„Wir verteidigen Menschenrechte“

Portraitbild Hadi Al Khatib

Autor:in: Clara Braeuer

Bild: Christian Klant

„Wir verteidigen Menschenrechte“

Herzlich willkommen in der Ashoka Fellowship, Hadi Al Khatib! Ein Foto, ein Handyvideo sind schnell gemacht – und sind heute oft eine wichtige Quelle zur Dokumentation von Menschenrechtsverletzungen rund um die Welt. Mit dem Team von Mnemonic setzt sich Hadi Al Khatib dafür ein, dass Dokumentationen verifiziert und gesichert werden können, um sie für Berichterstattung, Transparenz und Investigationen nutzbar zu machen. Wir sprachen mit Hadi über seine Arbeit.

Am 17. November 2021 war Hadi zu Gast in Ashokas Online-Serie „Welcome Change“ zum Thema „Open-Sourcing Human Rights Investigations“. Das Gespräch ist abrufbar >> hier via Youtube.

Which world, which societal changes are you working on, Hadi?

We work to globally help human rights defenders, journalist and lawyers to effectively use digital documentation of humans rights violations and international crimes to support advocacy campaigns, advocacy research as well as accountability processes. In the past ten years we have seen how people are documenting and capturing violence against them i.e. with their mobile phones and cameras. They also share this to the public, by publishing it on social media platforms. But what happens when you publish this kind of content into social media platforms is that people don’t own their narrative anymore. We´ve seen how social media platforms with their terms of services and with their content moderation policies harm human rights documentation around the world by removing this content.

The second thing is we´ve been seeing is the raise of misinformation and disinformation by powerful actors including governments, especially when human rights violations happen in certain places. And we saw that this needs to be countered by making sure that there is a clear methodology of how to verify media that is captured by people who are witnessing violence against them. We also wanted to make sure that the material captured is not only used to counter information, but also used to conduct investigations in order to pursue justice within and outside of the country.

Ultimately, this is why we´re doing this kind of work: To defend human rights and allow for justice to happen.

Which path have you taken to achieve this, how do you do it?

We want to make sure that people own their narratives and not social media companies. So first, we built an independent infrastructure including an archiving software to secure material in a way that assures its availability and accessibility and integrity in the future. We are also working on machine learning software to be able to find important material in the archive, which now holds millions and millions of pieces of media already. Second, we developed the technical tools, methodologies and workflows to verify media captured by people witnessing violence against them. Third, we make sure to use the verified media to build and conduct investigations that feed into media being able to report, and into legal case building, especially if investigators cannot access countries to integrate peoples’ documentations. We then train human rights defenders, journalists and other people in the skills to archive and verify material and to run investigations.

Lastly what we do is to work on content moderation policies. Social media companies have a very powerful role in deciding what content can be on their website and which content would be removed without really understanding the consequences. Our engagement with social media companies is to make sure they are aware of the consequences. We provide clear examples of how certain content is human rights documentation rather than a violation to the terms of service to the platforms.

Through our work we try to improve the whole sector of human rights investigations by sharing our learnings and providing the tools, methods and practices and standards to others.

When you look back on your own journey – how did you start as a changemaker?

I started this work during the Syrian uprising in 2011. People were protesting and asking for change. These calls for reform turned into war and I have been following the developments on social media platforms since 2011. A few friends of mine any myself started monitoring and translating so that international media outlets could understand what was happening. Because from the outside it was difficult to understand really. We did this on a voluntary basis until 2014 when also we realized that all of the documentation was taken down from social media platforms and too much information was lost. So we started the archive to save the material, but we also wanted to not only archive for the future, but make it accessible and usable to feed it to media and legal cases. In 2017 we started to get funding for the project and we soon started to get requests from different countries, which led to us founding Mnemonic in 2018.

Ashokas vision is a world in which everone has the possibility to be a changemaker for an inclusive, just and sustainable world. If I wanted to support your goals, how could I do that?

There are different ways of how we can be supported. One by bringing in your expertise – be it technical in software development or for other solutions we´re trying to build in archiving and machine learning. We can also use support when it comes to researchers, who have experience with verification methodologies. Other valuable support could be people with expertise in organizational development, in funding structures and approaches. Unfortunately, there is very little support in terms of funding for the causes we work on. I.e. in Sudan we face a situation where we could have an impact right away, but we´re working on very limited resources.

Would you share a good tip that you have received on your way as a changemaker?

Yes, sure. It lays in building collaborations early on your journey and making sure that these are strong from the first moments. Especially when you´re facing limited resources while bring your idea to life, don´t walk alone, but build strong coalitions early on. When I reached out to different communities and asked for support and collaboration around a shared case beautiful things became possible.

Ashoka sucht, fördert und begleitet Menschen, die mit neuen Ansätzen („system-changing new ideas“) beitragen, gesellschaftliche Herausforderungen zu überwinden – und dadurch helfen eine chancengerechte und nachhaltige Welt zu gestalten. Menschen, die sich durch ihren unternehmerischen Geist, Kreativität und Integrität auszeichnen. Wen kennt ihr, die:der von der Ashoka Fellowship profitieren könnte? Schlagt uns Kandidat:innen vor, wir freuen uns von euch zu hören! Hier geht’s zur Nominierung. Für Rückfragen steht euch Clara Bräuer im Team gern zur Verfügung.