Public event

Investigating human rights violations in the digital age

A panel discussion with Sam Dubberley (Amnesty International), Alexa Koenig (Human Rights Center, University of California, Berkeley School of Law) and Hugh Williamson (Human Rights Watch). Moderated by Başak Çalı (Hertie School).

From Syria to the Democratic Republic of Congo to Mexico, it’s increasingly difficult for human rights researchers and journalists to operate on the ground and investigate reports of human rights violations.  Simultaneously, access to camera-enabled mobile phones and mobile internet has grown globally. Human rights organisations now have to use content captured on mobile phones and shared on social media to investigate events. 

How has digitalisation changed investigating, verifying and reporting on human rights violations? How have digital sources and big data been successful in investigating human rights violations? How can digital techniques be used in human rights work to affect change, address attribution of responsibility and fight impunity? What are the pitfalls and ethical concerns with using digital sources in human rights investigations?


Sam Dubberley is the manager of Amnesty International’s Digital Verification Corps - which has trained a network of students globally to monitor and verify open source data for use in monitoring human rights abuses. He is also a research consultant on the Human Rights and Big Data project at the University of Essex in the UK and the editor of CrossCheck - an initiative uniting 32 mainstream news organisations to monitor and report on social media content during the French presidential elections.  He has published widely on the use of social media and human rights and journalism. Previously, he was a research fellow of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University and managed the newsroom of the European Broadcasting Union.

Alexa Koenig is the Executive Director of the Human Rights Center (winner of the 2015 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions) and a Lecturer-in-Residence at UC Berkeley School of Law, where she teaches classes on human rights and international criminal law. She is most recently the author, with Victor Peskin and Eric Stover, of Hiding in Plain Sight: The Pursuit of War Criminals from Nuremberg to the War on Terror (UC Press, 2016); the editor, with Keramet Reiter, of Extreme Punishment: Comparative Studies in Detention, Incarceration and Solitary Confinement (Palgrave MacMillan, 2015); and a contributor to The Guantánamo Effect: Exposing the Consequences of U.S. Detention and Interrogation Practices (UC Press, 2009).

Hugh Williamson is the Director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch where he oversees the organisation’s work in western and eastern Europe, the Balkans, Turkey, Central Asia, the south Caucasus, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. He oversees issues including migration and discrimination in Europe, torture and other abuses under authoritarian rule in Central Asia, and impunity and the rule of law in Russia. Prior to joining Human Rights Watch, Williamson worked for 11 years as a correspondent from the Manila and Berlin bureaus of the Financial Times. He served as the Europe news editor during the 2008-2009 financial crisis and most recently as the paper’s deputy foreign editor. 


Başak Çalı is Professor of International Law at the Hertie School and Director of the Center for Global Public Law at Koç University, Istanbul. Her research interests are international law, human rights law, and the prospects of global public law in a multi-level legal order. Çalı is the Secretary General of the European Society of International Law, Editor-in-Chief of Oxford University Press United Nations Human Rights Case-Law Reports, a Fellow of the Human Rights Centre of the University of Essex and a Senior Research Fellow at the Pluricourts Centre at the University of Oslo. She has been a Council of Europe expert on the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) since 2002.