Pro Bono Project Leads to Crimes Against Humanity Ruling in the DRC

25 September 2018

On Friday 21 September, a military tribunal in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) condemned two high-ranking commanders for murder and torture constituting crimes against humanity. Central to the convictions was video footage submitted to the proceedings using the eyeWitness app, an initiative Debevoise & Plimpton LLP lawyers have been heavily involved with since its inception.

The app, developed by eyeWitness to Atrocities, harnesses the power of technology to help bring those enabling and encouraging unspeakable cruelty to justice. It provides human rights defenders and organisations documenting human rights abuses with a mobile app to capture relevant video footage and photos embedded with metadata to verify where and when it was taken and whether it has been altered. Both the images and the metadata are stored within the app until the footage is then sent to a secure server and reviewed by pro bono lawyers who curate the information for potential use in international investigations and prosecutions.

To date 15 Debevoise lawyers have worked on the project since its inception in 2017. Their role involves reviewing photo and video evidence, curating the information into evidentiary dossiers, and completing research and situational analysis briefs.

The submittal of video footage captured by the app in the recent trial in the DRC was an all-time first in the country. The use of video during the trial made a big impact in the courthouse, which saw two commanders of the rebel militia called the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) receive life sentences for murder and torture, both constituting crimes against humanity, as well as pillage and arson. All 100 victims party to the proceedings have been awarded reparations ranging from $5,000 to $25,000.

In 2012, the villages of Kamananga and Lumenje in the DRC were the theatre of appalling attacks by the FDLR. Alleging the villagers’ support to a rival local militia, militiamen led by commanders Gilbert Ndayambaje and Evariste Nizeimana looted both villages, killed and tortured civilians and burned buildings to the ground.

It is hoped that the convictions will prompt other lawyers to use audiovisual evidence in criminal proceedings.

For full details of the decision, and the organisations involved, click here.

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