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As the struggle between regime forces and opposition fighters drags on in war-ravaged Syria, a crowdmapping initiative named Syria Tracker documents killings with the public's help.
Since the tool launched in April 2011, users have submitted around 2,700 eyewitness reports of more than 43,000 deaths over the course of the two year-old conflict. While the reports cannot be independently verified, the majority of them come with videos, pictures, and names of the victims.
Syria Tracker is especially important in exposing war crimes as most non-profit organizations cannot maintain a presence on the ground due to the violence. The Syrian regime has done its best to suppress the flow of information and media emerging from the country, from barring foreign journalists to restricting internet access.
The crowdmapping project is a creation of an anonymous U.S.-based Arab American group. The site allows individuals to post reports straight to the map, email them to the website’s administrators, or tweet them out with the hashtag #BasharCrimes. Reports have come from across Syria (as well as neighboring countries), but most have leaked out of the country’s capital Damascus and its surrounding regions.
In Syria Tracker reports, the victims are generally described as martyrs, suggesting a pro-opposition position on the conflict. While international agencies condemn both sides for committing war crimes, the vast majority of the blame has been placed on the Bashar al-Assad regime.
Throughout Syria’s uprising, citizen journalists and activists have played a large role in documenting regime abuses. Umbrella group Local Coordination Committees of Syria, for example, compiles daily updates on the conflict.
Reports of opposition fighter victories continue to increase as the regime struggles to fend off the rebels' advances. Assad's international legitimacy is also in peril: Russia’s diplomatic cover for the regime seems to be slipping away, while yet more nations have endorsed the opposition.
Syria Tracker isn’t the region’s first crowdmapping initiative. In Egypt, for example, the crowd documents instances of sexual abuse on Google Maps, and during the Libyan uprising, people tracked the towns mentioned in news reports and wrote out alternative spellings to minimize confusion.