Capturing Video for Evidence: What techniques can you use for capturing evidence with enhanced evidentiary value

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Capturing Video for Evidence: What techniques can you use for capturing evidence with enhanced evidentiary value
This discussion thread will explore how evidence is collected using video. Consider these questions below when sharing your comments in this discussion topic:
  • What camera techniques can you use to film a human rights abuse as it happens and/or after it happens?
  • What information should be included with a video recording to ensure an investigator, lawyer or judge can easily verify a video at some point in the future?
  • Activists often focus their efforts on capturing video of the abuse itself (the airstrikes, excessive force by the police, bulldozers forcibly evicting residents). But, in many cases -- particularly international criminal case -- it’s not the on-the-ground perpetrator that will be brought to trial. Instead, it’s their commander. How do you capture video evidence that links commanders to crimes when they are nowhere near the scene of the crime?
  • If you are collecting evidence for the criminal justice process, should you interview witnesses and survivors of human rights abuses on camera?

Share your thoughts, experiences, questions, challenges and ideas by replying to the comments below.

For help on how to participate in this conversation, please visit these online instructions.


Video Speaking for Itself


Other threads of this discussion address issues of reliability and authenticity.  Commentators have noted that to be admissible as evidence, video footage must be reliable.  Courts will look at whether the item is what it purports to be and whether it can reasonably be believed.  There are methods of capturing video that can bolster its reliability.  In particular, the more the footage speaks for itself, the more likely it will be considered reliable.

In practical terms, that means capturing as much information about the context as possible in the footage itself.  Some tips I’ve received from investigators in this regard include:

  • Obtaining a panorama view of the situation, rather than a narrow focus on the victim. As has been mentioned in other comments, this broader view includes filming the individuals committing the violation as well as anyone giving orders, instructions, or support.
  • Shooting uninterrupted footage.  Videos that start and stop, leaving chunks of time unrecorded, are viewed more skeptically.
  • Capturing footage before the violation occurs.  Of course it is not always possible to predict when a violation will occur, but in cases of protests or other clashes, it is helpful to capture footage before violence erupts to provide information on what or who provoked it.

I’d love to hear additional suggestions and tips based on others’ experience.

Capturing Video After a Human Rights Incident:

Wendy's observation that footage tends to focus on the victim and not the entire scene has proved true time and time again so I would like to add to the important points she makes above and provide more thoughts on how to film a human rights crime scene.

Both Wendy and Beth highlight that as human rights advocates, we often focus our filming efforts on capturing the crime itself – capturing the police using excessive force in Brazil, capturing the bulldozers leveling homes in Cambodia, capturing acts of torture in Syria. While footage showing the actual commission of the crime may very well be valuable as crime-base evidence (See Beth’s post titled Crime Base v. Linkage Evidence). But, as noted, it is also often valuable to have documentation of the before and go out and film the aftermath.

Briefly About Before: In addition to Wendy's point above, in her post titled, Two More Examples, she shared that the ICC has the power to order a person convicted of a crime to pay reparations to victims. Reparations are simply the act of making amends. So, for instance, the court may require the perpetrator to pay money damages to rebuild a school they illegal destroyed. In this case, it could be helpful to have video footage of the school before it was destroyed.

About Filming After: We can dive more deeply into when filming an area in anticipation of a human rights situation would be helpful but in this comment I would like to discuss techniques a person could use to film after a human rights event has taken place and the crime-scene is secure (e.g. when the bullets have stopped flying, when the bombing has ended for the time being, when the bulldozers are gone, or when the tear gas has drifted away). Video filmed after an incident tends to be useful because it can easily depict an overview or layout of the crime scene allowing judges and juries to more readily understand what took place. When done well, video footage of a crime scene should give the audience a sense of being there.

We have been researching best practices for filming a secure human rights crime scene based in good part on the work done by the Scientific Working Group on Imaging Technology (SWGIT) and fabulous guide titled, Crime Scene and Evidence Photographer’s a Guide by Steven Staggs which you can order here.

