- Humanitarian Research Lab Documenting Potential War Crimes in Ukraine
The Yale School of Public Health’s Humanitarian Research Lab (HRL) is documenting potential violations of international law and crimes against humanity by Russia and Russia-aligned forces in Ukraine as part of a new Conflict Observatory initiative led by the U.S. Department of State.
An August 25 report released by the Yale HRL corroborated the existence of a reported “filtration system” in the Donetsk province of eastern Ukraine where Russians and Russia-aligned forces were allegedly holding Ukrainian citizens and prisoners of war at specific sites. Approximately 21 filtration sites were identified with high confidence by the Yale HRL, including registration points, holding areas, and prison facilities for long-term detention.
The Yale HRL, which is funded in part by the YSPH Rapid Response Fund, is also monitoring the destruction of health facilities and schools in Ukraine. Using satellite imagery analysis and open-source investigative methods, the Yale HRL identified 22 health care facilities and 30 schools that were damaged by sustained Russian bombardment in the Sievierodonetsk district between February 13 and June 13, 2022.
In producing its reports, the Yale HRL is working in close collaboration with the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO), geographic mapping software company Esri, the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative, PlanetScape Ai, and other partners in supporting the Conflict Observatory.
Student researchers on the team have benefited from the experience of collaborating with YSPH faculty and other governmental and nongovernmental organizations.
“As researchers, we are not in a position or capacity to end foreign conflict; however, our research helps to anticipate the associated triggers that create public health crises,” said Associate Professor Kaveh Khoshnood, MPH ’95, PhD ’89, the lab’s faculty director and co-founder of the Yale Violence and Health Study Group. “Armed conflict is a public health problem in addition to a political or military issue. Our student interns are learning that solutions to public health challenges within this context require collaboration with a variety of organizations that bring different expertise.”
Yale HRL Executive Director Nathaniel Raymond, a lecturer at YSPH, praised said the lab’s reports would not be possible without the collaboration of multiple partners across different fields.
“The findings were collected on a scale of methodical complexity that could not have been possible without the collaboration of the national lab system, and a consortium of for-profit, nonprofit, and governmental organizations coming together to analyze reported war crimes,” he said.
The lab’s research is intended to identify and document detailed information about possible violations of international law and human rights.
“Many countries have not been held accountable for war crimes because there hasn’t been a lot of evidence-based research into their activities,” Khoshnood said. “Evidence provides a stronger case for international government organizations to address crimes against humanity. This requires our research to be specific, robust, and detailed.”