Training Manual on Human Rights Monitoring - Chapter XX: Human Rights Reporting


A. Introduction

B. General principles on human rights reporting

C. Reporting within the Human Rights Field Operation

D. External reports

Appendix I to Chapter XX: Questionnaire - Interview Form

Appendix II to Chapter XXI: Periodic Report Form

Appendix III: Emergency Report Form

Appendix IV: Incident Report Form

Appendix V: Special Rapporteurs, Special Representatives, Working Groups and Other Special Procedures



A. Introduction

1. Reporting is an essential element of the human rights monitoring function. Reporting must be adapted to the mandate of the human rights field operation and to the needs of those officers who are managing it. A distinction is made in this Chapter between internal and external reporting. From the point of view of a specific field operation, internal reports are those which are produced by the field operations staff for use within the operation only. External reports are those which are produced by the field operation staff, using information contained in the internal reports, for a wider distribution including, for example, UN Headquarters in Geneva or New York, other UN bodies (e.g. the General Assembly, the Commission on Human Rights) or mechanisms (e.g., country or thematic rapporteurs), the international community, or the media.

2. HROs, particularly those working in offices other than the central office of the field operation, sometimes see their report writing tasks as peripheral to the actual human rights work that they accomplish. They can become frustrated with requests from the central office for a variety of different reports written in a particular way. It is very important that officers be informed of the reasons for which they are required to write reports and how those reports will be used. Knowing the exact way in which a report is to be used will make it easier for the HROs who have to write them. The HROs should be made aware that certain of their internal reports will later be used in the compilation of reports destined for external use. In order to assure that complete and accurate reports are prepared, the reporting structure within a field operation should be clearly defined as early as possible.

3. This Chapter gives suggestions on some of the different types of report that a field operation may have, and on the different uses that may be made of them. Brief guidelines are given on how reports should be written and on the use of report forms.

B. General principles on human rights reporting

1. Accuracy and precision


4. The first step in preparing any report is to verify the information received. Reports cannot be prepared and interventions with the authorities cannot be undertaken unless they are made on the basis of verified information. Once the inquiry is completed and the information has been checked, the HRO may proceed to write a formal account, for example, of the violation based on the available evidence.

5. Human rights reporting may take different forms, but certain elements are crucial to a UN HRO's report. First, the report should be precise and accurate. It should not be based on rumour or unverified information. Obviously, more serious allegations require the HRO to exercise a heightened standard of care regarding the precision with which the facts are reported.

2. Promptness


6. Second, the report should be produced promptly. The HRO should assemble the relevant evidence and complete the report while the matter is fresh in his/her memory. This technique is especially important in situations where the officer must make inquiries and report on numerous individual cases containing similar facts. Prompt reporting is also crucial to the effectiveness of the UN operation in raising concerns with the authorities.

3. Action-oriented


7. Third, the report should be action-oriented. The HRO should set forth recommendations for the next steps that should be taken. It is important for the officer to make recommendations for the action to be taken because the officer may be in the best position to assess the situation and identify the appropriate responses.

C. Reporting within the Human Rights Field Operation

8. Internal reports are most likely to be written by individual HROs, or by area offices (1) of the operation, and submitted to the operation's central office. HROs should remain informed of the organizational structure and function of the UN field operation in the country and/or region in which they are stationed in order to know where they fit in the flow of information and to whom they should report. Different matters need to be reported to different units/persons. Urgent matters may need to be reported to different units/persons than less pressing individual complaints or general assessments of the situation. The HRO should be provided with forms to report on various kinds of urgent matters, individual cases, and general developments. These forms should be used to report information in a structured fashion. This Chapter anticipates the need for at least four sorts of internal reporting: Periodic reports (including specialised activity reports), emergency reports, interview reports, and summary reports on particular incidents.

