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Meet the man safeguarding journalists’ photos and videos in Syria and beyond

Syria Archive cofounder Hadi Al Khatib is lending his knowledge to human rights defenders in Myanmar, Sudan, and Yemen.

Meet the man safeguarding journalists’ photos and videos in Syria and beyond
[Illustration: Paul Ryding]
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In the early years of the Syrian civil war, it was common for journalists covering the atrocities on the ground to find their hard-earned images and videos lost or stolen amid the chaos. And if these assets made it onto social media, they’d often be deleted by moderators for their graphic content. Aware of the weight that visual documentation captured by journalists covering the atrocities of the Syrian civil war would carry in holding assailants accountable, human rights activist Hadi Al Khatib launched the Syrian Archive in 2014. Not only does the archive provide a secure media repository, it also verifies all the content—more than 4 million items so far—using file data and satellite imagery, and studying shadows, military badges, and remnants of munitions. “There’s nothing magical or automated about this,” says Berlin-based Al Khatib of the scrutiny that has helped many of these images become essential to human rights reports and legal cases. Media from the archive was used in a case this year against a Syrian colonel who was arrested for crimes against humanity, including the torture of thousands, and killings of at least 58 people. In 2019, images helped sanction a Belgian company that exported chemical weapons to Syria at the height of the conflict. Similar cases are pending in France and Sweden. Al Khatib is now lending his knowledge about archive infrastructures and verification processes to human rights defenders in conflict zones around the world, including in Myanmar, Sudan, and Yemen, under an organization he started in December 2019 called Mnemonic. He’s also pressing social media companies to not be so trigger-happy deleting posts. “Because if there is no evidence, there is really no case to work on.”

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