News and Events
We’re almost there! Just a few days left to make a home for human rights at Berkeley
Help us make a home for human rights at UC Berkeley! The campus selected the Human Rights Center to be featured in a special crowdfunding effort. Between now and Feb. 23, we’re raising $30,000 to move into our new home on campus. If you have thought of donating but haven’t had a chance, please do so during this special campaign! Help us get the word out and reach our goal. Watch our 2-minute video and donate here!
McMahon to lead Tech and Human Rights Program, Lab
The Human Rights Center announces that international investigator and journalist Félim McMahon has joined the center as its Technology and Human Rights Program Director and Director of the Human Rights Investigations Lab.
“We are thrilled to have Félim join our team,” said Executive Director Alexa Koenig. “His experiences innovating as a journalist and as an international investigator promise to bring even greater clarity and structure to the work we’re doing at the intersection of tech, law, and human rights.”
McMahon comes to the center from the International Criminal Court where he conducted open source investigations to strengthen prosecutions of grave international crimes, including war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity. He was previously a print journalist in Ireland and then part of a pioneering team that established Storyful, the world’s first social media news agency.
New HRC Research Fellow brings expertise in law, tech
Lindsay Freeman joins the Human Rights Center as a Research Fellow, offering her expertise in international criminal law and technology. “Lindsay brings to HRC an incredible wealth of experience from her time in tech and in domestic and international law, especially how emerging technologies can be harnessed to improve evidence of war crimes and human rights abuses,” said Executive Director Alexa Koenig. “She is playing a central role in helping to develop international standards for using digital information as evidence in international courts.” Freeman is an international criminal lawyer based in The Hague, Netherlands. Her current research focuses on open source investigations for legal accountability, developing standards for new types of evidence in international criminal proceedings, and examining how next generation military technology is transforming the battlefield and the court room. Read Freeman’s recent article in Fordam International Law Journal: Digital Evidence and War Crimes Prosecutions: The Impact of Digital Technologies on International Criminal Investigations and Trials
Just released! Report from Bellagio on open source information as evidence
The Human Rights Center has just released: The New Forensics: Using Open Source Information to Investigate Grave Crimes. The report highlights discussion, conclusions, and recommendations from an historic workshop on evidence collection and legal accountability that the Human Rights Center hosted at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in Italy last fall. Participants explored how online open source investigations—internet-based investigations that rely on publicly accessible information—can be strengthened. The workshop marked the first international effort to explore how to harness the probative power and potential of open source investigations for legal accountability. Read more.
Human Rights Investigations Lab reports on chemical weapons strikes in Syria
Students in UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Investigations Lab used open sources to document the March 2017 chemical weapons strikes on Al-Lataminah, Syria—including a strike that appeared to have targeted a medical facility. The report—Chemical Strikes on Al-Lataminah—was issued on January 18. The Lab’s open source work—verifying photos and videos found on Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter—was conducted in collaboration with the Syrian Archive, a nonprofit organization that curates visual documentation from the Syrian conflict for legal accountability. The report was led by Berkeley Law student and Human Rights Investigations Syria Team Manager Andrea Trewinnard. Read more and find the report: Chemical Strikes on Al Lataminah
No Safe Space study just released: Severe physical and mental health effects of widespread use of tear gas in refugee camps
As the use of tear gas by Israeli Security Forces (ISF) in Aida camp in Bethlehem increases to an almost daily occurrence following Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on 6 December 2017, University of California researchers report on the negative physical and mental health effects of chemical crowd control weapons on daily life among Palestine refugees. The No Safe Space: Health Consequences of Tear Gas Exposure Among Palestine Refugees study is the first to analyze the effects of the use of tear gas in Aida and Dheisheh camps.
The study—conducted by Dr. Rohini Haar from the University of California, Berkeley’s Human Rights Center and Dr. Jess Ghannam from the University of California, San Francisco—found widespread and indiscriminate use of tear gas in Aida camp.
“We found that the constant and unpredictable use of tear gas in Palestine refugee camps has a devastating effect on the mental and physical health of residents—especially the most vulnerable, including pregnant women, children, the elderly, and people already in ill health,” said Haar, a researcher at UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Center and a doctor with Physicians for Human Rights. Read more and download the report.