1. Periodic reports

9. Each area office/officer will generally be asked to prepare reports to:

In some operations such reports have been needed on a weekly basis, but in others periodic reports have been prepared daily, every two weeks, every fifteen days, or every month. It appears that monthly reporting is most common in human rights operations, but frequency of reporting must reflect the situation, the time available for preparing reports, the ability of HROs to assemble at the central office for meetings, and the needs of managers. Indeed, the periodic reports should ordinarily be timed so as to coincide with regular meetings at the central office of a representative from each area office - which is a common practice of field operations - so that progress can be assessed and further objectives can be established. The periodic reports should indicate both improvements and negative trends.

10. Periodic reports should reflect all of the major activities of the submitting area office/officer. A draft periodic reporting form (Appendix 1) has been provided so as to serve as an instrument for assessing results and developing plans. The draft form should be adapted to the mandate, the needs of the operation and of the managers. For example, the form identifies certain aspects of the mandate, but the mandate may be different for each operation.

11. The internal "Periodic" reports might cover the following subjects: Introduction; overview of human rights situation in the region; highlights requiring attention Summary of work accomplished during the reporting period (progress in completing the workplan) Major positive and negative trends in the situation during the reporting period (by mandate areas)

Plans for the forthcoming period (by mandate areas)

Recommendations for the forthcoming period (by mandate areas)

Administrative information on the office (illness/vacation of staff members, vehicles out of order, etc.)



12. Under each section, information should be provided for each specific area of the operation's mandate. If there are HROs specifically responsible for a certain area of the field operation's mandate, for example detention, or trial observation, etc., specialized activity reports on each specific area may be attached to the periodic report. Other documents, including interview forms or other backgrounds materials, may be attached as well to help explain the situation or the report recommendations. There will inevitably be a certain amount of overlap between different sections and the central office unit charged with reporting should try to reduce this duplication to a minimum.

13. Periodic reports by area offices/officers are used by the operation's central office to follow the activities of each office, to plan and develop strategies to address the evolving situation, to maintain contact with the present state of human rights, and to produce a single periodic report for the whole operation, to be used externally (see below).

2. Emergency reports

14. Occasionally, incidents occur in the human rights situation which require the prompt/urgent attention of central office. It may be necessary for action to be taken by the operation rapidly at a national level to address a particular problem encountered by the staff of an area office; emergency reports are intended to provide the most essential information that will enable the central office to take the relevant steps. A draft emergency report form (Appendix 2) has been provided for this purpose. In some human rights operations, emergency reports have been identified as "flash reports" or "urgent action reports".

15. Given that emergency reports must reach their destination as quickly as possible, it may not always be practical for the report to be taken by hand from the area office to the central office. Partly for this reason the emergency report form is designed to be brief enough for it to be faxed. Exceptionally, and where fax facilities are not available, it may be necessary to give the information contained in the report by radio or telephone. The emergency report form should be structured in such a way as to facilitate a communication of information by radio or telephone. As a rule, however, no confidential information should be sent by radio or telephone.

3. Interview reports

16. Generally as a part of an inquiry into possible human rights violations, or as a part of monitoring certain activities (such as demonstrations or returning refugees), HROs will need to conduct interviews. Reference should be made to Chapter VIII "Interviewing". Some of the considerations made there are summarized below.


a. Use of the interview form

17. In the following Appendix 3, a questionnaire or interview form has been provided. This form gives the interviewer an outline of the questions that might be covered in an interview -- more or less in the order they might arise. For example, it begins with a very open-ended question which would permit the witness to tell the story without much prompting or interruption for subsidiary questions. Nonetheless, the questionnaire is intended as a way of recording the results of the interview and not as a protocol for the interview.

18. It is far more important for the interviewer to listen to the story and the other information provided by the witness than it is to follow the logic of the form or even to complete the form. After hearing the story of the witness, the interviewer should ask questions which would clarify the information provided and develop facts which might indicate if human rights violations have occurred. The questions to a particular witness should be more responsive to the story/situation than to any questionnaire or prepared list of issues.