So here, I would like to outline the broad steps to the Spiral Approach to filming a secure crime scene (in short ... it's walking in large, medium and small circles with the camera!). While the steps cannot always be followed as outlined because a space is too small or you can only film from one precise vantage point versus being able to walk around the scene or a wall is blocking your path or …  the principles all apply so the key point here: Adapt the below steps to fit your situation and ensure you are filming safely.


  1. Prepare your equipment
  2. Ensure the scene is as secure as possible
  3. Make a filming plan
  4. Add preliminary information using either a camera slate or the camera mic
  5. Film overview footage to help verify your location and the date (e.g. landmarks, horizon line with the sun or moon, the weather, etc.)
  6. Film a slow 360-degree shot from the point you begin filming (the panoramic shot Wendy suggests above)
  7. Film 10-second wide shots from the four-corners or sides of the crime scene
  8. Film 10-second medium shots from the four-corners or sides of the crime scene
  9. Film 10-second close ups of key evidence
  10. Complete a Camera Report and supplement the video if appropriate with maps, still photos, drawings, etc.


STEP 1: Prepare your equipment - Prior to arrival on the scene, check that all your equipment is in proper working order.

STEP 2: Ensure the scene is as secure as possible - Your safety comes first. Be on the lookout for potential hazards. For instance, do not move bodies if there is any possibility that the person handling the body is not adequately protected against the transmission of illness, do not enter a collapsed building that is unstable, etc.).

STEP 3: Make a filming plan Identify the filmer - If you are working with a professional investigator, the investigator and filmer should walk through the crime scene and plan how to film it. In most human right situations, an investigator is not present and the filmer must make the plan on his or her own.

STEP 4: Add preliminary information using either a camera slate or the camera mic - Begin your recording with either a written slate containing the below information or speak the information into the camera mic:

  • Filmer Name / Contact Information (within the confines of safety and security)
  • Time  
  • Date
  • Specific location, including GPS Location if available
  • Model of Camera

KEY POINT: You are now ready to begin recording. It is difficult to record an incident scene in one shot, especially a complex one, so you can start and stop the recording but if possible, begin the new clip where you paused. In other words, overlap the shots.

STEP 5: Film overview footage to help verify your location and the date - Include the following shots, if possible:

  • A shot from above the crime scene
  • A shot of the sky, which should ideally capture the angle of the sun or moon to the horizon and the weather. [This allows analysts to verify time and assists with verifying date].
  • Any landmarks such as a mountain, river, street sign, etc.

Hold these shots for 10 seconds.

STEP 6: Film a slow 360-degree shot from the point you begin filming by ...

  • Pick a starting point at one corner or side of the crime scene. If possible pick a start location that is cardinal direction (north, south, east or west) as this is a good practice to get into but often not be realistic.
  • State your starting location on camera (north corner, south side, east bank, west corner, northeast of the square, etc.)
  • Press record and slowly turn completely around in a circle, in the spot you are standing spot, recording a 360-degree pan.

STEP 7: Film 10-second wide shots from the four-corners or sides of the crime scene - The objective of capturing wide shots is to provide an easily understandable layout of the crime scene. Do this by:

  • From the start position, hold your first wide shot for ten seconds.
  • Then move clockwise holding a wide shot at each cardinal direction or side of the scene from 10 seconds until you have completed the circle.

STEP 8: Film 10-second medium shots from the four corners or sides of the crime scene - The objective of capturing medium shots is to establish the location of evidence and the relationship of the evidence to a crime scene. Do this by:

  • Go back to your original start location.
  • Move in closer to the center of the scene.
  • From the start position, hold your first medium shot for ten seconds. Then, move clockwise holding a medium shot at each corner or side of the scene from 10 seconds until you have completed the circle.

STEP 9: Film 10-second close ups of key evidence - The objective of capturing close-up footage is to be able to see details in the scene.

