I teach a class at the University of Arizona College of Law called, Foreign, Comparative and International Legal Research. In my class, I discuss with the students the different ways in which this type of advanced legal research is dependent on constantly moving variables and components. Beyond a handout of the top five sources to consult, I instead strive to make the students understand that they need to create a research strategy, keep track of changes on foreign and international law, and consult a significant amount of non-legal information. All of this needs to be done while always evaluating sources of information and at times, in languages you’re not fluent in. I briefly touched upon these issues in my previous post on Nicaragua and Haiti.When it comes to the current Russian invasion of Ukraine, there are three situations which I’m following very closely: accessing trustworthy information, documenting what is happening, and the preservation of information. As a law librarian, these three situations all have a particular angle related to the law, namely accessing reliable legal and government information during war, documenting atrocities and potential war crimes in order to use this information as evidence in the future, and preservation of legal information in digital format which can be made available to everyone immediately as well as later on. In this post, I will talk briefly about these three areas and enumerate several sources which can provide further information. As usual, I invite all readers to mention and share other relevant links or sources in the comments section.
Accessing Trustworthy Information
In times of war, accessing information coming from reliable sources becomes literally a question of life or death. However, easily accessible online information in websites, news sources or in any social media platforms becomes a puzzle to decipher and in dire need of evaluation. If you have been following the Russian invasion of Ukraine on any platform, be it blogs, traditional media outlets or social media, you know that the information can be contradictory, incomplete and tainted with misinformation. Beyond these challenges, there is also the risk of intentional spread of false information or disinformation and propaganda. Oksana Brui, Director of the Ukrainian Library Association alluded to this in a letter to the international librarianship community. Furthermore, several Ukrainian government websites have been hacked to spread false information to the Ukrainian people. Despite these cyber attacks, the Ukrainian Government official page, and the State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection of Ukraine are both using their corresponding Twitter accounts to debunk false information as quickly as possible (i.e. https://twitter.com/Ukraine and https://twitter.com/dsszzi). Official government publications such as Golos Ukrainy (the Voice of Ukraine), Ofitsiyny Visnyk Ukrainy (Official Reporter of Ukraine) and the Ukrainian Parliament’s legislation database are still functioning despite Russia’s attacks on internet infrastructure and service providers.
As a law librarian, my goal is to empower legal researchers to be able to evaluate sources themselves whether it’s a social media post, news article or any secondary source of information they come across. This might sound easier said than done. But you’d be surprised how relatively easy it is to fall into the allure of a source that talks about exactly what you were looking for during a fast-changing situation and with emotions running high. I tell our researchers to keep it simple. Whenever in doubt, ask yourself these three questions: Who? Why? When? First, who is writing this post, tweet, news article or any source? Do they have an expertise on the subject? Are they affiliated to a reputable institution? What gives them the authority to write about the topic on hand? Then, you need to consider why the author or contributor shared this information. And this is usually located in the “about us” or mission section of the website. Are they a company selling products and services? Are they affiliated to a large organization, political party or government? What drives them to share information? This will help you elucidate what are their intentions behind the information they share. And last but not least, when was this information shared? You must be mindful not only about the date of when the tweet, post or article was written or shared. But also you need to know whether the information they describe is about a current event and if the videos and/or pictures accompanying the text are indeed from that said event.
Documenting Information for Evidence
Documenting information becomes critical when there is a need to provide future evidence of potential war crimes perpetrated during a conflict. There have been mentions of investigations on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by both the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Criminal Court (ICC), i.e. ICJ’s Ukraine v. Russian Federation and Statement of the ICC Prosecutor. Furthermore, public prosecutor’s offices in Germany and Spain have both opened investigations on possible violations of international humanitarian law. In order to find and gather evidence, the Ukrainian Bar Association shared a call for all Ukrainians to use the well-known app, eyeWitness to Atrocities developed by the International Bar Association (IBA) in 2015. Since its inception, eyeWitness to Atrocities app has searched to make gathering evidence accessible to anyone with a smartphone.
Another excellent example of documenting and tracking potential war crimes is the UK-based, Centre for Information Resilience (CIR). They have created the Ukraine Monitoring Map, an open source crowdsourcing initiative to add and validate information as it takes place on the ground. They use geolocating information as well as help from actual Ukrainians in these places to confirm any discrepancies or fill any gaps in the data. This map and the information it has captured so far has helped provide an accurate picture of what’s taking place on the ground and combat misinformation. More than 600 videos or pictures have been collected and shared extensively on social media.
When it comes to preserving online information, the Internet Archive is an incredibly powerful tool. The Internet Archive through its Archive It feature has been at the forefront of documenting, archiving and preserving online information coming from diverse sources. The Archive It collections are able to catalog information with specific metadata which allows for evaluating sources and information and access it for research. For example, this is exactly what was done to preserve all information concerning the Maidan Revolution and Conflict in Ukraine in 2014. These days, there are two main Archive It collections of importance to this topic. The first one called War in Ukraine: 2022 aims to archive websites from educational institutions, government agencies as well twitter accounts from important people. The Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University created the second account archiving several websites and social media accounts documenting Russia’s invasion and war on Ukraine.
Another excellent tool from the Internet Archive is its well-known Wayback Machine. At the time of writing, the overwhelming majority, if not all of the Ukrainian court websites are completely inaccessible. To name a few, the following judicial websites have been completely taken down: Supreme Court, Unified State Register of Court Decisions, High Council of Justice, Kiev Court of Appeal, Administrative Courts and High Court of Arbitration. However, thanks to the Wayback Machine, we are able to access several previous iterations of these websites for consultation and research. For example, we are able to access the websites of those courts and judicial websites which are currently down: Supreme Court, Unified State Register of Court Decisions, High Council of Justice, Kiev Court of Appeal, Administrative Courts and High Court of Arbitration.
Finally, if you’d like to help or donate, I’d highly recommend you to consult these sources:
- American Bar Association (ABA): Ukraine Response Project (americanbar.org)
- Canadian Bar Association (CBA): Canadian Bar Association – Crisis in Ukraine (cba.org)
- Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC): StandWithUkraine campaign – The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) official website
- Others: How to provide aid to those in Ukraine – CNN