19. The form is intended to provide an instrument for reporting on the results of the interview and not really for taking notes during the interview or for dictating a particular logic to the discussion. Instead, the discussion should follow the logic of the information provided. At most, the form (and a subsequent adaptation for a particular UN human rights operation or a particular interview) might provide a checklist of important questions which the interviewer might consult before the beginning of the interview and towards the end of the interview -- just to make sure that significant issues had not been forgotten during the discussion. In consulting the form before the interview, the interviewer should commit major questions to memory. Eye contact and establishing rapport are more important than adhering to a particular order of questions. As indicated above, the form might also be used as a memory refresher just before the end of the interview to be sure that the major questions have been asked. In any case, the HRO should be careful to avoid allowing the questionnaire to become an artificial barrier to communication with the witness.

20. This form should also be adapted to the mandate of the UN human rights operation and the needs of the particular interview. For example, the form anticipates that the interview might relate to such human rights problems as an arbitrary arrest or torture, but the mandate of the operation may focus on more or other human rights violations. Hence, the form needs to be adapted for the particular operation. Also, the form may need to be adapted for particular kinds of witnesses. For example, one area office, or a HRO, may find that they are in contact principally with displaced persons; another may be talking largely with persons who have been detained. The questionnaire should be adapted for the particular needs of such witnesses -- both to remove unnecessary questions and to add new relevant issues. In making those adaptations, it might be useful to note that the form requires the use of terminology that is very clear and thus does not require much interpretation. Accordingly, the results of interviews should allow the development of statistical reports. Also, the form is designed to provide precise details to officers at the central office or elsewhere, who did not participate in the interview.

b. Contents of the interview report

21. First and foremost, an interview report about an incident must contain an accurate account of the facts. It should, however, also include other important information. The goal is to give the clearest description possible of the events based on the evidence available. In addition to personal details concerning the victim, such as age, gender, profession, etc., information about the context of the violation can be very important to understanding what happened. Further, the HRO must include the sources of information and assessment of their reliability (to the extent that one does not violate confidentiality).

22. If possible, the HRO should strive to include the identity of the perpetrator, as well as the relation of the perpetrator(s) to the authorities. The identity of perpetrators in internal incident reports can be particularly useful in determining whether several victims have suffered at the hands of a particular individual. If chains of command can be identified, they should also be included. Information about the identity of perpetrators should generally be kept confidential, however, because releasing such information expose the subjects to risk, for example, of retaliation by the victim's family or others. The alleged perpetrator who is identified might even be killed by others who are responsible, as an exercise in "damage limitation". If there are particularly strong reasons for releasing the name of the perpetrator, the area office should consult with the central office and should, in any case, not reveal the identity unless an effort has been made to permit the alleged perpetrator to respond to the allegations. Where the system of justice is functioning, it is generally preferable to encourage the local authorities to bring the individual to justice.

23. In addition, the HRO should identify what rights have been violated. The should also set forth recommended actions at the local, national, and international levels in the short, medium, and long-term. It is useful to provide attachments to the report, e.g. copies of affidavits, maps, photos, documentary evidence, medical records, and death certificates.

24. It would be helpful to assemble a computerized list of all cases by name, case number, and a few other pertinent details in the area office and ultimately to develop a central registry at the central office to prevent duplicate inquiries by different area office teams, by persons with overlapping responsibilities, or by the human rights component and other components of the operation (for example the civilian police), if any.

4. Incident reports

25. Once enough information has been gathered by interviews, direct observation, and by other means, the HRO who has conducted the inquiry should prepare a detailed and accurate account of the events which may indicate that there has been a human rights violation or which otherwise need to be reported to the central office. In most cases the interview reports will contain all the relevant information and the HRO will be able to provide an overall assessment summarising the events and making recommendations for action by the operation at the local, national, and international levels. Appendix 4 provides a standard incident report which substantially follows the same approach as the interview report form. Since there are so many different sorts of events which might be covered by such incident reports, it is difficult to prescribe a single form which will cover all the needs of human rights officers. Nonetheless, the operation may recognize a certain repetition in violations or other events which might suggest the development of specialized forms.

D. External reports

1. Reporting to Headquarters


26. As discussed in Chapter XVIII "Following-up and Seeking Corrective Action", the chief of the human rights operation is responsible for reporting to the head of the UN presence in the country, if the human rights operation is part of a wider UN operation in the country (for example, to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General). Also the chief of the operation is responsible for reporting to the Headquarters of the operation, in Geneva and/or New York, for example the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and/or the Department of Peace-Keeping Operations, and/or the Department of Political Affairs.