  • Go back to your original start location.
  • Moving clockwise, focus in on the first piece of evidence. Hold a close up shot focused on this piece of evidence for 10 seconds.
  • Take a second shot with something that shows scale. For instance, lay a cell phone aside the detail you want to capture so analysts can the deduce size.
  • Then, move clockwise, take a close up shot of details you believe may be significant, held for ten seconds both with and without something that shows scale.

STEP 10: Complete a Camera Report - The camera report allows investigators and analysts to quickly determine if the footage may be relevant and helps to authenticate, verify, and preserve chain-of-custody for the footage. In short, it greatly enhances the value of footage.

And additionally, if appropriate, complement the video footage with other documentation. For instance, if you use a hand-drawn or topographic map to explain the scene, include a close up of the map, have the filmer sign and date the map and store it with the footage. If you complement the footage with a hand-drawn sketch, the hand-drawn sketch should: be the overhead view, note rough scale, note magnetic north, be signed and dated by preparer; and a photocopy made and original saved as physical evidence.


Proving Control of Territory

The posts above are a terrific reminder that it can be just as important to capture the larger context in which a particular crime occurred. 

One useful technique is to pay attention to road blocks or check points. These often indicate which group (the security forces, a particular military unit, a rebel group) controls a piece of territory.  If a crime occurs within that areas, knowing who controled ingress and egress (in other words, who gets in and out) can be very helpful in terms of assigning responsibility, especially in chaotic situations involving multiple armed groups. Ideally, the video would show who precisely is mannning these check points, in terms of insignia, uniforms etc. This obviously raises security concerns for anyone filming around such installations, so clandestine cameras, like the ones produced by Videre Est Credere, may offer an option. 

Take the Al-Houlah massacre in Syria on May 25, 2012.  Over 100 people were killed, mostly execution-style at close range. At first, it was unclear who was responsible for the murders. A United Nations Commission of Inquiry (which had been formed in 2011) was dispatched to undertake a special investigation of the massacre.  The COI was unable to reach a firm conclusion as to who bore responsibility because of restrictions on their movement on the ground. Blame was eventually placed on pro-government shabiha militia, although the Syrian government and some members of the press continued to attribute the massacre to al-Qaida linked terrorist groups. U.N. investigators released a final report in August of that year that supported the conclusion that groups linked to the government were the most likely perpetrators.  Its conclusion rested in part on the layout of the area as well as the location of governmental check points and the unliklihood that a large group of armed individuals could have entered the area without passing through one of these check points. 

Here is a link to one of the many videos produced in the aftermath of the massacre.  It is difficult watching, so be warned.

The video would obviously have some use in a criminal proceeding, particularly in terms of proving the number and identities of the victims. However, it's utility was even greater in terms of calling attention to the massacre and prompting a robust international responses. The United Nations Human Rights Council called for a special inquiry during a Special Session devoted to Syria. The COI conducted a special investigation, and the United Nations Security Council held an emergency session. 

First Thoughts on Capturing Linkage Evidence on Camera

I am continuously referring back to Beth’s post titled Crime base v. Linkage Evidence because it’s so vitally important to understand if we want to successfully hold war criminals like Thomas Lubanga, Ratko Mladić or Bashar al-Assad accountable.  

While the law is complex, here are my two top reasons activists interested supporting lawyers to convict war criminals should learn a little about the linkage evidence and then seek to capture linkage footage when in the field (within the confines of safety and security of course). I will look forward to other thinking on whether activists should dive into this complex area and if so, how best to do it.

Why Learn about Linkage Evidence?

First, proving that a crime took place is only about 10% of the work in an international criminal trial. Showing that the Commander in charge should be put behind bars is the other 90% of the work. Thinking a bit more about the attacks Ghouta, here is a timeline to consider:

  • Aug. 21: Chemical weapons were dropped on the suburbs of Damascus, Syria in the Ghouta area;
  • Aug 26 – 29: The UN Team spent 7 ½ hours on-the-ground in Moadamiyah, Samaika and Ein Tarma investigating the incident;
  • Sep. 13: The UN team issued a report finding clear and convincing evidence of the use of chemical weapons against civilians which is an international crime; and
  • To date: The perpetrator of this crime has yet to be proven with certainty.

