Earlier this month New Tactics in Human Rights hosted an online dialogue Documenting Human Rights Violations: Choosing the Right Approach featuring practitioners from a variety of fields. Although a bit hard to navigate, there’s a wealth of interesting commentary. Here are a few highlights:

Human rights thesauri; from Daniel Esposito: HURIDOCS is working on an online thesauri browser; standardized vocabularies for HR documentation challenges are important and beneficial but difficult to implement.

XML for data sharing; from Kenan Zahirovic: “…XML is a basis for many standards. After all, if musicians and chemists have XML standards , why not some sort of standard for HR violations? Well, technically speaking, we need a XML Schema but in an essence it’s a question of consensus – if we can agree what data we want to exchange (data on victims, incidents, witnesses…) and what attributes (name, address, age…) then we can make our own “standard”. Does it make a sense or it’s too complicated? Or maybe we already have some sort of standard for this?”

Preserving HR documentation for the long-term; from Patrick Stawski: “A crime occurs today; our technology documents it and generates evidence that can be immediately analyzed and disseminated. But typically (as is the case today with Cambodia, the former Yugoslavia, Guatemala, and many other places where communties are seeking justice for past crimes) only a long way down the line, years possibly decades later, is there is a chance for justice. Will the evidence we generate through our new documentation strategies be around to support prosecution and attempts at accountability?” Patrick illustrates some of the challenges with Duke’s current efforts to archive the IMI audiovisual collection.

Challenges of visual documentation within the HR framework; from Sam Gregory: “If we assume that in five, ten years time, perhaps 90% of visual documentation of human rights violations will have been gathered outside of the formal human rights infrastructure, how do we make sure that this citizen documentation is of value to more formal documentation/advocacy processes (which will continue to be important for securing protection and redress) both in real-time and after the fact?”

The Iraq History Project; from Daniel Rothenberg: A description of the scope and methodology of a large-scale documentation project based at DePaul University College of Law; “The project has three main objectives: documenting past and present violations by collecting large numbers of testimonies from around the country; analyzing this material to reveal patterns of violence and repression; and, encouraging the development of domestic and international policies to assist victims through reparations, memorialization, education and national reconciliation. The project seeks to contribute to an improved understanding of the scope, impact and severity of systematic political violence over the past four decades in Iraq and to aid a broad social process of transitional justice, national reconciliation and reconstruction.”

Documentation realities at the grassroots; from Khan Agha Daewoodzai: “So what would be the approaches and strategies if we want to localize these tools and resources to those who are working at the community level with limited access to information technology or other tools.” This is a key thread throughout the dialogue; the gulf between the emerging technologies and capacity and infrastructure for implementation at the grassroots level.

Finally, What is documentation? from Daniel Esposito: a succinct summary of some of the myriad forms documentation can take, including testimony, statistical analysis, legal and evidentiary, archival, and so on.

There’s much more – about the use of mobiles in documentation, about the Martus and OpenEvys systems, victim testimonies, data security, working with networks, and more. A great resource. But it seems a lot of questions were posed which could benefit from further consideration or discussion. It’s a rather broad topic with many dimensions. I’d love to see a follow-up.

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