Reports from the human rights operation to Headquarters and/or to the Head of the UN operation in the country may be required weekly, or monthly, depending on the nature of the problems and the specific needs of each Office. It is the practice of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to receive weekly and monthly reports from the human rights field operations and smaller offices established under its authority.

Reports to Headquarters may be prepared based on the same formats indicated in Appendixes 1, 2, and 4, depending as to whether they are periodic, emergency, or incident reports. In fact, in addition to the weekly or monthly reports required of the human rights field operations, the chief of the operation may consider it necessary to alert the UN headquarters to a particular problem and/or incident. This may be necessary especially if the chief of the operation is soliciting a specific follow-up action at the level of Headquarters, as discussed in Chapter XVIII on "Following-up and seeking corrective action". Reports to Headquarters will, however, contain information related to the entire country and the work of the entire operation, rather than related to a specific area/region, as is the case of the internal reports. For this reason, these reports are produced at the central office level.


27. In order to produce them, the chief of the human rights operation and the central office must have available from area offices (1) reports on individual cases as indicated in the interview form, (2) periodic (weekly, monthly, etc.) situation reports which state the present conditions relating matters within the mandate (including specialized activity reports) and indications of trends, (3) emergency reports of situations which require particular attention (e.g., attacks on human rights personnel, imminent risks of grave injury to individuals within the operation's terms of reference, etc.), and (4) incident reports.

2. Reporting to other UN bodies and mechanisms

a. UN bodies

As mentioned in Chapter XVIII "Following-up and seeking corrective action"., the human rights field operation may be required to report on human rights developments and on its activities to other relevant bodies of the UN system, including for example the UN Security Council, the General Assembly, and the Commission on Human Rights. These reports are generally provided on an annual basis (but more frequent reports may be required), and are submitted by the Secretary-General or by the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Examples mentioned in the previous Chapter include the reports submitted annually to the General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights on the activities of the Cambodia Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the annual report to the Commission on the Colombia Office. Also, human rights field operations which are part of United Nations peace-keeping missions are generally required to draft the sections on human rights developments of the periodic reports of the mission to the Security Council. These kind of reports are usually prepared by the central office in consultation with the operation Headquarters (DPKO, OHCHR, DPA).

b. UN mechanisms

In addition, the operation may provide information to other UN human rights mechanisms, including country and thematic rapporteurs/procedures appointed by the UN Commission on Human Rights (and sometimes by the General Assembly), as described in Chapter XVIII "Following-up and seeking corrective action". In some cases, a formal link may have been established between the human rights operation and the country rapporteur and/or representative on human rights, such that one of the operation's tasks is to provide support to the rapporteur in information gathering, investigation, and reporting. In these cases, well-verified information and reports should be systematically transmitted to the relevant rapporteurs/representatives.

In the absence of such a well-defined relationship between the human rights field operation and the procedures of the Commission on Human Rights, the human rights operation and its staff should be aware of the fact that the information they gather and the operation's reports may be used by some of these procedures - especially the thematic procedures - to take action on specific cases or for public reports. As mentioned in Chapter XVIII "Following-up and seeking corrective action", complementary action by thematic procedures and human rights field operations can be usefully developed to address specific human rights problems and cases faced by the operation. The possible impact on the protection of human rights in the country of operation should be the primary consideration in deciding how and in which cases such action should be taken. Specific arrangements for the transmission of reports and information to relevant thematic mechanisms should be made for each field operation. In general, periodic reports from the field operation should be made available to relevant country and thematic procedures through the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.


28. The human rights operation should also share its public and possibly its internal information with any investigators for an international criminal tribunal applicable to the situation, such as exist for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

29. The director of the operation may consider, in consultation with its Headquarters, that it may be necessary to produce regular statements on the evolving human rights situation for the national and international media. Those statements may assist the operation in encouraging the Government to comply with international human rights norms and in providing the international community with information necessary to respond to the situation. If the operation decides to release public reports or information to the media, the reports should be broadly and quickly distributed through UN public information offices in Geneva, New York, and in the country concerned.


