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
V. Where can you Seek Further Help? section links...
1. Why You May Wish To Seek Further Help - 2. Some Specific Sources of Help - Summary of Part V

PART V - WHERE CAN YOU SEEK FURTHER HELP?

2. SOME SPECIFIC SOURCES OF HELP

2.1. International Committee of the Red Cross

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is a neutral, independent and impartial humanitarian organisation which acts primarily in the context of armed conflict, but also in situations of internal violence. Its headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland, but it has field delegations in many countries where its activities are required. It acts as a neutral intermediary between parties to a conflict.

Amongst its many functions, it works to protect civilian populations and combatants no longer taking part in hostilities. By gathering information in the field and informing the parties of unlawful acts committed against the local population, the ICRC tries to bring such practices to a halt and to trigger appropriate remedial action. ICRC delegates take both direct action in the field and also draw up confidential reports to the appropriate authorities. The recommendations they make to both governmental authorities and armed groups can range from issues related to the conduct of hostilities, to preventing summary executions. These reports highlight rules of international humanitarian law which must be observed in order to protect civilians and combatants from the effects of violence and to encourage respect for basic human rights.

The ICRC may take the initiative of evacuating particularly vulnerable individuals from a dangerous area, reuniting separated family members, arranging for the exchange of family messages, and providing medical supplies, water and food for those in need. The ICRC also maintains a regular presence in areas where individuals or entire communities are at risk of being attacked. Its delegates stay in close contact with all potential perpetrators of violence - whether regular army troops, rebel fighting units, and security or police forces.

The ICRC also carries out visits to places of detention where persons are held in connection with the armed conflict or internal violence, examines the conditions of detention and treatment and interviews detainees about their experiences in detention. It seeks access to all places of detention where detainees falling within their field of activity are held, as well as the opportunity to interview the detainees themselves in private and without witnesses. In return, the ICRC maintains absolute confidentiality about what it observes during such visits. Because of its special mandate and methods of work, the ICRC is often able to gain access to places of detention, which others cannot visit.

The ICRC has its own network and personnel, and functions independently of other organisations. Nonetheless, it is willing to receive information about patterns of violation or enquiries about specific populations, detainees or missing persons, which it may be in a position to follow up. It prefers to receive such information directly from relatives, but will accept it from NGOs on the understanding that the confidentiality protecting its work means that the NGO should not expect to receive feedback on any action taken. In the case of missing or disappeared persons, it may send a response to the family. In general, it will seek to make direct contact with the family before it decides to take action. Its guiding principle is that any action it takes is on behalf, and in the name of, the detainees themselves, not of other organisations. If information is passed on to the ICRC, it should be as detailed as possible. As a general rule, the ICRC will tend to act more readily in cases indicating a pattern, than in individual cases.

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2.2. UN High Commissioner for Refugees

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) acts to protect and provide assistance to persons who have fled their country because of a well-founded fear of persecution. They cannot, or do not want to, return refugees, as well as other groups in similar situations, such as persons displaced within their own countries (IDPs) and victims of civil war. One of the ways in which it carries out these functions is through a network of personnel throughout the world, based in diverse locations, where persons falling within their mandate may be found, including capital cities, remote refugee or IDP camps, and along border areas. Their purpose is essentially to protect and minimise the risk of attacks on refugee and IDP groups and camps, and to identify and address the causes of displacement in specific situations. In this context, it is extremely relevant to inform them of: 1) any ill-treatment of refugees and IDPs in their place of origin or during transit, and 2) any ill-treatment of refugees and IDPs within their camps.

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2.3. Field missions and visits

Both intergovernmental organisations, such as the OSCE and the UN, and international non-governmental organisations may establish field missions or carry out field visits. These may be either standing (ongoing) or ad hoc (in response to a specific event or situation). Most are designed to monitor and collect information about the situation, and rely heavily on the supply of information from various sources.

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2.4. International Fact-Finding Commission

This body is established by international law of armed conflict (Protocol I to the Geneva Convention) to investigate grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and to ensure compliance with ILAC. The Commission consists of 15 independent individuals elected by those states which recognise the Commission as a legal body. For more information contact the ICRC (See Appendix II).

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2.5. International and national or local NGOs, and other support organisations

The range of international and national NGOs is enormous. An initial point of contact could be a large national NGO with experience. This is often the best way to find out basic information about domestic remedies or on the treaties to which the state is party. International NGOs can provide invaluable assistance, either by taking responsibility for transmitting allegations or by advising you on how to go about it. A particularly useful form of international NGO is the "umbrella organisation". These are NGOs that act as a central point of contact for a network of smaller national NGOs. In general, in order to apply to become part of a network, national NGOs will be asked to explain their objectives, working methods, etc", and should be able to show that both they, and their information, are reliable. See Appendix II for examples of such organisations.

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2.6. Professional associations or networks

You may find that you need advice or assistance on one particular aspect of your work that requires technical knowledge. In this respect you may find national and international professional associations of lawyers, doctors, forensic experts, or academics particularly useful to contact. They may well have individuals and/or committees working on particular issues like human rights or the development of forensic skills, which may be interested in your work and may be able to offer professional assistance.

If the associations in your country are weak or non-existent you could try to contact those working in other countries which may be more effective. (For addresses - see Appendix II)

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2.7. Internet

Although we are aware that many readers of this handbook may not have regular or efficient access to the Internet we felt it worth emphasising the value of the Internet in human rights work. It has enormous potential to assist you, e.g.,

The Internet can be particularly useful if your country does not have a documentation centre or library where you can find useful and up to date human rights and legal materials.

See Appendix II for lists of websites.

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2.8. Lobbying

There is no substitute for public opinion when it comes to seeking change. There is no doubt that persistent lobbying can help to shine a spotlight on human rights abuses. Among the most important lobbying is that which takes place in Geneva during sessions of the UN Commission on Human Rights and the Sub-Commission on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights. Lobbying of state representatives and members can make the difference between an agenda item being dropped or a resolution condemning a state being adopted. If you would like to be involved, you are advised to contact a Geneva-based NGO that will be able to help you and provide information on applying for permission to attend the sessions and how to make a written or oral submission. See Appendix II for contacts. Other forums where active lobbying on human rights issues takes place include the political organs of international organisations, e.g. the European Parliament, and governmental representatives (not necessarily your own), particularly those of influential states.

 

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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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