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Part I, 4 Open Source Investigations and the Technology-driven Knowledge Controversy in Human Rights Fact-finding

Ella McPherson, Isabel Guenette Thornton, Matt Mahmoudi

From: Digital Witness: Using Open Source Information for Human Rights Investigation, Documentation, and Accountability

Edited By: Sam Dubberley, Alexa Koenig, Daragh Murray

From: Oxford Public International Law (http://opil.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2023. All Rights Reserved.date: 01 March 2024

Access to information — Individuals and non-state actors — Duty to investigate — Expert evidence — Witnesses — Fact-finding and inquiry

Human rights fact-finding, like almost all professions that turn on truth-claims, is in the midst of a technology-driven ‘knowledge controversy’ that is at once unsettling and productive. The rise of new technologies in human rights fact-finding has allowed for the participation of new actors in the form of civilian witnesses and analysts and necessitated the participation of others in the form of technologists and machine processes. These new actors bring with them not only new data and new methods, but also new norms about what human rights knowledge should be. The clash of these new elements with established practices produces a knowledge controversy with implications for the power to shape human rights methodology. Methodology rules in and rules out particular types of human rights information with respect to evidence. It thus rules in and rules out particular types of corresponding subjects and witnesses of violations. Ultimately, we are concerned with the impact of these power relations on pluralism, or the variety and volume of voices that can speak and be heard, both in terms of shaping the practices of human rights fact-finding, and in terms of access to human rights mechanisms that help subjects and witnesses speak truth to power.

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