Documenting War Crimes in Syria
The Syrian Civil War has claimed the lives of over 500,000 innocent civilians, including 20,000 children and 13,000 women since March of 2011. The U.N. estimates that 3 million more lives will be at risk if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad continues the air campaign against his people. This campaign has had a devastating effect all over Syria, particularly in the province of Idlib, where an estimated 1.5 million civilians displaced from other parts of Syria reside.
Hala’s Sentry Early Warning System has successfully been used as an airstrike alert system, pinpointing the location and alerting citizens of an impending attack. The system has saved hundreds of lives in Syria, while effectively reducing the lethality of such attacks in heavily bombarded communities by an estimated average of 20 to 27%.
Unfortunately, as Hala is a private enterprise, it technically “owns” the data generated by Sentry. As a result, it is possible to claim that any data given to justice and accountability organizations may have been tampered with or mishandled through the reporting process regardless of intent. This makes it difficult for the data to be used in a court of law and prove its credibility to stakeholders.
Can blockchain technology be leveraged to immutably store war crime information, and identify perpetrators of attacks on schools and hospitals?
The Ethereum Solution:
Decentralization and Data Integrity
Hala Systems contacted ConsenSys to build a solution that sent the signed meta transactions directly to the public Ethereum blockchain to prove that the information gathered has not been tampered with and/or modified in any way between the time and place of its gathering and the present. Additionally, using a distributed ledger database increases the efficiency of the already existing Sentry Early Warning System and develops it into a tool for immediate and accurate reporting of war crimes.
By leveraging the Ethereum network, Hala is able to effectively remove itself from the core of the Sentry reporting equation. When a report is submitted, the timestamp and geotag of when and where the threat was detected is hashed to the Ethereum blockchain where it lives forever. On-chain, it can be referenced but not tampered with. If the data is tampered with, the associated hash value will reflect that—ensuring complete transparency.
By automatically submitting and storing data onto the blockchain, Sentry is able to prove that credible data has not been changed, edited, or tampered with in any way from the time and point of collection through to the present.
Additionally, by placing metadata on-chain, Hala can avoid common issues with data collection in high-risk areas. For example, If the IoT ground sensors malfunction or falsely detect a non-threat event, there will be no corroborating open-source data such as social media posts or media reporting to reference.
Hashing all of the human and machine-sourced data allows for easy organization and identification of threats and attacks by creating a publicly-accessible reference point of time and location. When analyzed, an ‘insight’ is made based on certain parameters and conditions that indicate a credible imminent threat or executed attack. These warnings are then issued to at-risk communities who can use the information to remove themselves from harm’s way.
Additionally, sending the data points to the blockchain instead of a Sentry server provides immutable data collected from the ground in violent places. This data collected creates a critically important tool for accountability and justice efforts. Such efforts help prevent or mitigate tomorrow’s violent conflicts.