3. Reporting to the Government

30. It may also be useful and necessary to produce periodic reports for the Government of the country in which the operation is occurring. In general, every field operation will be required to produce a periodic report of its activities, to be distributed, for example, within the United Nations system as mentioned in the previous paragraphs and to members states of the international community. The embassies of countries contributing to the financing of the operation may require a regular update on particular programmes in which they are interested, such as a capacity-building project to strengthen the judiciary.

31. In general, public reports on the human rights situation in the country of operation should be shared first with the government in which the human rights field operation is established. As discussed in Chapter XVIII "Following-up and Seeking Corrective Action", the field operation should use its external reports as a means of working with the Government to improve their protection of human rights. Also, sharing reports with the Government may result in required improvements, so that the report will need to be revised or possibly not issued, if it is no longer relevant. Further, the Government may have factual corrections and comments which should be reflected in the report.

4. Writing reports, using report forms

32. Some external reports will be used only for information purposes (notably those sent to the international community) . Other external reports (particularly those sent to the Government or reports on particular incidents) will be used to address specific human rights problems. Some external reports should focus on thematic issues, for example, the situation of human rights in prisons or other places of detention, human rights in the administration of justice, human rights and the police, etc. In those reports specific incidents can be used as illustrations.

33. As mentioned above, external reports produced by the operation will usually be based on internal reports, often received from the area offices. Accordingly, it is likely that the persons at the central office preparing the reports will not have personally experienced the events about which s/he is writing. Hence, it is critical that reports from area offices provide detailed information, use consistent terminology, and adopt consistent approaches to information, so that the officer at the central office who prepares the external report can rely on the facts gathered and can draw useful general conclusions about the evolving human rights situation. For example, if one human rights officer reports that a killing occurred in a particular town on a particular date, it would be useful if other officers provide the same level of detail about similar killings.

34. Both human rights officers and members of the central office staff should keep in mind the use which will be made of the information and reports they prepare. Hence, a human rights officer should try to communicate the nature of the local situation to the central office, so that the central office can take action in appropriate cases, can prepare reports for the host Government raising concerns, and can prepare reports for others. Ordinarily the human rights officer will know the local situation very well and should try to write reports which communicate that knowledge to the central office and thus to others. Often the human rights officer will prepare a report which only records the information in such a way that the officer can recognize what has occurred, but without including relevant facts well known in the locality, but possibly unknown at the central office. The human rights officer should write with the reader in mind.

35. This chapter appends four report forms so that information received from the field can be systematized and made more consistent for use of the central office. The forms also suggest an approach to the analysis of the information, which the human rights officer might find useful. For the particular needs of an operation, these forms may well need to be modified and other forms may need to be developed. Creating functional reporting forms can be difficult. Ultimately each form should be carefully adapted to its objective. Reporting forms should allow enough latitude for every eventuality; for example, an incident form should allow for different types of incidents (a killing, ill-treatment, a demonstration, etc.). The form should be specific enough to ensure that different people writing about different incidents will write the same type of information (for example, location of incident, time, people involved, etc.) in the same place in the form, in the same terminology, and in the same way. When the form is not done correctly, it becomes very difficult for the information in the forms to be used comparatively, or even to be used at all by someone other than the person who wrote it.

36. One use of forms is to prepare statistical information, which may indicate trends in the human rights situation. For example, if a form has been prepared in a suitable fashion and if forms are consistently completed, it may be possible for the central office to draw conclusions about the frequency of serious human rights violations or other problems arising in various regions. Those statistics can provide strong evidence of the need for an international response in one area or can indicate that international action is less needed in another. The interview form (Appendix 1) and the incident form (Appendix 4) of this chapter have been developed with the expectation that they will yield comparative statistical information and help identify trends in the human rights situation. The periodic report (Appendix 2) has also been prepared to encourage the regional staff to provide information and assess trends.




1. The term "central office" is used here to designate the office of the field operation based in the capital of the country. The term "area offices" designates offices established by the field operation at the regional, provincial or local level in the country of operation - that is outside the capital.


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