Torture and Detention in Bujumbura, Burundi

Torture and Detention in Bujumbura, Burundi

In December 2016, a video began to circulate on social media in Burundi. The video showed a red liquid in the drainage canal of a house in Bujumbura, the country’s capital. People who shared the video suggested that the liquid was blood, and asked whether the house was being used by Burundi’s intelligence services as a secret detention centre.

Burundi has been gripped by unrest since 2015, after the country’s president, Pierre Nkurunziza, announced that he intended to run for a third term in office, in defiance of presidential term limits defined in Burundi’s constitution. A brief coup attempt failed to topple Nkurunziza, who won the subsequent election by a landslide. By 2018, over four hundred thousand refugees had fled the country to neighbouring states.

Forensic Architecture (FA) collaborated with BBC Africa Eye to investigate the house seen in the video. Who owned the it, and what had gone on there?

BBC Africa Eye gathered testimonies from the former owner of the house, as well as three witnesses who claimed to have been held as captives or to have worked as guards inside the house.

FA separately interviewed the house’s owner in order to digitally reconstruct the house according to his guidance. Photographs provided by the owner added further details to the building’s interior, such as the size and location of doors and passages, as well as floors and furnishings.  

Later, we met with the witnesses, and conducted ‘situated testimonies’ in which our digital model of the house functioned as an interviewing tool, helping witnesses to remember details of the traumatic events that had occurred inside the house.

The story of this house exemplifies a pattern of underground state violence in Burundi, by which the government of Nkurunziza confiscates and reappropriates domestic spaces across the country for the purposes of torture, detention and extrajudicial killing.

Forensic Architecture team

Eyal Weizman (Principal Investigator)

Samaneh Moafi (Project Coordinator)

Nicholas Masterton

Sebastian Tiew

Sarah Nankivell

Christina Varvia

Collaborators

BBC Africa Eye

Press

Burundi: Inside the secret killing house | BBC, 4 December 2018

Inside Burundi’s ‘secret government death house’ where ‘dissidents are tortured and beheaded’ and a river of ‘blood’ runs into the street | The Sun, 4 December 2018

The Killing of Luai Kahil and Amir a-Nimrah

Lethal Warning: The Killing of Luai Kahil and Amir a-Nimrah

On the 14 July 2018, in Gaza City, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, two Palestinian teenagers  climbed onto the rooftop of the al-Katibah building. A short time later the pair, Luai Kahil and Amir a-Nimrah, were killed by a missile fired from an Israeli aircraft.

The missile was one of a series of four to hit the building in short order, before a series of much larger strikes arrived shortly after, substantially damaging the building and its surroundings.

The series of four were part of a process known as ‘roof knocking’, whereby a series of ‘warning strikes’—inaccurately characterised by the IDF as loud but non-lethal munitions—is intended to communicate to civilians in the area that they should evacuate, as a larger series of strikes is incoming.

Forensic Architecture (FA) was commissioned by the Israeli NGO B’Tselem to investigate the circumstances of the boys’ death.

After the attack, the IDF published, through its Twitter account, a video of the attack. As we studied that video sequence, however, we noticed that the footage had been manipulated, and that footage of the fatal warning strike had been replaced by footage of a later strike, from a different angle.

Using available open source material, and material from local CCTV cameras,  we established a precise timeline of the incident, in order to demonstrate which of the strikes had killed Kahil and a-Nimrah, and to expose the IDF’s manipulation of its own video footage.

We also constructed a 3D model of the Al-Katibah building in order to exactly locate the strikes, and the site where the boys were killed. Footage captured by civilians revealed a fragmentation pattern on the roof consistent with the explosion of a munition loaded with shrapnel—specifically designed as a lethal weapon.

Forensic Architecture team

Eyal Weizman (Principal Investigator)

Nicholas Masterton (Project Coordinator)

Nicholas Zembashi

Robert Trafford

Collaborators

B’Tselem

Avi Mograbi

Chris Cobb-Smith (munitions expert)

Human Rights Watch (munitions expert)

The Destruction of Yazidi Heritage

The Destruction of Yazidi Heritage

Exhibited as ‘Maps of Defiance’, representing the UK at the London Design Biennale 2018

The Sinjar region of northern Iraq is one of two areas that comprise the heartland of the Yazidis, a religious and cultural minority that has long faced persecution in both Iraq and Syria.

