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BLOG: Sam Dubberley, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL - CGHR Practitioner Series 2019

last modified Mar 14, 2019 03:08 PM
Kiara van Hout, Law (Tripos), member of CGHR's Student Group wrote about the first talk of this year's Practitioner Series with Sam Dubberley, Amnesty International.

On Wednesday, January 23rd, the Centre for Governance and Human Rights was thrilled to welcome Sam Dubberley as the first guest speaker of this year’s Practitioner Series. Attended by students considering careers in human rights as well as researchers in the field, the forum discussed both Sam’s career path and his current work in human rights with Amnesty International.

Having studied Modern and Medieval Languages as an undergraduate at Cambridge, Sam started his career in journalism. In 2002, Sam took up a position as a subeditor for the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), an alliance that aimed for cooperative exchange among European public broadcasters. Between 2010 and 2013 he occupied the position of Head of News.

Through his work with the EBU, Sam recalls observing first-hand the significant changes brought about by technology that began to influence journalism and broadcasting. From tourists capturing the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake on camcorders to low-resolution videos taken on mobile phones during the Saffron Revolution in Myanmar in 2006, open-source journalism became increasingly relevant as ordinary individuals were able to capture photos and videos of current events. 

The ways that journalists engaged with content changed, Sam explains, prompting new questions and concerns. Should broadcasters use open-source content, particularly when it is too dangerous or inaccessible for embedded crews of journalists to capture events? How could they verify that open-source content was legitimate? 

It was the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul in 2013 that acted as a catalyst for Sam’s involvement in human rights. While state media portrayed protestors as violent and disruptive, online resistance shared photos and videos telling a radically different story: the destruction of peaceful protest camps with the indiscriminate use of weapons of riot control. Envisaging the potential use of these open-source videos by the European Court of Human Rights, it was shortly thereafter that Sam joined Amnesty International.

Recruited to Amnesty’s Evidence Lab in 2016, Sam became part of the Crisis Response Team supporting researchers in establishing evidence of alleged human rights abuses. His experience in verification of open-source media proved valuable in analysing evidence from social media. This task requires detailed examinations of media and what it captures, including the weapons and geolocation information, such as mountain ranges and vegetation, in order to ascertain the location and perpetrators of abuses. This forensic analysis of online video, combined with satellite data and firsthand testimonies from on-the-ground personnel, allow Amnesty to corroborate reports of human rights abuses and to prove false the denials that often accompanied them. For instance, the Crisis Response Team’s significant contributions to Amnesty’s report in June 2018 on ethnic cleansing in Myanmar helped to inform the United Nations Security Council’s response to the crisis.

Sam and his colleagues at Amnesty have also established new programmes coordinating volunteer efforts in verification. The Digital Verification Corps, which Sam runs, trains students from a number of universities worldwide, including Cambridge, to verify the authenticity, location, and time of videos and photographs. Similarly, the Amnesty Decoders platform invites digital volunteers to help sift through pictures, information and documents. Currently, the Strike Tracker project looks at satellite imagery of Raqqa to map the damage caused by the US-led airstrike in October 2017.

Verification of open-source media is as challenging as it is essential to human rights action in a digital age. We warmly thank Sam for kicking off the Practitioner Series by sharing his career path into human rights and for his fascinating and important insights into the cutting-edge verification work being done by he and his team.