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Mapping the Use of Open Source Research in UN Human Rights Investigations

Daragh Murray, Yvonne McDermott Rees Orcid Logo, K Alexa Koenig

Journal of Human Rights Practice

Swansea University Author: Yvonne McDermott Rees Orcid Logo

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DOI (Published version): 10.1093/jhuman/huab059

Abstract

Open source information, particularly digital open source information that is publicly available on the internet, plays an increasingly central role in the landscape of human rights investigations. This article provides a thorough analysis of how open source information is used in practice by UN hum...

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Published in: Journal of Human Rights Practice
ISSN: 1757-9619 1757-9627
Published: Oxford University Press (OUP)
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URI: https://cronfa.swan.ac.uk/Record/cronfa58947
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Abstract: Open source information, particularly digital open source information that is publicly available on the internet, plays an increasingly central role in the landscape of human rights investigations. This article provides a thorough analysis of how open source information is used in practice by UN human rights fact-finding missions, commissions of inquiry and other official human rights investigations. Combining data from semi-structured interviews carried out with investigators with specific experience in open source human rights investigations with a review of reports and other primary and secondary sources, it examines the utility of open source information to UN human rights investigative bodies. It posits that open source research can provide tremendous benefits in planning investigations, supplying lead evidence, and providing direct evidence of violations, thereby overcoming some of the access barriers that investigators face, and potentially giving voice to a wider range of perspectives. On the other hand, this article argues that open source investigations should be approached with a clear eye to their challenges and possible pitfalls. These include the gaps of open source information and the potential to silence already-marginalised communities through open source investigations, as well as the resource-intensive nature of these investigations, the danger that open source information can impact upon witnesses' perceptions, and the risks posed by online disinformation. As open source research is likely to comprise an important component of the human rights investigator’s toolbox in the future, this article argues in favour of the institutional buy-in, resourcing, and methodological rigour that it deserves.
Keywords: accountability; fact-finding; human rights investigations; human rights law; opensource information; technology
College: College of Law
Funders: ESRC