(New York) – Human Rights Watch joined Access Now, Amnesty International USA, and Mnemonic today in issuing the following statement, saying that social media platforms need to preserve and archive content that may provide evidence of past or ongoing serious human rights abuses in Afghanistan and that could be used for future efforts to provide justice and accountability, while ensuring the privacy and security of vulnerable individuals associated with that content:
The past 20 years have seen a fundamental shift in how information about human rights abuses come to light, in Afghanistan and other places. The increasing availability of mobile phones and internet access – especially in urban centers – has provided a critical conduit for activists, human rights defenders, civil society, and journalists to monitor events, document human rights abuses and war crimes as they occur, and mobilize for justice and accountability.
Given the rapidly evolving situation in Afghanistan, including the significant risk of serious human rights abuses, it is critical that online platforms that allow for hosting and sharing of content, including social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, preserve evidence of any past or ongoing human rights abuses or violations of international criminal and humanitarian law by all actors in the conflict.
These platforms understandably restrict content that unlawfully incites or promotes violence. But it is essential that they preserve and archive removed material with potential evidentiary value and make it accessible for competent investigators and researchers and victims to help hold perpetrators on all sides to account for serious crimes. A failure to do so could effectively conceal evidence of human rights abuses.
Under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, companies, wherever they operate in the world, have a responsibility to respect all human rights. This corporate responsibility requires companies to take concrete steps to avoid causing or contributing to human rights abuses and to address human rights impacts with which they are involved, including by providing effective remedy for any actual impacts.
Social media platforms and other content hosts that choose to actively remove such content need to take care that they are neither destroying that digital memory nor acting to effectively conceal or destroy evidence of human rights abuses, while also ensuring that they store this content in a way that protects the privacy rights of individuals who might be identified through this content.
We therefore call for online platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, to preserve and archive removed content that may have evidentiary value of human rights abuses, including content identified by human rights organizations, while ensuring the privacy and security of vulnerable individuals associated with that content.
We also call on these companies to provide public updates on steps they take to manage the removal of content related to Afghanistan, with special attention to the preservation of material that may constitute evidence of human rights abuses and serious international crimes.
Finally, we reiterate the ongoing call from civil society for these companies to work with internationally mandated investigators, human rights organizations, civil society groups, journalists, academics, and national law enforcement representatives to launch a consultation process to establish a mechanism to ensure preservation of – and access to – removed content that might constitute evidence of human rights abuses, so that human rights organizations and other investigators may examine, analyze, and report on human rights abuses committed in Afghanistan and other contexts.