In August 2014, the terrorist group known as ISIL invaded the region. Unprotected by the armies of Iraq or the nearby Kurdish autonomous region, Yazidi villages and towns across the region were captured and razed, and their inhabitants massacred. Thousands of Yazidi women and girls were trafficked into slavery. Religious buildings and sites of Yazidi cultural heritage were specifically sought out and destroyed.

ISIL was driven out of the region in late 2015. But today, many of the Yazidis that escaped still remain in refugee camps in Iraq or Syria, traumatised and reluctant to return.

Forensic Architecture (FA), in collaboration with Yazda, the international representative body for the Yazidi community, set out to train researchers in DIY surveying, mapping and documentation techniques, to support the investigation of the genocide perpetrated by ISIL.

We trained Yazda’s documentation team, based in Dohuk, Iraq, in techniques for evidence-gathering, and in ways of recording the material condition of the ruins of Yazidi buildings, as well as other sites that were part of the violence committed by ISIL against the Yazidi people. Training was conducted in Turkey, and followed by ongoing fieldwork in northern Iraq, and analysis both in Iraq and at our studio in London.

Further training, documentation, and analysis conducted in this way will create a rich media dataset of sites of violence against Yazidi people and culture, which will in the future be mobilised in support of Yazda’s advocacy efforts, as well as in legal proceedings against known members of ISIL.

The project became an exhibition, ‘Maps of Defiance’, curated by a team from the Victoria & Albert Museum and presented as the UK Pavilion at the London Design Biennale 2018.

Methodology

Four years after ISIL’s invasion of Sinjar, mass graves, kill sites, and destroyed Yazidi shrines across the region are still undocumented, their evidentiary value eroding and in danger of being lost. Many such sites are still surrounded by mines and boobytraps left by ISIL.

In order to produce a detailed ‘snapshot’ of their current condition, we developed ways to work accurately, discreetly and safely in difficult conditions.   

Building on the methodology developed in our study of Bedouin land dispossession in the Naqab, we documented the site through both ground-level and aerial photographs taken by both drones and DIY ‘community satellites’ made from kites. The thousands of images produced from each site are then processed into a 3D point-cloud through a process known as ‘structure from motion’ photogrammetry. Photogrammetry is a computational process by which distance and movement measurements are extracted from a comparison of several still photographs.

Through a process of triangulation, taking into consideration metadata including lens focal length, each photograph is positioned in 3D space, and pixels from the original images are each allocated a place in the 3D environment. The result is a dense ‘cloud’ made of hundreds of millions of discrete points, creating a 3D digital environment from 2D images of the physical space. This point-cloud is geolocated by recording the real-world GPS coordinates of certain points within the images and, therefore, the digital environment.

The DIY aerial photography methods we employed in this project were adopted from previous collaborations with PublicLab. Small point-and-shoot cameras, attached to single-line kites and protected within cases made of plastic bottles create ‘community satellites’ capable of conducting aerial photographic surveys.

While in the air, cameras are set to ‘continuous shooting’ mode, taking several images per second while facing directly down at the ground. We walked the area we wished to photograph from above, pulling the kite and camera with us. The result is an easy-to-use, cheap and reproducible method of aerial photography that can be transformed into a detailed and accurately located model.

Forensic Architecture Team

  • Eyal Weizman (Principal Investigator)
  • Ariel Caine (Project Coordinator)
  • Tané Kinch
  • Jose Antonio Gonzalez Zarandona
  • Chloe Thorne
  • Lachie Kermode
  • Franc Camps-Febrer
  • Nicholas Masterton
  • Sarah Nankivell
  • Samaneh Moafi
  • Stefanos Levidis
  • Christina Varvia
  • Robert Trafford
  • Avi Mograbi
  • Anika Sierk
  • Idan Barir (Consultant)

Yazda Team

  • Jens Robert Janke (Documentation Manager)
  • Guley Bor (Project Coordinator)
  • Faris Mishko
  • Ronak Alyas
  • Farhan Dakheel Haje
  • Marwan Dawod Tamo
  • Zaid Salim Hassa

V&A Team

  • Natalie Kane
  • Brendan Cormier
  • Esme Hawes


The murder of Pavlos Fyssas

Shortly after midnight on 18 September 2013, Pavlos Fyssas, a young Greek anti-fascist rapper, was murdered in his home neighbourhood of Keratsini, Athens. Both the killer and others who participated in the attack were members of the neo-Nazi organisation Golden Dawn.