Second, activists could play a vital role in capturing this much needed linkage evidence. As Wendy highlighted in her post, Video Speaking for Itself, activists on-the-ground tend to film the victim instead of the entire scene. If we make slight modifications to our filming practices and film the whole scene (See the full Capturing Video for Evidence strand of this conversation), we are more likely to capture the linkage evidence that the lawyers desperately need.

A Bit of the Law Really, Really, Really Briefly

International criminal law attorneys often use the term Mode of Liability or Form of Participation. Simply put, the lawyers ask, what the role did a person play in the commission of a crime? Did the perpetrator commit the crime with their own hands? Did the perpetrator order someone else to commit the crime? Did the perpetrator help with the planning of the crime? Etc.

Considering Syria, the simple and concrete question is, since Assad is not on-the-ground committing murder and torture with his own hands, how do we link him to these crimes and prove his guilt. There is so much to say about this but for now, I will leave it there and move onto a story.

Prosecutor v. Tolimir: One of My Favorite Stories about How Video Connects the Dots

During the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, a man named Zdravko Tolimir commanded the Intelligence and Security forces for the Bosnia Serb Army reporting directly to General Ratko Mladić. After the conflict was over, Tolimir was charged with a litany of crimes including extermination, murder, persecution, forcible transfer, deportation and genocide. So going back to Beth’s post in which she discusses the  Elements of a Crime, the prosecutor had a long, long list of things the team had to prove. One of the items on the list was this – the prosecutor had to prove that Tolimir was working with a team of others to eradicate the Bosnia Muslims. In other words, the prosecution had to prove that Tolimer was part of the “inner command circle”.

At a New Year’s Eve party, General Mladiić gave a speech thanking his commanders. This speech was videotaped. The footage is of poor quality and without subtitles so I have included a screenshot of Gen. Mladić giving the speech below and here are the key bits of the transcripts:

  • Ladies, Dear Guests, colleagues, Officers and Generals: It was long ago, in 1992, a difficult year, when it was even difficult to look at this area on a map. Fortunately, there are witnesses. One of them is my wife and several associates and comrades-in-arms … but I am saddened that the  most  important  among  them,  General Tolimir and his wife are not with us tonight. As you know he is on assignment, battling the dragons of the world ….
  • This was the inner core … which, in addition to myself, included, General Milovanovic, my deputy and the  Chief  of  Staff, and Generals Dukic, Gvero, and Tolimir.
  • From Bokganica, General Tolimir and Kucic fired on Ribioc.
  • I also want to thank the rest of my assistants and associates, General  Dukic, General Gvero, General Tolimir.

While this was a private party where human rights activists would not generally find themselves armed with a camera (with one wonderful exceptions being the Mitt Romney fundraiser!), officials often give public speeches where pieces of the evidentiary puzzle can sometimes be found.

In the situations where we work, it’s hard to make a decision to go film a speech by an official when a school has just been bombed. It’s hard to consider filming officials speaking at rallies when footage of an attack on children is more likely to move people to action faster than hearing the speech. But there will be plenty of footage of the bombed out school and little evidence of who actually ordered the bombing. So while in the short-term a speech may have little to no media or advocacy value, that speech may prove to be much more valuable for long-term justice and accountability.

There is much more to say on this topic as speeches are only one type of linkage evidence activists could film. I will try and post some more concrete examples of citizen shot footage that goes beyond the victim and captures information about who may be responsible soon. But, more importantly, I look forward to hearing other ideas on how we can capture helpful linkage footage.

