Reporting Killings as Human Rights Violations Handbook

Reporting Killings as Human Rights Violations Handbook

How to document and respond to potential violations of the right to life within the international system for the protection of human rights

By Kate Thompson and Camille Giffard

Handbook links: website home page
Table of Contents - Search - Part I: Essential Reading - Part II: Identifying a Potential Violation - Part III: How to Document Allegations of Unlawful Killings - Part IV: Responding to the Information Collected - Part V: Where can you Seek Further Help? - Appendices
III. How to Document Allegations of Unlawful Killings: section links...
1. Introduction - 2. Basic Aims of Documentation - 3. Evidence - 4. Investigative Framework - Summary of Part III



This handbook aims to set out the standard for the ideal documentation, but we appreciate that in all cases you may not be able to achieve this. Do not let this put you off pursuing a case. You may still be able to use the information either on its own, or together with other allegations. Simply, do your best. It is likely that if you are unable to gather information it is because the state is antagonistic to your work and/or the witnesses feel insecure about giving evidence. In these circumstances you can explain your concerns to the human rights mechanism you have chosen and they can take your difficulties into consideration when examining the case and, at best, can themselves request the information from the state. You can assist by enabling the human rights mechanisms to clarify the questions that they should be addressing to the state or the recommendations they can make.

The primary goal of documenting allegations of human rights violations is to create a full, accurate, reliable and clear record of events, which can enable fair and just conclusions to be reached about the situation in a particular country. This means that when you are documenting allegations, you should:


 TIP - Suggestions for your documentation kit

Your organisation should consider keeping an easily accessible supply of these items. Where appropriate, keep them securely and keep them together:

  • Memo pads
  • Sketch Pad
  • Clipboard
  • Files
  • Supply of pens and pencils
  • Camera with automatic flash (spare film and batteries)
  • Reliable maps with grid references
  • Measuring tapes (50 metres)
  • A safe for secure items
  • Tape recorder or dictaphone
  • Video recorder
  • Torch

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2.1. Good quality information

You should aim to obtain the best information possible under the circumstances - this does not mean that you must always reach the highest standard before submitting information, but it does mean that you should do your best to put together a strong allegation using all the information available to you. The level of detail necessary to make an allegation will vary depending on the purpose to which it will be put. For example, judicial procedures, whether domestic or international, usually require a high standard of proof and, therefore, they will need detailed and comprehensive evidence. By contrast, international reporting procedures may be able to act without the provision of hard evidence or extensive supporting documentation, but with a well-written, sound and reasonable case summary that outlines the basis for the complaint. (For more detailed information about international complaints and reporting mechanisms see Part IV)

Regardless of the level of the detail you should still aim to obtain good quality information. You should:


 TIP - Organising your work

Methodical and accurate documentation is assisted by a well-organised work place. Here are some suggestions for how work on a case can be recorded and stored:

  • Case management file: logs of all of your activities and notes, and "to do" lists
  • Communications file: useful contact information, records of letters, telephone calls, faxes, emails. Bear in mind witness security!
  • Evidence files:
  • Witness statement file: Copies of all witness statements. Consider anonymising them. Keep original statements and witness details in a secure location with limited access (the safe)
  • Photograph file: Record and description of all photographs, dates taken and by whom. Keep negatives and/or copies in the safe
  • Physical evidence file: a log of all evidence collected, date, by whom. Keep evidence itself in the safe
  • Document file: Copies of all documents and/or a record of all documents obtained. Keep original documents in the safe
  • Sketch and map file: Maps of the scene, wound charts and diagrams which are not connected to other documents or statements. Keep originals in the safe


  • Record times and dates of all work on a case

  • Keep all physical evidence and original documents and witness details in a secure place/ a safe with strictly limited access!


2.1.1. Evaluating the evidence

When evaluating the evidence to establish whether you have good information, you are examining whether it is credible and reliable. Here are some suggestions for how to do this:-

Remember that this is an indication of what the very highest standard would be. It is often not possible to obtain information of this quality - this does not mean that you cannot use it. Instead, the quality of your information will be a factor when the time comes to select the procedure(s) to which you will send it.

The emphasis in this chapter is placed on documenting the allegation in such a way that you should, in principle, be able to submit it to virtually any available procedure. Any minimum requirements or restrictions specific to a particular procedure are noted.


 TIP - Good quality information

first hand + detailed + internally consistent + corroborated from several angles & sources
+ demonstrating a pattern + fresh
= highest standard

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2.2. Accurate and reliable information

Verifying the accuracy and reliability of information can be a difficult and sensitive task and, to a large extent, you are dependent on the good faith of those who supply you with information. It is, however, possible to maximise the likelihood that information is accurate and reliable by taking certain general precautions, by seeking corroboration of allegations and the observations of witnesses, and by exercising good judgement.

General precautions, which you can take to maximise reliability, include:

When carrying out interviews with witnesses, you can maximise both accuracy and reliability by:

Ultimately, you should exercise judgement - where you have reason to doubt the accuracy or reliability of an allegation, it is worth spending a little more time seeking corroboration than when all the circumstances indicate that it is sincere. If you have reservations about the allegation, it is likely that others will have them too, because they will have the same perspective as you, as presented in your submission. If you cannot resolve your doubts, you may be wasting more time and resources preparing the allegation than you would in either dispelling or confirming them.

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2.3. Urgent cases

Remember that where you have genuine cause to believe that a person is in danger due to death threats or because they are being tortured or have disappeared and urgent action is needed, you should act quickly even where some doubts still remain as to reliability - it is clear that in such circumstances the security of the person should take priority.


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Handbook links: website home page
Table of Contents - Search - Part I: Essential Reading - Part II: Identifying a Potential Violation - Part III: How to Document Allegations of Unlawful Killings - Part IV: Responding to the Information Collected - Part V: Where can you Seek Further Help? - Appendices
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