, shows a video that was posted to YouTube of bootleg cluster bombing in Syria.

Meredith Rizzo/NPR

The fight in Syria is a dispute of a amicable media age. Everyone — a rebels, a government, typical citizens, everybody — has a cellphone.

And that means roughly no bad assistance goes unrecorded by someone.

A Syrian-born tellurian rights counsel in Washington, D.C., is collecting those videos, anticipating someday they will be used to build rapist cases opposite a perpetrators of a violence.

But he also faces a vital problem: The volume of videos is staggering.

“We have 600,000 videos, and we’re in a routine of downloading roughly 2,000 videos a day,” says Mohammad Al Abdallah, executive executive of a Syria Justice and Accountability Centre, a nonprofit upheld by a State Department and a handful of European governments.

Mohammad Al Abdallah is a executive executive of a Syria Justice and Accountability Centre, a nonprofit upheld by a State Department and some European governments. He says he was detained and abused by a Syrian regime before he came to a U.S. in 2009.

Meredith Rizzo/NPR


hide caption

toggle caption

Meredith Rizzo/NPR

Mohammad Al Abdallah is a executive executive of a Syria Justice and Accountability Centre, a nonprofit upheld by a State Department and some European governments. He says he was detained and abused by a Syrian regime before he came to a U.S. in 2009.

Meredith Rizzo/NPR

I ask Abdallah how a videos would be used as justification in a courtroom, and he calls adult an instance on his resource screen.

“I’ll uncover we this one,” he says. “It’s a bit graphic. It’s a really bloody video.”

The video, from 2012, was apparently taken with a cellphone. It shows group in a room violence 5 civilians. Abdallah says they are sanatorium workers.

One of a group who seems to be in assign yells during and taunts a victims, and cheers when a attacks are generally vicious.

The victims, hardly moving, crowd in apparent anguish on a building of a room. There’s blood splattered on a wall.

But it’s not usually a savagery that creates a images prisoner in this video critical to a lawyer. It’s what else is in it.

The perpetrators incited a camera on themselves. They’re apparently Syrian supervision agents. They even contend their names.

Abdallah’s organization, with a staff of 22, maintains a database of these thousands of videos to request a abuses. Analysts spend hours adding tags that brand what is in any video, so they can some-more simply hunt a database.

White Phosphorus

One video purportedly shows Russian atmosphere force attacks on a northern suburb of Aleppo regulating white phosphorus.

Tags competence be straightforward, such as a date a video was done or a plcae where it was recorded. But some need tellurian judgment. For example, if a video shows a arms used in an attack, what kind of arms is it? Is it an explosive, a mortar, a handgun, a baton? The tags have to make acid valuable.

But a volume of videos Abdallah and his analysts are perplexing to routine threatens to overcome them.

“We prognosticate finale adult with a million-plus videos,” says Abdallah. And that’s only by a finish of this year. Going by all of them and cataloging their essence in fact is both essential — and impossible.

“We’re not going to be means to do this,” says Abdallah. “We need help.”

The good news: Help might be coming.

“What we’re perplexing to do is emanate collection that concede a tellurian rights village to accumulate as most information as possible,” says Jay Aronson, a owner and executive of a Center for Human Rights Science during Carnegie Mellon University.

But a collection his core is formulating will not only accumulate information. They’ll also concede these organizations to “process and investigate it in a approach that would have never been probable by hand, manually,” he says.

Aronson says his resource scholarship colleagues have grown record that allows we to fast go by an whole collection of video and find clips that contain, say, images of an ambulance or a helicopter. That’s useful since helicopters are mostly used to dump temporary bombs.

This should assistance automate a routine of tagging videos, holding some of a weight off tellurian analysts.

But Aronson admits computers have difficulty with context. Is a helicopter delivering reserve or dropping a bomb? Is a ambulance entrance in response to a heartless violence — or a heart attack?

“There’s no sorcery resource module that we can module and say, ‘Hey, computer, find me tub bombings or find me instances of torture,’ and afterwards have it go by all of a sources and only find those things,” he says.

Mohammad Al Abdallah displays labels for tagging calm archived in a Syria Justice and Accountability Centre’s database.

Meredith Rizzo/NPR


hide caption

toggle caption

Meredith Rizzo/NPR

Mohammad Al Abdallah displays labels for tagging calm archived in a Syria Justice and Accountability Centre’s database.

Meredith Rizzo/NPR

Aronson says it will take tellurian analysts to do that.

But a collection Aronson and his colleagues are building should make it easier to find videos that are associated to one another, Abdallah says. And that’s essential for aggregation a justification that will be indispensable in destiny rapist trials.

He calls adult another video with a hideous scene.

“It’s 5 passed bodies, burnt and thrown in a street, in Damascus suburbs,” he says.

And it turns out this video shows a same group who were being brutally beaten in a initial video Abdallah showed me. He says we can tell that since it was taken a same day as a other video, and a victims are wearing a same clothes.

“He is wearing a blue pajama, blue, with 3 stripes, and he’s a accurate same chairman as we see here,” says Abdallah, indicating a initial video.

These videos came in from opposite sources, and taken together, they assistance yield a fuller design of what happened. Abdallah says he’s assured that computers will assistance make some-more connectors so he can build clever authorised cases opposite a perpetrators of a horrors that are partial of daily life in Syria.

“I consider record is gonna be a decider in this conflict,” he says.

There’s one problem record can’t solve: Right now, there’s probably no authorised resource to prosecute anyone for what’s going on in Syria.

But this justification isn’t going away. It will stay in databases like a one Abdallah’s classification runs. And he hopes a time will come when a universe will insist on some kind of accounting for a crimes for that he’s collected evidence.