Apps can help fight impunity for sexual violence


Technology has a huge role to play when it comes to finding innovative ways to assist victims of sexual violence during conflict, said Céline Bardet, founder and president of We are not Weapons of War.

A woman’s photo is taken by cell phone in a hospital in Yemen. © EPA-EFE/Yahya Arhab

“What technology does is it accelerates things and it allows us to reach people or a zone that we couldn’t otherwise,” Bardet said.

Bardet’s NGO battles against the use of rape as a weapon in conflict. Her organization has recently created Back Up, an app that allows victims of rape to report it and access help. The app also gathers the data on rape instances for use in later prosecutions.

The app has been trialled in Libya, with great results, Bardet said. As a direct result of the information gathered and later analysed from the secure external server, the NGO filed a complaint for acts of torture and barbarity against Libyan commander Maréchal Haftar in the Tribunal de Grande Instance in Paris last year.

“We could lodge a complaint because we were able to access information through the Back Up,” Bardet said. “It validated the process. There are lots of people who have been identifying themselves, telling us about what happened to them. . . many who said ‘this tool helped me to heal.’”

Tech: A useful tool for human rights

The Back Up is an example of how technology can be a safe and critical tool in working on human rights challenges, said Peggy Hicks. During a recent round table looking into the use of tech to combat conflict related sexual violence (CRSV), tech professionals and sexual violence experts explored how technology can support efforts to respond and prevent CRSV.

Hicks said that technology is a useful tool when it comes to the critical step of recording accurate information to challenge impunity for such crimes.

“Technology is increasingly assisting the documentation of the experiences of survivors of sexual violence – a critical step towards accountability,” she said during the roundtable.

Yet technology will do little good if people who need it don’t have access to it, said Antonia Mulvey, executive director of Legal Action Worldwide, who co-sponsored the round table. The digital gender divide is real, with the proportion of men using the internet is still higher than those of women worldwide, with only one in seven women online in developing countries. Mulvey said any tech that looks into handling CRSV must consider how to overcome this gap.

“There are so many issues, such as many people being illiterate, not having access to smart phones, and lack of accessibility to the internet,” she said during the round table. “How can this be overcome? How can you make the technology survivor friendly?”

Tech depends on the humans behind it

Efforts to integrate new technologies into addressing human rights challenges have been a focus of our work, said Scott Campbell, from the UN Human Rights Office. In the last few years, the Office has considered new technologies under two broad pillars – that of tech as a tool and that of tech as a challenge.

“I think that the Office has realized over the last few years that our daily lives and our human rights are increasingly impacted by the use of technologies in very broad and different ways,” he said.

One way to make technology more human rights friendly is to get those who create it to incorporate human rights principles into design and development of tech products and policies, Campbell said. Artificial intelligence algorithms, for example, can reflect the biases of those creating it, and the use of biased data can further contribute to discriminatory outcomes, for example.

“Technology depends on the humans who are designing it, who are developing the policies about the use of the technology and who are monitoring its use once it is rolled out,” he said.

This kind of improvement in documentation and storage of evidence from survivors is a key way that technology can work for survivors of sexual violence, said Hicks.

“We need to use technology innovation towards those in most vulnerable situations and make a difference,” she said.  

 

10 May 2019

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