“To investigate, Human Rights Watch is talking to doctors, forensic experts and first aiders”

In Boutcha, April 4, 2022, after the withdrawal of Russian troops.

After the Russian withdrawal from Boutcha, a city in the northwestern suburbs of Kiev that has been occupied since February 27, many bodies of Ukrainian citizens were discovered in the streets, as well as mass graves. Russia, which has denied attacking civilians, has “bloodbath” brought against her by the Ukrainian authorities.

Ida Sawyer, director of the crisis and conflict division of Human Rights Watch (HRW), which documented several cases of violations of the laws of war by Russian armed forces against civilians in the occupied territories of Chernihiv, Kharkiv or even Kiev, explains to the World the research work of the NGO.

How does Human Rights Watch collect evidence of war crimes on the ground?

Researchers who are members of our organization go there. For example, we meet witnesses and victims, and we conduct interviews, as in Boutcha. It also happens that we go to other parts of Ukraine or neighboring countries if the witnesses have had to flee. This means that we sometimes conduct these interviews by telephone.

Read our explanation: War in Ukraine: what is a war crime? Who can be judged and who can judge?

Isn’t the multiplication of sources also a problem? Is it still possible to analyze and contextualize citizens’ images and videos?

Social networks can in part facilitate our work because they give us access to photos, videos, but also new ways of contacting victims. However, we must be very careful as false information is also circulating. That is why we supplement the interviews conducted with the analysis of images published on the networks or shared with us directly by the victims.

Our digital research lab analyzes every video and photo to authenticate them and know where and when they were taken. In these kinds of conflicts, some of the images circulating are several years old or come from other conflict zones.

We also analyze satellite images, which can show the impact of an attack on certain buildings, such as schools or hospitals, or even attest to the presence of mass graves. Our teams work with physicians, forensic experts and first responders, who may want to share important details with us.

What are the limits of this kind of research and the difficulties encountered, especially those in Irpine, Boutcha or Mariupol? Can detectives gain access to these areas?

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