YouTube, e-discovery software among tech tools for war crime investigators

War crimes -- brutal genocide, mass executions, ethnic cleansing, torture -- have spurred international efforts by the United Nations to investigate and convict those deemed responsible, wherever they have occurred. And according to those involved in prosecuting war crimes in once war-torn places such as the former Yugoslavia, Cambodia and Rwanda, modern technology related to e-discovery and multi-lingual translation is playing a critical role in the ongoing process to find justice for victims.

"The challenge is, we work in several languages," says Gonzalo de Cesare, information officer at the Council of the European Union, and a legal expert in records management who has been involved in the U.N. war crimes tribunals related to the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Cambodia, where investigations and prosecutions into war-related atrocities, including genocide, still proceed. "When I worked in Cambodia, it was not only different languages, but different scripts."

United Nations making slow progress on cybersecurityTo get evidence to find and prosecute war criminals, legal teams under U.N. tribunals have travelled the world to amass the evidence they needed to try and pinpoint those responsible for horrific brutalities in war-torn parts of the globe, such as the estimated 800,000 individuals killed in Rwanda in the mid-1990s.

One of the more important tools in their toolkits these days are portable computers with e-discovery and information management software that can take scanned documents and video clips from witnesses and make it a searchable archive for both the prosecution and the defense, which gets Web-based access to certain documents online. Modern storage systems now hold terabytes of data related to modern-day war crimes and genocide.

This software used in the investigations is called ZyLAB's eDiscovery and Information Management suite, and de Cesare says it has proven indispensable in the process of amassing and organizing millions of pages of evidence and interviewing many thousands of people in multiple languages to build legal cases.

The Yugoslav wars of the mid-1990s, the violent upheaval that included mass ethnic killings, prompted the U.N. Security Council to establish the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and NATO and European Union representatives were given the mission of finding the evidence in the wreckage of war.

"To build strong cases has to be based on evidence that's incriminating," de Cesare says. He notes in the former Yugoslavia, the army "was professional and kept detailed records "and we scanned them -- 3 million pages." There were also audio records.

Round-the-clock scanning would occur, and ZyLAB's software was used to set up search mechanisms to identity words, even in languages where nouns change spelling based on how they're used in a sentence.

"In Rwanda, we had a lot of audio," Cesare says. "We might have 5,000 to 10,000 victims in one day in one place."

While the wheels of justice have ground slowly, the amassed records and evidence has been used in trials that have led to many convictions of individuals held responsible for war crimes, with cases carried out in the international court in The Hague, Holland, the de facto judicial seat for the U.N.

YouTube and data archives

And when it comes to new technologies, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia just this month started using social media networks YouTube and Twitter to make its work more transparent to the public. On YouTube, it's now possible to see guilty pleas, witness testimonies and short documentaries.

De Cesare says the goal is to wrap up the work of the tribunals and the trials within two years, establishing a "legacy institution," probably in Holland, for non-confidential data, and make the material available online as well.

De Cesare says the tribunals "have fulfilled their mandate," especially in their work to refute "nationalistic claims of some people that there's wasn't genocide."

According to ZyLAB's chief strategy officer Johannes Scholtes, the goal of the ZYLAB software is to make all manner of digital media, including audio and video, searchable just as text is. One advancement the company continues to work on to perfect is what's called a "phoneme search" in which a digitized sound can be used to search in sound recordings.

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