Challenging the Syrian state: using information systems to document human-rights violations

Challenging the Syrian state: using information systems to document human-rights violations

Syrian human rights defenders have mobilised information systems in order to document human rights violations and to challenge the legitimacy of the Syrian state. They use a mixture of advanced and low-tech Information Communication Technology (ICT), both empowering and exposing them to harm. Within this schema new ICT tools and changing local and regional contexts have come to influence the methods of challenging the Syrian state.

Syrians use information systems in different ways to challenge the state. They document violations, turning narratives and observations into lists, graphs, and reports documenting abuses of power as they happen. They include systems of transforming different forms of information into a document for use as evidence in a legal court. Daniel Headrick’s idea of information systems is useful in this context because it is more holistic than thinking only of specific ICTs. Information systems are conventionally used to gather; classify; transform; store/retrieve; and to communicate information. Systems–like newspapers and websites–can have multiple overlapping functions in this way.. For these reasons they have been closely tied to power and accordingly surveilled. The state has in turn adapted the contours of its repressive architecture to target these kinds of threats to its legitimacy and power.

In the early days of the protest movement, Syrian authorities tried to supress and discredit information related to peaceful demonstrations taking place across the country, fearing that the protests would spread and topple the political order. Syrian authorities have attempted to restrict this information from reaching the international community by also relying on different technologies–some digital and ‘high-tech’ as used by the Syrian Electronic Army, and some crude and ‘low-tech’, such as physical torture of activists to punish them and to extract information.

Camilla Wood

UK based Legal Aid Lawyer

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