Training Manual on Human Rights Monitoring - Chapter V: Basic Principles of Monitoring
A. Monitoring as Method of Improving the Protection of Human Rights
C. Do no Harm
D. Respect the Mandate
E. Know the standards
F. Exercise Good Judgement
G. Seek Consultation
H. Respect the Authorities
L. Understand the Country
M. Need for Consistency, Persistence and Patience
N. Accuracy and Precision
1. This Chapter identifies eighteen basic principles of monitoring which HROs should keep in mind as they pursue their monitoring functions as described in the following Chapters, including information-gathering; interviewing; visits to persons in detention; visits to internally displaced persons and/or refugees in camps; monitoring the return of refugees and/or internally displaced persons; trial observation; election observation; monitoring demonstrations; monitoring economic, social, and cultural rights; monitoring during periods of armed conflict; verification and assessment of the information collected; and use of the information to address human rights problems.
B. Monitoring as a method of improving the protection of human rights
2. Monitoring is a method of improving the protection of human rights. The principal objective of human rights monitoring is to reinforce State responsibility to protect human rights. HROs can also perform a preventative role through their presence. When a Government official or other responsible actor is monitored, s/he becomes more careful about her/his conduct.
3. HROs must relate their work to the overall objective of human rights protection. They can record observations and collect information for immediate action and later use. They can communicate the information to the appropriate authorities or other bodies. HROs should not only observe developments, collect information, and perceive patterns of conduct, but should, as far as their mandate allows and their competence permits, identify problems, diagnose their causes, consider potential solutions, and assist in problem solving. While exercising good judgement at all times, HROs should take initiative in solving problems and, provided they are acting within their authority and competence, should not wait for a specific instruction or express permission before acting.
C. Do no harm
4. HROs and the operation they are assigned to should make every effort to address effectively each situation arising under their mandate. Yet, in reality, HROs will not be in a position to guarantee the human rights and safety of all persons. Despite their best intentions and efforts, HROs may not have the means to ensure the safety of victims and witnesses of violations. It is critical to remember that the foremost duty of the officer is to the victims and potential victims of human rights violations. For example, a possible conflict of interest is created by the HRO's need for information and the potential risk to an informant (victim or witness of the violation). The HRO should keep in mind the safety of the people who provide information. At a minimum, the action or inaction of HROs should not jeopardize the safety of victims, witnesses, or other individuals with whom they come into contact, or the sound functioning of the human rights operation.
D. Respect the mandate
5. A detailed mandate facilitates dealing with UN headquarters, other UN bodies (especially those less sensitive to human rights imperatives), and all other involved parties. Every HRO should make an effort to understand the mandate, bear it in mind at all times, and learn how to apply and interpret it in the particular situations s/he will encounter. In evaluating the situation, HROs should consider such questions as: What are the relevant terms of the mandate? What are the relevant international standards underlying and explicating the mandate? How will the mandate be served by making a particular inquiry, by pursuing discussions with the authorities, or by taking any other course of action? What action am I authorized to undertake under the mandate? What are the ethical implications, if any, of that course of action? How will the action being considered by the HRO be received by the host Government? What potential harm could be caused by the action under consideration?
E. Know the standards
HROs should be fully familiar with the international human rights standards which are relevant to their mandate and applicable to the country of operation. International human rights standards not only define the HROs' mandate, but also provide sound legal basis and legitimacy to the work of the HRO and the UN operation in a specific country, in that they reflect the will (or the agreement) of the international community and define the legal obligations of the Government.
F. Exercise good judgement
6. Whatever their number, their relevance, and their precision, rules cannot substitute for the good personal judgement and common sense of the human rights officer. HROs should exercise their good judgement at all times and in all circumstances.
G. Seek consultation
7. Wisdom springs from discussion and consultation. When a HRO is dealing with a difficult case, a case on the borderline of the mandate, or a case which could be doubtful, it is always wise to consult other officers, and whenever possible, superiors. Similarly, HROs will ordinarily work in the field with several UN and other humanitarian organizations; they should consult or assure that there has been appropriate consultation with those organizations to avoid duplication or potentially contradictory activity.
H. Respect the authorities
8. HROs should keep in mind that one of their objectives and the principal role of the UN operation is to encourage the authorities to improve their behaviour. In general, the role envisaged for HROs does not call for officers to take over governmental responsibilities or services. Instead, HROs should respect the proper functioning of the authorities, should welcome improvements, should seek ways to encourage governmental policies and practices which will continue to implement human rights after the operation has completed its work.
9. The HRO's credibility is crucial to successful monitoring. HROs should be sure not to make any promises they are unlikely or unable to keep and to follow through on any promise that they make. Individuals must trust the HROs or they will not be as willing to cooperate and to produce reliable information. When interviewing victims and witnesses of violations, the HRO should introduce him/herself, briefly explain the mandate, describe what can and cannot be done by the HRO, emphasize the confidentiality of the information received, and stress the importance of obtaining as many details as possible to establish the facts (for example, whether there has been a human rights violation).