Golden Dawn have committed acts of violence against migrants and political opponents ever since their formation in the 1980s, yet most of their crimes going unpunished as a result of the silent support among the ranks of the Greek police, aligned to their nationalist cause. Following the murder of Fyssas, a Greek citizen, the national government was finally forced to make a series of arrests. Sixty-nine members of Golden Dawn, including all of their fifteen parliamentarians, were brought to trial. Charges in the trial, relating to events as far back as 2008, allege that even while holding seats in the national parliament, Golden Dawn operated as a criminal organisation. Even as the ongoing trial threatens the existence of Golden Dawn as a political party, the Greek courts remain reluctant to investigate the role of the police in covering up these crimes.

Forensic Architecture was commissioned by the Fyssas family and their legal representatives to reconstruct the events of the night from the audio and video material made available to the court. The resulting video investigation and accompanying report, presented to the Athens courtroom on 10 and 11 September 2018, brings together CCTV footage, recordings of communications between police and emergency services, and witness testimony. We established a precise timeline and reconstruction of the events that led to the murder.

The investigation established that members of Golden Dawn, including senior officials, acted in a co-ordinated manner in relation to the murder, and that members of Greece’s elite special forces police, known as DIAS, were present at the scene before, during and after the murder, and failed to intervene.


Methodology

Much of the original audio and video material was without an accurate timestamp, and it became apparent that attempts by the Greek police investigators to address this problem were insufficient. As a result, our researchers had to assess the material from scratch, and deduce the correct time and location of each piece of footage.

Audio recordings were assembled into a timed sequence through a process of sound analysis. CCTV footage from various locations around the scene was synchronised and given an accurate timestamp by reference to the sequence of audio recordings.

Forensic Architecture team

Christina Varvia (Project Lead)

Stefanos Levidis (Project Coordinator)

Simone Rowat (Video Research and Production)

Sofia Georgovassili

Fivos Avgerinos

Dorette Panagiotopoulou

Nicholas Masterton

Stefan Laxness

Robert Trafford

Sarah Nankivell

Lawrence Abu Hamdan (Sound analysis advisor)

Shakeeb Abu Hamdan (Sound analysis advisor)

Eyal Weizman (Advisor)

Collaborators

Co-produced by BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht

Press

Οι κρίσιμες στιγμές τη νύχτα της δολοφονίας του Παύλου Φύσσα (The Critical Moments of the Night of the Murder of Pavlos Fyssas) | Kathimerini, 14 September 2018

Καρέ καρέ η δολοφονία Φύσσα (Frame by frame, the murder of Fyssas) | Efsyn.gr, 11 September 2018

Chemical weapons attacks in Douma, Syria

Chlorine gas attacks in Douma, Syria

Image and spatial analysis of claims surrounding alleged use of chemical weapons in April 2018

In collaboration with the New York Times

 

On 7 April 2018, the Syrian city of Douma was allegedly targeted by two chemical weapons attacks. At that time, the city and its surrounding areas had been under siege by the Syrian military since 2013. At least 70 people died in the attacks, according to reports.

Two distinctive yellow canisters, similar to those previously linked to chlorine gas attacks across Syria, were found following the strikes: one on a rooftop balcony near to Al Shuhada square, and the other in a bedroom at an unknown location in the city.

Days later, following the negotiated surrender of the remaining rebel forces in Douma, Russian media were the first to be allowed access to the attack sites. Reporters from RT and TV Zvezda quickly claimed that the attacks had been staged. Both claimed that the canisters found at each location had been carried into place by the rebels, rather than dropped from regime-controlled airspace above the city.

Commissioned by and working closely with the New York Times, Forensic Architecture searched for physical evidence concerning how the canisters had arrived at each scene. We reconstructed the two sites as 3D models using available images and video material. We also reconstructed the canisters as digital objects and analysed the physical traces inscribed on them.

Our analysis supports the assessment that the canisters were dropped from the air. At both sites, we identified a metal harness used to transport the canister, consistent with the aerial delivery of munitions documented elsewhere in Syria. Image and sound analysis revealed further evidence at each site.

In June 2018, the New York Times employed our analysis in a video investigation and an interactive ‘augmented reality’ feature.

