The Torture Reporting Handbook
  Handbook links... website home page  
 Table of Contents - Search - Part I: Preliminary Matters - Part II: Documenting Allegations - Part III: Responding to the Information Collected - Appendices
  II. Documenting Allegations: section links...  

 

1. Introduction - 2. Basic Principles of Documentation - 3. Interviewing the Person Alleging Torture - 4. Information Which Should be Recorded - 5. Evidence - Summary of Part II  
 On this page...
 3.1 Introduction - 3.2 General considerations - 3.3 Conducting the interview

PART II - DOCUMENTING ALLEGATIONS

3. Interviewing the person alleging torture

3.1 Introduction

In many ways, recording the allegation of torture is the most crucial step in the entire reporting process, because it dictates what you are able to do with the information in the later stages, yet it is also the one which can be most difficult either to learn or to explain in a universally applicable manner. Training of personnel in interview techniques should form part of the preparation any NGO makes before attempting to document allegations and is beyond the scope of this handbook. The following guidelines and suggestions are designed to be used as an aide memoire and not intended to replace proper training of personnel.

Remember that an allegation of torture may be made by:

In all cases the information can be collected by interviewing the person making the allegation. The interview may lead you to seek further witnesses, such as co-detainees, or a doctor who may have examined the person (see Part II, Chapter 5.3)

 

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3.2 General considerations

When conducting an interview, you should bear in mind the following general considerations:

3.3 Conducting the interview

3.3.1 Before you start

Remember to review in detail the discussions in Part I, Chapter 2.3, relating to informed consent, professional ethics and security. They are central to the interview process and there are certain aspects which you will need to explain carefully to the interviewee.

3.3.2 How should you begin the interview?

You should begin by introducing yourself, your organisation, your objectives, and the possible uses to which the information you are gathering may be put. If you requested a particular individual by name, you should explain to that individual how you obtained his or her name. Make sure that the interviewee has no objection to note-taking or the use of recording-machines or interpreters. Address the issue of informed consent and emphasise the confidentiality of the interview itself, subject to the consent of the individual to its use. It is also important not to build unrealistic expectations for the interviewee - you should make sure that they understand that any potential allegation process may take time and can yield limited results.

3.3.3 Should you keep notes of the interview?

Keeping a detailed record of your interview is important to ensure accuracy, but you should explain to the individual how these notes will be used and who will have access to the information contained in them. There may be some instances when it is more appropriate to just listen (e.g. in a small police station) and make your notes immediately afterward.

3.3.4 By whom should the interview be conducted?

Interviewing an individual, particularly a victim, about an incident of torture is both emotionally and physically tiring. It is especially difficult where the interviewer is alone, because this requires an ability to ask questions, listen, develop a rapport with the interviewee, handle difficult emotional situations, take notes and watch out for gaps and inconsistencies all at the same time, an almost impossible task. Where the circumstances permit, it is best to interview as a pair, with one person asking the questions and the other taking notes. Even better is where the two individuals have complementary skills, e.g. medical and legal expertise. This helps to make sure that no important points are missed and that the right questions are asked. In order to avoid confusion for the interviewee and to facilitate the establishment of a rapport, however, you should make sure that one of the interviewers has primary responsibility for questioning, giving the second interviewer an opportunity to intervene towards the end.

3.3.5 Are there any special considerations to keep in mind when using interpreters?

3.3.6 What can you do to make the interviewee feel more at ease?

Interviews about very personal experiences, such as ill-treatment, can be extremely intimidating. You may not have much control over the setting in which the interview takes place, but even small considerations on your part can help an interviewee to feel more comfortable.

3.3.7 How can you deal with people who are too afraid to talk?

Some interviews may be conducted in a relatively safe place, but in many cases the surroundings will not be secure. This is particularly the case where interviewees are still in the custody of the authorities. You cannot ensure their safety (see Part I, Chapter 2.3, for a general consideration of security issues), but you can take steps not to place individuals at greater risk than necessary.

3.3.8 Are there any special considerations to keep in mind when conducting interviews in prisons or other places of group custody?

Awareness of group dynamics and prison structures is important when choosing how to go about interviewing individuals in such an environment.

3.3.9 How can you address the sensitivity of the subject-matter?

Interviews about experiences of torture can be very sensitive and painful, but you can take steps to minimise the risk of re-traumatisation of victims. For example:

3.3.10 What can you do to maximise the reliability of information?

You can:

3.3.11 Are there any special gender considerations to take into account when selecting an interviewer or interview team?

There is no strict rule on this point, and it will depend on the individual interviewee and interviewer. Preferences may be based on cultural or personal factors. In general, it is better to try to have a female interviewer present when interviewing a woman, especially if the account is likely to involve sexual matters. It is less clear-cut with regard to men - they may also prefer to speak with a woman about sexual matters, but in certain cultures this would be unacceptable. Do not forget to take into account the gender of the interpreter.

3.3.12 Are there any special considerations to take into account when interviewing children?

Your primary goal when interviewing children must be to try not to do harm. It is very different to interviewing adults, and needs to be treated as such. Interviewers should have some experience of working with children or the effects of an interview may be more detrimental than the potential benefits. Ideally, they should have both experience and expertise, and if they have never done it before, it is advisable to run through a mock interview with another member of the interview team in order to get a feel for the process. The following should be borne in mind:

 

 On this page... top of page

3.1 Introduction - 3.2 General considerations - 3.3 Conducting the interview

 II. Documenting Allegations: section links... 

 

1. Introduction - 2. Basic Principles of Documentation - 3. Interviewing the Person Alleging Torture - 4. Information Which Should be Recorded - 5. Evidence - Summary of Part II  
  Handbook links...website home page  
 Table of Contents - Search - Part I: Preliminary Matters - Part II: Documenting Allegations - Part III: Responding to the Information Collected - Appendices
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