Workshop 2: Tech Development for Human Rights Investigations

Online, February 2021


Human rights investigations are increasingly harnessing technology to assist the investigative process and to overcome some of the barriers faced in documenting and discovering human rights violations. One of the key challenges in leveraging this kind of evidence for the documentation of human rights abuses is the volume of potentially relevant information that can be discovered by investigators. Another challenge is the secondary trauma that can be caused by regularly viewing this distressing content. A third issue is the challenge of documenting human rights abuses in means that can attest to its authenticity (e.g. by preserving reliable metadata), and documenting in the context of internet shutdowns.


Numerous groups and organisations have developed tools and methods to address some of these issues. This workshop, held over three timeslots in February 2021 to facilitate participation from colleagues in different time zones, brought together human rights investigators and tech developers to demonstrate what these tools can do and collaborate to discuss planned future developments.


The workshop aimed to provide a space for discussions and the development of potential collaborations between tool developers and potential users from human rights organisations. It also provided a forum to discuss key issues faced by both parties, including like data protection and privacy; safety and wellbeing; interoperability between tools, and ensuring the sustainability of tools. At the time of the workshop, internet shutdowns had been particularly prevalent in two recent contexts: the elections in Uganda and the military coup in Myanmar. In this context, the workshop programme also incorporated a training session on ‘top tips’ for documenting in an internet shutdown (with Yvonne Ng, WITNESS) and choosing a documentation app (with Wendy Betts, International Bar Association).


5-minute ‘tech demos’, followed by 10 minutes of Q & A and discussion, were interspersed with discussions on key common themes. The tech demo components were recorded and are available upon request – please contact us.

Tech Demos:

The Human Rights Center presented on their tool to support resiliency when viewing digital open source information.

Benetech demonstrated a digital open source platform that strategically applies machine learning, computer vision, and metadata analysis to sort, identify, and analyze evidence of human rights abuses and potential war crimes.

HURIDOCS demonstrated Uwazi, a database application developed and designed for human rights defenders to preserve and manage collections of information.

Forensic Architecture demonstrated their object ID processes to date, including a recent iteration to identify tear gas deployment.

The OSR4Rights team demonstrated some of technical tools and methods developed by the project to date, and plans for a future cloud-based hub. is a secured incident monitoring platform, designed for localized and customized use in communities who need an ICT-based Human Rights Violation reporting tool which allows for verification and validation. The presentation demonstrated the features of the system including its ability to detect emotions and behaviours from narratives as an input to possible psychosocial interventions.

This presentation demonstrated Hunchly, a tool that automatically creates an audit trail for online investigations.

SJAC demonstrated Bayanat, an advanced database management system and OSINT analysis solution.

Group discussions:


Under Chatham House Rules, those present at the workshop discussed key shared issues in our work, including:

  • Protecting the rights of human rights defenders and documenters;
  • Data protection, cloud storage, and privacy;
  • Protecting researcher wellbeing and supporting ‘resilience by design’;
  • The interoperability of tools and ways to get tools to ‘talk to one another’;
  • Bespoke solutions for specific contexts vs. designing tools with broad utility;
  • Ensuring the longevity and sustainability of tools;
  • Licensing agreements;
  • Barriers to tool adaptation.



Over 100 participants, from UN organisations, international courts, human rights NGOs, human rights investigations labs, tech development companies, and academia attended at least one of the three workshop sessions, sharing feedback on the tools demonstrated and insights on the key themes listed above. These discussions were invaluable to all present, but particularly insightful for the OSR4Rights team as we embark on the next stage of development of the Knowledge Hub Framework tool developed as part of this project.