Freccero writes about sexual violence perpetrated against boys and men
In an article in Reproductive Health Matters, HRC’s Julie Freccero—with co-authors Sarah Chynoweth and Heleen Touquet—writes about the exploitation of and sexual violence perpetrated against men and boys in conflict and emergency settings. “For unaccompanied boys, the issue has reached new urgency as the number of registered unaccompanied children—the majority of whom are male—has risen five-fold globally since 2010,” writes Freccero. “The refugee and migrant crisis in Europe in particular has drawn global attention to the sexual exploitation and abuse of unaccompanied adolescent boys, who comprised 89 percent of the 63,300 unaccompanied minors applying for asylum in the European Union in 2016.” Read the story:
Human Trafficking, Exploitation, and Health: a new PLOS Collection
How do we help prevent the sexual exploitation of migrant and refugee boys in Greece? HRC’s Julie Freccero and colleagues Kim Thuy Seelinger, Audrey Whiting and Khaled Alrabe tackle this question in PLOS Medicine. Read it here!
UC Berkeley researchers issue first study of novel anti-trafficking efforts in LA that could be model for the nation
UC Berkeley researchers have released the first study of Los Angeles County’s novel anti-trafficking efforts—evaluating a model that could be replicated nationwide to improve investigations of human trafficking and provide support for victims.
Researchers from the Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley School of Law, in partnership with the International Human Rights Law Clinic, studied the first year of the Human Trafficking Bureau of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, a member of the Los Angeles Regional Human Trafficking Task Force, which brings together investigators, service providers, and prosecutors to investigate–and stop—human trafficking. The study is the first comprehensive look at the Bureau, which was established in 2015.
Researchers interviewed 45 federal, state, and county investigators, service providers, and prosecutors for Building Trust: Perspectives on a Victim-Centered Approach to Human Trafficking Investigations in Los Angeles County.
“The Los Angeles County’s anti-trafficking model is laying the groundwork for improving care for victims and prosecuting traffickers,” said Eric Stover, faculty director of the Human Rights Center and an author of the study. “But more resources are needed to ensure the success of this effort.”
Just released: Digital Verification Corps Student Summit report
The Human Rights Center and Amnesty International hosted the first Digital Verification Corps student summit in June 2017. Participants included students from Essex, Toronto, Pretoria, Cambridge, and Berkeley as well as leading open source experts from around the world. We evaluated the first year of university-based open source labs, conducted training, discussed next steps, and built community. Read the Summit Report.
Was the poet Pablo Neruda murdered?
HRC Senior Research Fellow Cristián Orrego Benavente (our former Forensic Program Director) coordinated the Genomics/Proteomics Panel of Experts that analyzed the remains of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and determined that he did not die from cancer, as officially stated. The forensic experts found a potentially deadly bacteria in Neruda’s remains, but could not yet confirm its origins. The panel also included HRC Senior Research Fellow Charles Brenner and Berkeley Public Health’s George Sensabaugh and John Swartzberg. Read more in the New York Times.
UN High Commissioner and Microsoft President talk free speech in event moderated by HRC’s Alexa Koenig
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein and Microsoft President Brad Smith discussed technology, human rights, and freedom of expression at UC Berkeley’s International House on September 28 as part of the Haas School of Business Dean’s Speaker Series. The Human Rights Center’s Executive Director Alexa Koenig moderated.
Human Rights Center hires Vitorte as first Deputy Director
The Human Rights Center has hired Molly Vitorte as its first Deputy Director to provide leadership and expertise at a pivotal moment in its history. Vitorte was most recently UC Berkeley’s Director of Development for Undergraduate Education.
“This is full circle for the Human Rights Center,” said Faculty Director Eric Stover. “Molly was our first graduate student researcher more than two decades ago. She helped lay the groundwork for many of our current projects. We’re excited that she will help us lead this next phase of our work.”
Missing Peace Young Scholars tackle research gaps on sexual violence and exploitation
The Missing Peace Initiative’s Young Scholars met in San Francisco in July to discuss sexual violence and exploitation. The Missing Peace Initiative was established in 2012 by the United States Institute of Peace, Women in International Security, Human Rights Center , and the Peace Research Institute Oslo. The Young Scholars are Ph.D. candidates or new professors.
Global summit on open source human rights investigations convened at UC Berkeley
The Human Rights Center and Amnesty International co-hosted a summit on open source human rights investigations June 26-29, bringing together students from Pretoria, Essex, Toronto, and Berkeley and global experts. More about the summit:
World’s next generation of human rights investigators meets at Berkeley (Gretchen Kell, UC Berkeley, Public Affairs)
As ‘fake news’ flies, UC Berkeley students verify and document (Emily Deruy, The Mercury News)
Global student summit on open source human rights investigations convened at UC Berkeley (Andrea Lampros, Human Rights Center Medium)