Method

We used open-source software called Blender to build 3D models of the attack sites and the canisters themselves. The dimensions of each 3D model were established from satellite imagery and corroborated by architectural details in images captured at ground level.

In order to reconstruct the canisters’ exterior surfaces, we projected multiple images from different angles onto a cylindrical surface. In doing so, we took into account variations in the position and focal length of different cameras, and corroborated details on the canisters’ surfaces across multiple images.

Download the software here, and our models here: Site 1/Site 2/Canisters.

Forensic Architecture team

  • Eyal Weizman (principal investigator)
  • Nick Masterton  (project coordinator)
  • Bob Trafford
  • Grace Quah
  • Ariel Caine
  • Stefan Laxness


 

Standoff in El Junquito

Standoff in El Junquito

Were Óscar Pérez and his companions victims of extrajudicial killings?

15 January 2018

In collaboration with Bellingcat, Aliaume Leroy, and Giancarlo Fiorella


On Monday 15 January 2018, Venezuelan security forces raided a house on the outskirts of El Junquito, 20 kilometers west of Caracas. The target of what came to be known as “Operation Gideon” was Óscar Pérez, the leader of a small rebel group acting against the government of President Nicolás Maduro.

Nine people were killed, including Óscar Pérez and six other members of his group. All but one were found to have injuries consistent with being shot in the head. Two members of the Venezuelan armed forces were also killed — Nelson Antonio Chirinos La Cruz and Heiker Vasquez.

In order to understand the events that took place that day, Forensic Architecture and Bellingcat have collected, timed, and located nearly 70 pieces of related evidence. These include videos and photographs recorded by citizens, security forces, and by Óscar Pérez himself, as well as leaked audio of police radio communications and official statements. Each piece of evidence has been placed in an interactive, navigable, 3D model of the area for the benefit of the journalists, researchers, and the larger public who are interested in further exploring the case and assisting in filling in the gaps.

The attack on Óscar Pérez and his group can be divided into three distinct stages, which have been plotted within the platform: the negotiations; the fire fight and raid of the safe house; and the aftermath. In analysing all the material, we believe that Óscar Pérez and his group were killed during the raid between 11:15 am and 12:00 pm.

This account of the killing raises concerns about whether the actions taken by the security forces were legal and proportional. The Venezuelan security forces mobilised large numbers of personnel and multiple agencies in order to carry out the raid, using military grade hardware, which led to a chaotic operation with various forces accidentally targeting one another. It became known after the attack that Heiker Vasquez, one of the security personnel killed in the operation, was also a prominent leader of the ‘colectivo’ Tres Raices — one of many pro-government paramilitary groups that have arisen in Venezuela over the last few years. This raises questions regarding whether such paramilitary groups were also involved in the operation with the knowledge and approval of the security forces.

More material is required, particularly videos recorded between 11:15 am and 12:00 pm, in order to investigate this case further.

Contact

If you have any information that may help us paint a fuller picture of what happened to Óscar Pérez and his companions in El Junquito on 15 January 2018, please contact eljunquito@bellingcat.com or +447835333851 via WhatsApp or Signal.

If you are concerned about security or would like to remain anonymous, you can use one of the following two options:

  • Create an anonymous email account on the platform Tutanota (this is free and no contact details are needed), then use this email address to send an email to eljunquito@bellingcat.com
  • Send a message anonymously to +447835333851 preferably using Signal or WhatsApp, and we will arrange the best means to communicate while maintaining your security.


Forensic Architecture Team

Eyal Weizman

Stefan Laxness

Samaneh Moafi

Franc Camps-Febrer

Enrico Murtula

Clive Vella

Collaborators

Bellingcat

Aliaume Leroy

Giancarlo Fiorella

Sea Watch vs. Libyan Coast Guard

Mare Clausum

The Sea Watch vs Libyan Coast Guard Case

6 November 2017

Video reconstruction by Forensic Oceanography and Forensic Architecture
Report by Forensic Oceanography

On 6 November 2017, the rescue NGO Sea Watch (SW) and a patrol vessel of the Libyan Coast Guard (LYCG) simultaneously directed themselves towards a migrants’ boat in distress in international waters. The boat, which had departed from Tripoli a few hours earlier, carried between 130 and 150 passengers. A confrontational rescue operation ensued, and while SW was eventually able to rescue and bring to safety in Italy 59 passengers, at least 20 people died before or during these events, while 47 passengers were ultimately pulled back to Libya, where several faced grave human rights violations – including being detained, beaten, and sold to an other captor who tortured them to extract ransom from their families. The unfolding of this incident has been reconstructed in a video by Forensic Oceanography in collaboration with Forensic Architecture.