Speeches in court

The ICTY courtrooms saw many videos of speeches - Mladic was (is) interesting in the sense that he loved the media and loved being the centre of attention and loved being filmed. Karadzic also had several videos that are now being used against him in trial. One of the most well known ones involves Karadzic threatening (or predicting) extinction of the Bosnian Muslims in a speech made in parliament in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

These people never thought they would stand trial and they weren't media shy. Maybe these days with the threat of war crimes prosecution, leaders, politicians and generals are a bit more careful about what they say publicly, into the camera.


Upcoming new tool for capturing footage


I would like to share a video collection tool that we have been working on at the International Bar Association, called eyeWitness to Atrocities.  Our hope is that eyeWitness provides a way to address many of the challenges that have been raised in this discussion.  We are currently developing the eyeWitness app, which will be a mobile app that can be downloaded to Android smartphones.  With the eyeWitness App, the user can record and annotate photos or videos of human rights violations and submit the footage to a secure repository maintained by eyeWitness.  The App will create a trusted chain of custody record, including embedded data showing when and where the image was captured and verifying the footage has not been edited or digitally manipulated.  The secure repository will function as a virtual evidence locker.

Once the user uploads the videos to the eyeWitness repository, the eyeWitness legal team will analyse copies of the videos to determine the relevance of the footage and identify the appropriate authorities, including international, regional or national courts, to pursue the matter.   After the footage is submitted to the eyeWitness repository, the user will have the option to share the image with social media or use it in whatever manner meets the user’s needs.  The idea is to magnify the impact of the videos collected everyday by human rights activists by ensuring that a verifiable copy is captured and secured.

As I mentioned, the app is still under development, so it is not yet available.  We will be field testing a version of it later this year.  Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

Who will access data and how will it be stored?

Thanks, Wendy! Will this app be available to any person who wants to use it? Who is the eyeWitness team and how will people know if they can trust that team? Do you have anymore information on where the data will be hosted? What if the data is subpoened by a government (like the Belfast Project data)? Some of these questions came up during our conversation last month on secure documentation so it would be great to get any initial information you might have on some of these questions.

Yvonne shared a lot of great info about how WITNESS manages, stores and shares its data. Are you going to use this model?


- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Members tagged in this comment: 


Thanks for your questions!  The app will be available to anyone who wants to use it.  Our goal is to disseminate it as widely as possible. 

Regarding the eyeWitness team, we plan to have a core group of full-time experts to review the data.  Trust building will be a large component of introducing and disseminating the app, using the established reputation of the International Bar Association and working one-on-one with human rights activists to demonstrate and explain the app and how the data will be used.

We are working with an organization to establish a secure hosting environment.   We’ve designed the environment in consultation with law enforcements experts to ensure the chain of custody safeguards are sufficient.  We will also compare it against the valuable information that Yvonne shared.  Once we’ve finalized the system, we will be able to provide more information on the model.

The issue you raise about subpoena risk is important.  We are in the process of developing our internal protocols for sharing or releasing data, particularly in relation to government attempts to access the data.  We are also looking at how the risk of subpoena may shape the data that we collect and store.  This is an ongoing process, so actually we are very interested in current best practices and the experiences of other organizations to inform our thinking.   I appreciate you raising the Belfast Project and the earlier New Tactics discussion.  These will provide useful case studies for us.  I am happy to provide further information on our findings as we formalize our approach to these issues.

What if your server is subpoenaed?

Thanks for your response, Wendy!

Regarding the subpoena risk, you might be interested to explore the approach that Benetech has taken with the data being stored using their Martus software (this text is taken from the Martus website):

Private data in Martus is encrypted and completely confidential. Server operators do not have the ability to decrypt data backed up to the servers. The operators can only see that data of some sort has been stored on the servers. After a bulletin has been designated as final or "sealed" by the user, it cannot be altered, ensuring that even an unauthorized user who may have obtained access cannot delete the user's records.

I'm not sure if this impact the ability for institutions to access the data if these servers are subpoenaed. Enrique and others from the Martus team could explain more.

- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community  Builder

Adding Narration to Enhance Evidentiary Value

Below is initial guidance on how to add narration to videos when filming in anticipation of, during or after a human rights incident. Thoughts are most welcome on how to improve this.

