In search of new ideas for the creative and public enforcement of human rights, we founded Investigative Commons in 2020. The multidisciplinary cooperation is a result of years of collaboration between ECCHR and the research agency Forensic Architecture.
Investigative Commons establishes an interdisciplinary space where ECCHR, Forensic Architecture, its sister agency Forensis, and other organizations come together in different constellations to work on concrete cases. Depending on the project, journalists, activists, lawyers, architects and other experts share their knowledge. The outcome of these collaborations – video analyses, evaluations of satellite imagery or multimedia exhibitions – will enable new ways to finding truths in matters of human rights and environmental protection. They shall be used in court proceedings as well as other public forums, such as museums.
The tools from which Investigative Commons carefully selects and uses are diverse, such as research methods from investigative and data journalism, machine learning, virtual and augmented reality, animation techniques, and innovative ideas rooted in architecture. These and other means help us explore new ways to go about presenting evidence in legal casework. At the outset, Investigative Commons is examining various topics, such as the responsibility of European corporate actors for war crimes in Yemen, the German genocide in Namibia, and push-backs on the Greek-Turkish border.
Over the past decade, ECCHR and Forensic Architecture have cooperated on human rights crimes worldwide, such as on working conditions in Pakistan, torture in Syria, and Spanish push-backs in Melilla. In 2020, this cooperation resulted in joining forces to open an office in Berlin. Thus, we can continue to explore new paths of presenting evidence in collaborative projects.
You can find all Investigative Commons projects below
Despite countless attacks on civilian homes, markets, hospitals and schools – conducted by the Saudi/UAE-led military coalition – transnational companies based in Europe continue to supply the war in Yemen with weapons, ammunition and logistical support.
In order to show the consequences of European arms exports in Yemen, ECCHR, Forensic Architecture, Bellingcat and Yemeni Archive developed the interactive timemap European arms in the bombing of Yemen. It documents attacks on civilian targets in which weapons for example from Rheinmetall or Airbus were evidently used. The project is based on field research at the sites of the airstrikes, open source investigation and legal analyses. We applied cartographic techniques on the results of our joint research, thereby showing how the attacks are interconnected. The outcome is an interactive overview of the crimes still committed in Yemen – each of which could count as a violation of international law.
The timemap can function as a platform for national and international prosecution authorities investigating the Yemen war and serves as a basis for information for civil society, academics or lawyers. The project complements our criminal complaint to the International Criminal Court from November 2019 against economic and state actors who are involved in these arms exports and might thus be aiding and abetting the war crimes in Yemen.
The defining characteristic of our era is a sustained attack by “counter-factual” neo-fascist groups against state institutions and judiciaries. A common response has been to cling to those traditional pillars of power-knowledge. But how should civil society react when those institutions themselves are responsible for crimes, state-terror and cover-ups; when the necessary struggle has two fronts: both for independent verification and against institutional knowledge?
The Investigative Commons seeks to address this crisis by socializing the development and deployment of “counter-forensic” evidence. Initiated by Forensic Architecture, FORENSIS and ECCHR, this community of practice works to expose state and corporate violence. Its investigations combine the situated knowledge of communities at the forefront of political struggle with the toolkits of investigative reporters, whistleblowers, activists, lawyers, scientists, artists, architects and other cultural practitioners. All are working towards decisive casework that confronts urgent issues: racist policing and border regimes, cyber-surveillance, environmental destruction and dispossession, and the persistence of colonial violence. The Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) in Berlin follows the Investigative Commons over the course of 2021-22 with exhibitions, conferences and reflections on the ways in which new technologies and aesthetic sensibilities might define and transform how we investigate the world.
Severely beaten, secretly detained and forcibly returned from Greece six times, Parvin A filed a complaint at the UN Human Rights Committee. Her case exposes the systematic Greek practice of pushbacks owing to digital evidence she was able to preserve from inside detention and at the border which was analyzed as part of a Forensic Architecture investigation, in cooperation with ECCHR, HumanRights360 and the Investigative Commons.
The genocide committed against the Ovaherero and Nama in present-day Namibia by German colonial troops was the first of the 20th century. Throughout its colonial rule, Germany oppressed and deprived the people of their rights. Namibian claims for reparations are not adequately addressed to this day.
Within the framework of Investigative Commons we have conducted a multiyear investigation partnering up with Forensic Architecture and Forensis as well as partners in Namibia. The methods to analyze key sites of the genocide committed by Germany between 1904 and 1908 included collaborative modelling, situated testimonies, and geolocations.
The evidence that the organizations’ collaboration produce can be used by local communities in their claim for reparations.