To reconstruct the circumstances of this particular incident, however, Forensic Oceanography has produced a detailed written report which argues it is also necessary to understand the policies that shaped the behaviour of the actors involved, and the patterns of practices of which this event was only a particular instantiation. Before arriving on the scene, the LYCG liaised with the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre of the Italian Coast Guard, which informed them of the presence of the boat in distress. The Ras Jadir, the very patrol vessel of the LYCG that engaged in reckless behaviour and thus contributed to the death of several passengers, was one of the four patrol boats that had been donated by Italy to the LYCG on the 15 May 2017, in presence of the Italian Minister of Interior. On board that vessel on the day of the events, 8 out of the 13 crew members had received training from the EU’s anti-smuggling operation, EUNAVFOR MED.

Based on these elements, the Mare Clausum report argues that this particular incident is paradigmatic of the new, drastic measures that have been implemented by Italy and the EU to stem migration across the central Mediterranean. This multilevel policy of containment operates according to a two-pronged strategy which aims, on the one hand, to delegitimise, criminalise and ultimately oust rescue NGOs from the central Mediterranean; on the other, to provide material, technical and political support to the LYCG so as to enable them to intercept and pull back migrants to Libya more effectively. This undeclared operation to seal off the central Mediterranean is what we refer to as Mare Clausum.

While in the report “Blaming the Rescuers”, released in June 2017, [1] Forensic Oceanography has analysed in detail the targeting of rescue NGOs, the Mare Clausum report focuses instead on the second aspect of this strategy. The report shows that through policy agreements and multiform support to the LYCG, Italy and the EU have come to exercise both strategic and operational control over the LYCG. In this way, the LYCG has been made to operate refoulement by proxy on behalf of Italy and the EU, in contravention to one of the cornerstones of international refugee law, the principle of non-refoulement[2]



[1] Charles Heller and Lorenzo Pezzani, ‘Blaming the Rescuers’, June 2017, https://blamingtherescuers.org/
[2] According to Article 33(1) of the 1951 Refugee Convention (CSR51): “No contracting State shall expel or return a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”

Forensic Oceanography Team

Charles Heller

Lorenzo Pezzani

Rossana Padeletti

Forensic Architecture Team

Stefan Laxness

Stefanos Levidis

Grace Quah

Nathan Su

Samaneh Moafi

Christina Varvia

Eyal Weizman

Collaborators

WatchTheMed Platform

Swiss National Science Foundation

Republic of Canton and Geneva

Footage by Sea Watch e.V.

The Grenfell Tower Fire

The Grenfell Tower Fire

A media archive and spatial database of the 14 June 2017 fire

 

The Grenfell Tower fire was unprecedented in London’s history, not least because the catastrophe was captured live by thousands of videos of the fire, taken by Londoners on their cameras and smartphones. Every one of those videos is a unique piece of evidence, containing unique information.

Forensic Architecture has started to collect these pieces of evidence and assemble them within a 3D model of Grenfell Tower. Our aim is to create a powerful and freely-available resource for members of the public to explore and better understand the events of the night of the fire.

These pieces of footage will become a continuous ‘3D video’ of the fire, mapped onto our architectural model of Grenfell Tower. The model will allow the user to investigate the fire, and will sit within a web platform which will ultimately act as a freely available public resource.

This is an open-ended project that we expect to continue for a year or more. It will continue to grow, as further information about the night of the fire enters the public domain.

To create this comprehensive record, we need to gather as much available video footage from the night of the fire as possible. Forensic Architecture invites members of the public to submit their video footage of the fire to us at www.grenfellmediaarchive.org.

Forensic Architecture team

  • Eyal Weizman (principal investigator)
  • Christina Varvia  (project coordinator)
  • Bob Trafford
  • Nick Masterton
  • Nathan Su
  • Franc Camps Febrer
  • Simone Rowat
  • Sarah Nankivell
  • Emma Charles
  • Nurri Kim