KEY DECISION: For evidentiary purposes, it’s always preferential to know who filmed the footage. However, a filmer should not risk their own safety or the safety of others. So, if after thoughtful consideration, the filmer decides they are comfortable exposing their identity on camera, the filmer should consider adding the information in italics, modified for their situation, to the video. If you decide you should not add your voice or face to the video, consider how to use a camera slate to capture the below information with the footage. See the example slate attached below.


My name is _______ [full name]  ___________ [any aliases]. I can be contacted via _________________ [organization and full contact information]. This video footage was filmed on:

  • _______ [day], _____ [month] ______ [year]
  • at _____ [time][am or pm]
  • at ____________________________ [specific location]
  • in __________ [city] _____________ [state/province] ______________ [country]

Other people who are here on scene with me and who may have relevant information about the potential or actual incident are:

  • __________________ [full name ] _________________ [full contact information]
  • __________________ [full name ] _________________ [full contact information]
  • Plus others …


If filming in ANTICIPATION of a human rights incident [e.g. filming the schools before expected airstrikes, streets where a protest is expected to take place, a favela before it is bulldozed, etc.]

The video footage captured here documents  ___________________ [describe the footage we are about to see]

If filming DURING and/or AFTER a human rights incident [e.g. filming excessive police force as it happens, a militia in the process of burning down a village, military actions at checkpoints, etc.]

The video footage captured here documents an alleged ________________ [describe the incident scene and what we are about to see]

If, after considering all the pros and cons of filming an INTERVIEW for evidentiary purposes [See prior post titled Should Evidentiary Interviews be On Camera]  you decide to that filming is the best option, then:

I am about to interview _________ [full name] about _____________ [factual description of the incident you are about to discuss with the witness]

I am speaking to ______ [full name so long as safety and security allows] because he/she ____________________ [describe the witnesses role](e.g. Were they injured in the incident? Do they know someone who was injured or killed? Do they have relevant medical expertise? Relevant military expertise? Was it their home that was bulldozed? etc.]

NOTE: If you don't have time to add the above information to the beginning of the video because the situation is not secure or you have to begin recording the scene right away, adding the information to the end works too.


I will film ________________ [describe how you will film the scene before or while you are filming](e.g. I am beginning the filming in the northeast corner of the square and will then move clockwise around the scene)

VITAL: While filming the incident scene the filmer should remain quiet with the exception of noting key factual information that will assist the viewer in understanding the footage. Examples include:

  • This is the entrance to _______.
  • I will begin filming in the northeast corner and film clockwise.
  • I am now moving outside to ______ street near the ______ market.
  • It appears that five homes were damaged by the bulldozer.
  • Etc.

In short, state only objective information. Leave all opinions aside. Adding opinions has the potential to undermine the credibility of the video. In legal terms, if you add opinions to a video it may make the video prejudicial and, in turn, not admissible in court.

END WITH: I completed filming at _________[time].


My name is Kelly Matheson. I work for WITNESS ( and can be contacted at or 718.782.2000. This video footage was captured on July 25, 2014 beginning at 11:13 am at 80 Hanson Place, Brooklyn, NY, USA.

Other people who are here on scene with me and who may have relevant information about the likely arrest at the corner of Hanson Place and Portland Avenue in Brooklyn are:

  • John Smith, 80 Hanson Place, 5th Floor, Brooklyn, NY, USA,, 718.783.2000; and
  • Jane Smith, 80 Hanson Place, 5th Floor, Brooklyn, NY, USA,, 718.783.2000

The video captured here documents an alleged use of excessive force by the New York Police Department against an African American man who appears to be in his early 20s.

The footage is captured from a 5th floor window on the southeast corner at 80 Hanson Place. I am filming from the window looking down onto the scene on the street. This was the only vantage point I was able to film from.

I completed filming this incident at 11:30 am.

Template Camera Slate for Adaptation