Launch of the 'Yemen Project': Open source investigations into Saudi-led Yemen airstrikes
Today we launch a new website called the 'Yemen project' dedicated to hosting a collection of expert open-source investigations of the Saudi-led Coalition's airstrike campaign in Yemen. The investigations are the result of a collaboration between GLAN and Bellingcat which brought together legal and investigative expertise to analyse airstrikes using a methodology designed with the highest legal evidential standards in mind.
The Yemen Project began as “Project ‘Arim”, a multidisciplinary event which brought together 40 investigators, lawyers, Yemen experts and weapons experts to address approximately 100 air raids which were allegedly carried out by the Saudi-led Coalition in Yemen. The motivation for this initiative was borne out of the frustrations held by many seeking accountability for violence in Yemen who appreciated the unrealised potential of open-source evidence for advocacy, journalism and legal proceedings. With generous supported from Channel 4, the New York Times and the Open Society Foundation.
Developing a methodology
In the lead up to the meeting, GLAN surveyed the legal practices and principles relevant to determining the weight and admissibility of evidence and consulted with international and domestic practitioners. A set of basic standards were distilled which would address the core evidential priorities for demonstrating impartiality namely, chain-of-custody, record-keeping and the pursuit of all reasonable lines of inquiry. All of these factors serve to address potential legal concerns around the quality and origins of open-source evidence. The methodology could be transferable to violations by the other parties to the conflict (notably, the Houthis) and to other situations entirely.
These standards were specifically designed to be “light touch”: that is, to be feasible for investigators to adhere to without unduly slowing down their progress. This was the first stage in an on-going process where this ground-breaking methodology be further refined as the project develops.
On the first day of Project ‘Arim, GLAN provided training on the above evidential standards and on the principles of international humanitarian law, to ensure that the investigators had a clear picture of what factual issues are important to a legal evaluation. The investigators did not take a view on the legal implications of any of the facts that they uncovered.
On the remaining three days, six teams began working through the airstrikes. Each team was led by a Bellingcat investigator and had one Arabic speaker . The methodology was tested and refined as the days went on. Between this event and the launch of the Yemen Project website, the work has been refined by a core team at Bellingcat, led by Rawan Shaif and Nick Waters.
GLAN would like to thank Tara Vassefi (Truepic), Lindsay Freeman (Human Rights Centre, University of California, Berkeley), and Daniel Robinson (Barrister, Red Lion Chambers) for their legal input.
We took inspiration from Amnesty International’s Digital Verification Corps who have pioneered the use of this type of investigation to force powerful actors into transparency, and Syrian Archive, whose OSINT work has even led to criminal accountability for the the illegal shipment of sarin precursor from Belgium to Syria.
Preservation and chain of custody is ensured by the unparalleled expertise of Mnemonic (Syrian/Yemeni Archive) who have led the way in archiving open-source evidence to the highest evidential standards and who also publish exceptional long-form open-source reports on Yemen. We are also grateful to our technical advisors, Fabio Natali (Reckon Digital), Enrique Paracis (Carnegie Mellon University).
OSINT is, by definition, more than the sum of its parts: The investigators relied on published reports from on-the-ground reporting by Mwatana, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in addition to a rich multitude of user generated content which allowed them to draw conclusions that were not otherwise available. The investigations have already raised numerous questions that the Coalition and/or its allies will now have to answer.
To see the investigations visit Yemen.Bellingcat.com