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

PART III - HOW TO DOCUMENT ALLEGATIONS OF UNLAWFUL KILLINGS

SUMMARY
PART III - HOW TO DOCUMENT ALLEGATIONS OF UNLAWFUL KILLINGS

1. BASIC AIMS OF DOCUMENTATION

When documenting allegations, you should:

  • Seek to obtain good quality information: Factors which contribute to the quality of your information include the source of the information, the level of detail, the absence or presence of contradictions, the absence or presence of elements which support (corroborate) or disprove the allegation, the extent to which the information demonstrates a pattern, and the age of the information.
  • Take steps to maximise the accuracy and reliability of the information: You can maximise accuracy and reliability by taking general precautions, by seeking corroboration of specific cases at the time of the interview and afterwards, and by exercising good judgement.

2. EVIDENCE

You should always aim to provide as much supporting evidence as possible when submitting an allegation - it helps to convince others of the sincerity of both yourself and the victim, to dispel any doubts you or others may have about the truth of the allegation, and is a requirement for certain courses of action, particularly judicial procedures.

Particularly important forms of evidence include:

  • Medical evidence: Both physical and/or psychological
  • Witness evidence: These could include relatives, co-workers and friends of the deceased or missing person, eye-witnesses to a killing, witnesses who can tell you something about the history of the event and/or the scene of the killing, medical and religious persons who treated, examined or attended to the deceased, or the victim him or herself in the case of death threats or attempted killing

Other types of evidence might include: media reports; expert reports; official reports and statements; any evidence of a pattern of violation in the country or region in question; focused research; copies of national judicial or administrative decisions.

3. OBTAINING WITNESS STATEMENTS

Interviewing an individual about a killing, particularly of someone close to them, is a difficult and sensitive task, but it can be made easier for all involved by some advance preparation and thought. You should review the main text carefully before attempting to carry out an interview.

Throughout the interview, you will need to balance:

  • The need to obtain a useful account and the importance of respecting the needs of the person being interviewed
  • The need to obtain as many details as possible and the importance of not over-directing the account

Before beginning the interview, you should give some advance thought to the following considerations: informed consent; how to begin the interview; note-taking; who should conduct the interview; the use of interpreters; making the interviewee feel more at ease; dealing with people who are afraid to talk; conducting interviews in places of group custody; addressing the sensitivity of the subject-matter; maximising the reliability of the information; gender composition of the interview team; interviewing children. (See main text for suggestions)

4. INVESTIGATIVE FRAMEWORK

A death investigation should aim to answer the 5 W's:

Who? - the identity of the deceased
When? - the time of death
Where? - the place of death
Why? - the cause of death
HoW? - the manner of death

In order to discover the facts, the investigative process should focus on 3 elements (the "Golden Triangle"), both alone and in combination with each other:

The Body
The Scene
The History

In addition to investigating the facts of the killing itself, it is essential to examine the state's response to the killing. Unlike traditional death investigation, which is concerned with the criminal responsibility of individuals, an investigation into an alleged violation of the right to life must focus on the potential responsibility of the state, which may include not only direct responsibility for the death itself, but also a failure to protect, a failure to carry out an effective investigation or a failure to provide an effective remedy.

Detailed suggestions are made in the main text regarding the types of questions that need to be asked in order to obtain the required information, as well as potential sources of evidence for finding this information.

Ultimately, the overall goal of an investigation into a potential violation of the right to life must be to establish the responsibility of the state for the killing. An examination of the facts revealed by answering the 5 W's and analysing the "Golden Triangle" must answer the essential question:

Was the state responsible for the killing?

 

 

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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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