By Leslie Whyte, ICT / Media Officer
Documenting human rights abuses is the heart of human rights work. The effectiveness of human rights documentation tool depends on the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the evidence gathered. It can contribute to educating and organizing as well as advocating at a political or legislative level. Government leaders have been enlightened through documentation of human rights violations. The importance of human rights violation documentation for both for victim and the perpetrator, cannot be underestimated.
Documentation is about collecting stories, establishing truths and “sounding alarms.” Success can depend on one’s ability to access those stories and give meaning to them, for example, through showing patterns of abuse. Since human rights violations are often replete traumatic experiences and often happen to people who are severely marginalized and oppressed. A significant degree of empathy and understanding of the circumstances surrounding the incident is required as much as understanding the incident itself. Documentation requires serious thought and preparation, and a methodology that respects the dignity of the individual whose rights have been violated. Leadership by or involvement of those directly experiencing the abuse is an important principle in designing and implementing documentation projects.
Documentation can also be used as a capacity-building exercise, and the process is as useful and important as its outcome. NGO allies, lawyers, community members, and others can and should be encouraged to participate capacity building on documentation. While documentation can be used as an educational and organizing tool, advocacy helps in promoting documentation and brings change.
For about four years now, Lawyers Alert have been monitoring and documenting reported violations. Lawyers Alert have also developed a web-based tool where such reports are duly documented. This tool has the advantage of not only capturing the violations but also analyzing same according to location, age, type of violations, sex, etc. The analysis of these violations provides a scientific and accurate picture of the SRHR and Petty Offences situations in Nigeria. These violations reports are being shared with organizations working on SRHR in Nigeria, both local and international, including state actors like the National Human Rights Commission and the National Parliament. Reports of interventions are being put together to get state actors to operate based on the submitted data captured.
Documentation is a process of strategic and systematic gathering of quantitative and qualitative data. This process consists of several activities, namely:
- determining what information is needed and establishing means for acquiring it;
- Recording the discovered information and storing such in appropriate containers (called documents) or collecting already-existing documents containing the needed information;
- Organizing and analyzing documents to make them more accessible; and
- Actually providing the reports to users who need the information for advocacy.
In conclusion, documentation builds a strong platform for advocacy for it provides evidence that can contradict what governments or newspapers are reporting.
An important lesson learned is to review the impact of the documents on particular human rights efforts and store data safely.
Lawyers Alert hereby puts our readers on notice that this article is based on the writers opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of the organization except otherwise stated.