From museum to courtroom: Investigative Commons reinvents legal investigations

Cooperation – Cooperation Forensic Architecture – Investigative Commons

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.

You can find all Investigative Commons projects below and on its website.


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.

09.06.2021 – 08.08.2021

This exhibition showcases a new model for collaborative truth-production and investigative aesthetics, bringing together open source investigation, “counter-forensics” and strategic human rights litigation. Combining the knowledge of survivors of violence and dispossession with methods from journalism, law, activism and arts, it presents casework that confronts urgent contemporary issues: racist policing and border regimes, cyber-surveillance, environmental violence, the ongoing violence of colonialism and the complicity of institutions in them.

Together with the accompanying program, it marked the launch of Investigative Commons, the interdisciplinary practice initiated by Forensic Architecture, Forensis and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), which includes amongst others Laura Poitras/Praxis Films, Bellingcat, Mnemonic and HKW. Further, they introduce Forensis, a new Berlin-based association founded by Forensic Architecture, and named after its inaugural exhibition at HKW in 2014.

Archive on the HKW exhibition.

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. Findings from the area around Waterberg and violence committed against the Ovaherero were first presented in November 2022 at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt. In December 2023, a performance together with Namibian partners at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt presents the crimes committed against the Nama in concentration camps and during the battle in Hornkranz. Additionally, it explores the ongoing environmental impact of Germany's colonial presence in Namibia.

The evidence that the organizations’ collaboration produced can be used by local communities in their claim for reparations.

More information can be found here.


The rise of counterfactual politics on- and off-line, presents societies with a dilemma. One option is to buttress the institutional basis of factual authority by supporting the existing judiciary, media, universities and cultural venues. Another approach, presented here, is more risky: to seize the contemporary moment of institutional crisis as an opportunity for a radical transformation of the way facts are produced and disseminated. This approach responds to the current skepticism towards institutional pronouncements with a vital form of collective truth-production; one that is both diffused and diverse, based on establishing an expanded community of practice that incorporates aesthetic and scientific sensibilities. Organized by one such community of practice, the Investigative Commons, this event brings together investigators, lawyers, activists, artists, architects and academics. They will discuss the ways in which new investigative practices have the potential to challenge different forums for the presentations of facts and articulation of claims: the mainstream media brought into crisis by the growth of ‘open source’ and ‘citizen’ journalism; museums, which have been turned into sites of political contestation; and the courts where new kind of evidence, citizen-produced and crowd-verified, challenges traditional legal process.

Archive link on the HKW event.



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