Entered into Evidence

An Interactive Archive that explores the ICTY Court Records 

This archive represents evidentiary documents sourced from the ICTY Court Records including videos, photographs, aerial footage, diagrams, floor plans, models, and maps marked by witnesses. While most exhibits in the ICTY archive are transcriptions of oral testimonies and witness statements, this project set out to examine the issues that emerge when material evidence is reprocessed by the legal machine that is the international court. What happens when media and other non-textual evidence enters into legal proceedings as material witnesses entrusted with the task of testifying before the tribunals of history?

An important dimension of this project explores the technical assembly of media materials, specifically the ways in which the production, handling (chain-of-custody), and processing of media can be legally argued as compromising their evidentiary capacity. This is especially pertinent to materials coming out of conflict zones that are often produced and/or secured under challenging conditions. Several cases in the ICTY that relied upon corroborating video testimony were thrown into doubt when expert witnesses could prove that the evidence in question had been spliced and re-edited thus nullifying its apparent truth claims. Moreover, the degraded quality of much of the video footage raises serious legal challenges, because the court relies upon unadulterated materials to assert the relative merits of the media entered into evidence. While the Internet generally and mobile-phone videos specifically have dramatically increased the reach of citizen journalism, much uploaded content is edited and captioned by its producers, thus highlighting its processing which the court regards as a form of image-tampering. None-the-less these are often the only materials that prosecutors have at their disposal to support a legal claim. Such materials enter into the judicial system as corroborating evidence or visual aids for witnesses rather than as direct evidence of wrongdoing.

Disputes around accusations of genocide and war crimes is thus archived by media materials whose status is in dispute not only at the level of representation (for example information contained within the frame) but especially at the level of metadata where corrupt or informatic inconsistencies can immediately raise legal doubts. Consequently the international forums that adjudicate over these materials must archive media in its original acquired state, regardless of how damaged, in order to maintain its relative integrity. However when presented in court such materials are often duplicated and altered in order to play properly. This was the case with several audio-files that in their raw state were unintelligible. Corrected copies sit alongside their original versions in the archives of the ICTY.  In another case of audio manipulation the sound of shelling was replaced with a birdsong when the video was presented in court for a second time, once again raising doubts as to the authenticity of the video. What becomes explicit in going through the materials selected from the ICTY Court Records is the degree to which the same visual materials are repeatedly entered into evidence within different legal proceedings. In the case of photographs they are frequently photocopied and the photocopy also subsequently copied so that one image may resurface repeatedly in subsequent cases albeit in slightly degraded versions. These occurrences are highlighted in the project.

What emerges as one makes one’s way through this online archive is the extent to which the court itself becomes a processing machine that works over the materials that enter its legal infrastructure and in the process radically transforms them.