A safe digital way to Transitional Justice: NPWJ Concludes Training on Digital Security for Syrian Human Rights Activists

16 Jan, 2014 | Press Releases

Gaziantep, Turkey, 16 January 2014

No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ) held the “Digital Security Training – digital resistance” on 14‑16 January 2014 in the city of Gaziantep, Southern Turkey, where a number of International NGOs and International Organisations have been based since the start of the Syrian crisis. The training was organised with the Local Administration Council Unit (LACU), a branch of the Syrian National Council (SNC), the Violations Documentation Center (VDC), the Kirkayak Art Center (KSM) and Front Line Defenders. The training aimed to introduce participants to different techniques and strategies to safeguard digital communications, including encryption, safe document storage and the management of sensitive data.

Participants in the course included officers from the Media Centers of Syrian Local Councils based inside Syria (from Hama and Homs) and Turkey (representing the city of Idlib and the Local Administration Council Unit), activists reporting and collecting data about the ongoing violence from the Violations Documentation Center (VDC) and other representatives of informal associations and NGOs working inside the country. The presenter of the Training Course was Mr Hadi al-Khateeb, No Peace Without Justice’s Syria Project Coordinator and expert on digital and security issues. Before joining NPWJ, he worked with Tactical Technology Collective for the security and protection of rights advocates, organising and providing trainings on digital security and online data protection.

After three years of war and violence in Syria, most of the western media outlets and international organisations documenting the ongoing violations and crimes, use reports from Syrian citizen journalists and activists as their main source of information. Already threatened by bombs and bullets, abductions and torture, these activists also need to protect themselves from regime forces and extremist groups that recognise danger to them from these extraordinary documentation efforts. In this context, the digital security is essential, for those who are working on the ground and those who are collecting and preserving sensitive data abroad. The risk of becoming a victim of digital attacks by specialised intelligence units is increasing, with the consequent danger of losing data and revealing information about sources and witness identities. The threats are real and cyber attacks claimed by regime supporter the so-called “Syrian Electronic Army” are growing. This group of political hacktivists working in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad already violated the biggest social media platforms and online mail services, as well as skype and the most important media outlets. Not only for spreading/spamming pro regime propaganda, but real and concrete attempts to steal sensitive data looking for identities of sources and activists.

After a general overview on how to assess digital threats in the Syrian context, Mr al-Kahteeb tackled different issues related to digital security: how to store and encrypt files and which open source supports are available on line, how to detect informatics intrusions and how to secure not only laptops but also internet communications. The participants ran through an analysis of the importance of passwords, antivirus, anti-malware devices and software and had hands-on experience of all these tools during the training with the support and guidance of the Mr al-Kahteeb. The participants received a digital security pack with open source applications to be used to secure their personal computer and their network and handbooks and manuals to ensure their continued protection after the training.

The workshop was enriched by discussions and concrete comparison among participants and the presenter on their concrete experiences, how they collect data and testimonies in a safe way with simple tools and safeguarding the identity of sources and confidential statements, underlining how a correct and safe documenting process is the first way to ensure an effective accountability process for the perpetrators that committed crimes.

NPWJ’s Syria Project on Justice and Accountability
This training course is part of an NPWJ project aimed at assisting existing and nascent civil society organisations and networks to contribute most effectively to Syrian transitional justice documentation and policy discussions, which will in turn help shape the future of their country towards institutions that embrace principles of democracy and pluralism, and that offer redress and accountability for human rights violations and promote reconciliation. It does so in part through information sharing and training, and in part through capacity building among Syrian civil society actors to receive and coordinate external assistance, especially on transitional justice and accountability issues.
The long-term goal of this project is to promote democracy and human rights protection through incorporating transitional justice and accountability in decision-making on conflict resolution and stability, development, and reconstruction planning in Syria.
The project’s strategic objective is to support Syrian civil society playing an active role on transitional justice and accountability issues, including on advocacy and documenting human rights violations, including receiving, gathering, collecting, collating, processing and securely storing information, documentation and materials and analyse it for the purpose of establishing what happened and reconstructing decision-making processes that resulted in violations international humanitarian and human rights law in Syria since March 2011.


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For further information, contact Hadi Al-Khatib on hadi@npwj.org or Nicola Giovannini on ngiovannini@npwj.org or +32-2-548-3915.