10. Respect for the confidentiality of information is essential because any breach of this principle could have very serious consequences: (a) for the person interviewed and for the victim; (b) for the HROs' credibility and safety; (c) for the level of confidence enjoyed by the operation in the minds of the local population; and thus (d) for the effectiveness of the operation. The HRO should assure the witness that the information s/he is communicating will be treated as strictly confidential. The HRO should ask persons they interview whether they would consent to the use of information they provide for human rights reporting or other purposes. If the individual would not want the information attributed to him or her, s/he might agree that the information may be used in some other, more generalized fashion which does not reveal the source. The HRO should take care not to communicate his/her judgements or conclusions on the specific case to those s/he interviews.
Special measures should also be taken to safeguard the confidentiality of recorded information, including identities of victims, witnesses, etc. The use of coded language and passwords, as well as keeping documents which identify persons in separate records from facts about those persons, may be useful means to protect the confidentiality of information collected.
11. This basic principle refers both to the security of the HRO and of the persons who come in contact with him/her. As discussed in Chapter VI. C "Security" of this Manual, HROs should protect themselves by taking common-sense security measures, such as avoiding traveling alone, reducing risks of getting lost, and getting caught in cross-fire during an armed conflict.
12. HROs should always bear in mind the security of the people who provide information. They should obtain the consent of witnesses to interview and assure them about confidentiality. Security measures should also be put in place to protect the identity of informants, interviewees, witnesses, etc. The human rights officer should not offer unrealistic guarantees concerning the safety of a witness or other individual, should avoid raising false hopes, and should be sure that any undertakings (such as keeping in touch) to protect the victim or witness can be kept.
L. Understand the country
13. HROs should endeavour to understand the country in which they work, including its people, history, governmental structure, culture, customs, language, etc. See Chapter II "The Context". HROs will be more effective, and more likely to receive the cooperation of the local population, the deeper their understanding of the country.
M. Need for consistency, persistence, and patience
14. The collection of sound and precise information to document human rights situations can be a long and difficult process. Generally, a variety of sources will have to be approached and the information received from them will have to be examined carefully, compared, and verified. Immediate results cannot always be expected. The HRO should continue his/her efforts until a comprehensive and thorough inquiry has been completed, all possible sources of information have been explored, and a clear understanding of the situation has been obtained. Persistence may be particularly necessary in raising concerns with the Government. Of course, cases will arise in which urgent action is required (e.g., if there is evidence of an imminent threat to a particular individual or group). The HRO should promptly respond to such urgent cases.
N. Accuracy and precision
15. A central goal of the HRO is to provide sound and precise information. The information produced by the HRO will serve as the basis for the officer's immediate or future action with the local authorities, or the action of his/her superiors, or action by the Headquarters of the operation, or by other UN bodies. The provision of sound and precise information requires thorough and well-documented reports. The HRO should always be sure to ask precise questions (e.g., not just whether a person was beaten, but how many times, with what weapon, to what parts of the body, with what consequences, by whom, etc.)
16. Written communication is always essential to avoid lack of precision, rumours, and misunderstandings. Reports prepared by HROs should reflect thorough inquiries; should be promptly submitted; and should contain specific facts, careful analysis, and useful recommendations. Reports should avoid vague allusions and general descriptions. All conclusions should be based on detailed information included in the report.
17. The HRO should keep in mind that the UN operation is an impartial body. Each task or interview should be approached with an attitude of impartiality with regard to the application of the mandate and the underlying international standards. Violations and/or abuses by all parties should be investigated with equal thoroughness. The HRO should not be seen as siding with one party over another.
18. The HRO should maintain an objective attitude and appearance at all times. When collecting and weighing information, the HRO should objectively consider all the facts. The HRO should apply the standard adopted by the UN operation to the information received in an unbiased and impartial way.
19. When interviewing victims and witnesses, the HRO should be sensitive to the suffering which an individual may have experienced, as well as to the need to take the necessary steps to protect the security of the individual -- at least by keeping in contact. The HRO must be particularly sensitive to the problems of retraumatization and vicarious victimization discussed in Chapter VIII "Interviewing" and Chapter XXII "Stress, Vicarious Trauma, and Burnout". HROs should also be very careful about any conduct or words/phrases which might indicate that their concern for human rights is not impartial or that they are prejudiced.
20. The HRO should treat all informants, interviewees, and co-workers with decency and respect. In addition, the officer should carry out the tasks assigned to him/her in an honest and honourable manner. See Chapter XXI. "Norms Applicable to UN Human Rights Officers and Other Staff".
21. The HRO should approach each task with a professional manner. The officer should be knowledgeable, diligent, competent, and fastidious about details.
22. HROs should be sure that both the authorities and the local population are aware of the work pursued by the UN operation. The presence of visible HROs can deter human rights violations. As a general rule, a visibly active monitoring presence on the ground can provide some degree of protection to the local population since potential violators do not want to be observed. Also, a highly visible monitoring presence can reassure individuals or groups who are potential victims. Further, a visible monitoring presence can help to inspire confidence in crucial post-conflict processes, such as elections, reconstruction, and development. Hence, effective monitoring means both seeing and being seen.