[Bradley Samuels is a Partner at SITU Research. All work described here was undertaken within the scope of Forensic Architecture, a European Research Council funded project based out of Goldsmiths Center for Research Architecture.]
Whether captured by citizen videos, orbiting satellites, or international monitoring agencies, violations of human rights are increasingly documented in visual and spatial registers. Consequently, architectural representations – plans, physical and digital models, geospatial maps and remote sensing – are finding an increasing role as evidence in tribunals and international courts. Today’s forums – be they diplomatic assemblies, fact-finding missions, or human rights reports – are beginning to incorporate spatial analysis as a robust component of humanitarian work. Space necessarily emerges here as a legal construct at the intersection of archive, analysis and artifice – a condition that makes artists and designers uniquely equipped to engage the spatial nuances of cases that previously were the exclusive territory of lawyers, activists and policy makers. From territorial disputes through acts of genocide, this presentation explores the role of designers within contemporary legal and political forums through the application of its native tools and methodologies in an effort to posit new strategies for documenting, mapping, modeling and visualizing spatial components of international humanitarian law and advocacy.
As part of an investigation into emerging methodologies, a model of synthetic practice is explored here that presents the mining of disparate sources of data into coherent spatial narratives. Strategies are thus explored for combining data types across platforms and sources to leverage a wide range of digital tools to enable workflows between varied softwares – from parametric and geospatial to remote sensing and more. In addition to the tools themselves, representational and rhetorical frameworks specific to both evidentiary, and advocacy contexts also are unpacked and assessed in relation to the aforementioned instruments and methodologies.
Case Study: Non-Assistance at Sea
This case study was undertaken in collaboration with Charles Heller and Lorenzo Pezzani.
Among the many migrant vessels that attempted the journey to southern Italy during the 2011 crisis in Libya, one particular case, covered extensively in the international press involved the journey of 72 sub-Saharans fleeing Tripoli by boat on the early morning of March 27, 2011. After traveling about halfway to the Italian island of Lampedusa during their first day at sea the vessel ran out of fuel and subsequently drifted for the following 14 days without food or water until landing back on the Libyan coast. Only 9 of the migrants ultimately survived. In interviews following the event the survivors recounted a series of interactions they had with other actors while at sea. This included a military aircraft that flew over them, a distress call they placed via satellite telephone, two encounters with a military helicopter and an encounter with a military ship. The survivors’ testimonies thus clearly pointed to violations of International Maritime Law which obligates all parties encountering a vessel in distress to render assistance (article 98 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea).
In an effort to understand the events that led to this tragedy and to shed light on others like it, a report was undertaken aimed at a spatio-temporal reconstruction of the 15 day period between March 27th 2011 when the vessel left the Port of Tripoli until April 10, 2011 when it washed ashore in Zliten. A comprehensive textual analysis was undertaken in concert with the production of a series of visualizations, diagrams and figures. This work was an exercise in culling of disparate data (geospatial, meteorological, testimonial, military and other) that was ultimately recombined in an effort to assemble a coherent spatial narrative of the chain of events. The diversity of sources and types of data required the report to draw upon the methodologies and expertise of a variety of disciplines, among them remote sensing, cinematography, architecture and oceanography. The result is a synthetic spatial product that leverages increasing technological interoperability and cross disciplinary collaboration to help address what was certainly a humanitarian failure and, ultimately, also a legal question: who was responsible for these deaths? The ultimate destination of this report is a legal case being mounted against France for non-assistance of people in distress at sea. The goal of this work is both to hold accountable those individuals, states and organizations that failed to assist persons clearly in distress as well as to draw greater attention to the systemic and long standing issue of migrant deaths at sea in the Mediterranean.