Tools for human rights documentation: our 2018 snapshot

All of these tools contribute something important to the human rights documentation field.

By Kristin Antin HURIDOCS on

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In this fast-changing space, one of the most frequent questions we receive from organisations is: what is the best tool to for x purpose? Being able to adequately respond to this question is getting more urgent, as Martus support is coming to an end this year.

This blog post is a snapshot of resources and tools designed (or adapted) for human rights documentation, organised by the intended purpose for the information being collected. While all documentation efforts are intended to support victims of human rights violations, we have identified the following categories of documentation purposes that will help you determine the kind of tool you need:

  1. Change-centred documentation – This involves documenting the situation of a community in order to affect a change in policy and/or practice.
  2. Victim-centred documentation – Capturing information about human rights violations, while also managing information about direct support to victims (e.g. legal or psychosocial support).
  3. Perpetrator-centred documentation – Capturing verifiable evidence that can be used in accountability processes (e.g. criminal and civil justice processes).

Many human rights groups would like to achieve all three of these purposes with a do-it-all information management system. With a lot of money and human resources it’s possible – but for low-resourced human rights organisations, it’s unlikely. It’s important to be intentional about which purpose you prioritise.

We’re working on a documentation knowledge base: All of the resources and tools listed in this blog can be found in this online documentation knowledge base (using Uwazi!) hosted and maintained by HURIDOCS.  This library is a work-in-progress. Please let us know if there are additional tools or resources we can include in this collection, by adding a comment below or contacting us.

Tools for change-centred documentation

Tools that are best positioned to support evidence-based advocacy are those that provide meaningful analysis, which requires the ability to create robust and flexible data models.

Many groups use widely-accessible tools like spreadsheets to keep track of their data on violations. But it’s important to consider some common obstacles in using spreadsheets for human rights documentation: having  more than one person entering can make it difficult to keep the information accurate, and complex analysis gets pretty complicated – you would need to be okay with a complex interface and the technical proficiency it requires.

HURIDOCS and others have built easy-to-use database applications specifically designed for human rights documentation to make complex analysis easier, such as:

  • Uwazi is a free and open source database application and content management system that we are currently expanding to meet the needs of human rights defenders who document violations. The tool will make it easy to record connections between people, documents, and events in a way that speaks best to the logic of the investigating organisation. It will offer multiple workflows and ways to organise information, which will give flexibility where it is needed for a given context. More information:
  • OpenEvsys, shorthand for Open Events System, is a free and open source database application developed by HURIDOCS. This tool is built on the Events methodology for recording violations and the “who did what to whom” data model. There are currently 20+ organisations using OpenEvsys. HURIDOCS is planning to replace this tool with an expanded version of Uwazi in 2019 and migrate our partners who currently use OpenEvsys over to Uwazi.
  • The Defenders’ Database (DiDi) is an easy-to-use tool for human rights defenders to register, analyse and share information about human rights violations. It permits users to record data on violations both online and offline, store documentation and import old reports to give the information life again. Those who are interested in using this tool will need to contact the organisation directly. This tool is not open source. More information:
  • Ushahidi is an open source tool that was developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election violence in 2008. Since then, thousands have used our crowdsourcing tools to raise their voice. More info:

HURIDOCS advice: There are many organisations who have hired a company or a developer to build a custom solution based on applications or frameworks such as: MS Access, FileMaker Pro, Django, etc. These are tried-and-tested applications upon which to build a database. But it’s important to consider the cost of managing and maintaining your custom solution (most likely requiring an in-house expert). The risk of relying too heavily on a few people to know how the tool works makes your information vulnerable when someone misses a security update, or when your in-house expert takes another job. We always recommend that organisations use open source tools, and that they work with a team that they trust.

Our full curated list of tools and resources to support change-centred documentation >>

Tools for victim-centred documentation

For many groups that are documenting human rights violations, this work doesn’t stop with advocacy and prevention efforts – many groups also provide direct support to victims of violations. This support comes in many forms, such as legal, medical, psychological, and/or social. For groups providing direct support, they need an information management system that can help them keep track of their clients’ needs and progress over time.

The tools that support this type of information management and are for human rights and/or nonprofit users are very few. Here are the three our research focused on:

  • Casebox is an open source case/litigation management tool, developed by HURIDOCS.  Collaboration features paired with file management make it a tool that allows lawyers and their teams to focus on what matters. Casebox is a platform that allows you to define complex content types linked to your organisations workflow. It provides the building blocks for a customised case management solution, including: fulltext search and filtering capabilities, file and task management features. HURIDOCS is planning to replace this tool with an expanded version of Uwazi in 2019 and migrate our partners who currently use Casebox over to Uwazi.
  • CiviCase is a tool for tracking and managing sequences of interactions between people in your organisation and contacts in CiviCRM (a free and open source constituent relationship management system). It’s similar to a case management system. In addition to tracking and managing your organisation’s interactions with clients or constituents, CiviCase can also help you manage internal organisational interactions. More information:
  • The Anti-Torture Database (ATD) is a closed-source database tool developed by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) and is currently only available to IRCT members.  This tool was designed specifically for IRCT partners to collect clinical data and integrate the documentation of torture at all stages of the rehabilitation process. More information:

Additional legal case management software options (not designed specifically for human rights or nonprofit organisations).

Our full curated list of tools and resources that support documentation and case management >>

Tools for perpetrator-centred documentation

This is perhaps the most specific and technical type of documentation purpose of the three listed in this post. Groups that are documenting verifiable evidence of human rights violations for criminal and civil justice processes would most likely need a tool that can provide: the ability to capture metadata required for media to be admissible in a court, secure storage and preservation, and some support for verification.

As with any documentation project, documentation for legal evidence involves much more than just a tool – those carrying out this type of documentation will require deep knowledge of what kind of information is important to collect. That being said, there are a number tools designed to provide this type of support to human rights defenders, including:

  • ProofMode is the light, minimal “reboot” of the Guardian Project’s full encrypted, verified secure camera app, CameraV. This tool is designed to be a lightweight, almost invisible utility, that a user can run all of the time on your phone, that automatically extra digital proof data to all photos and videos you take. This data can then be easily shared through a “Share Proof” share action, to anyone you choose. More information:
  • eyeWitness to Atrocities is a closed-source, mobile application for human rights organisations working closely with the eyeWitness team to capture verifiable footage related to international atrocity crimes. The camera app captures the metadata needed to ensure that images can be used in investigations or trials. It then stores the information in a storage facility, hosted by Lexis Nexis and maintained by the eyeWitness organisation. The information submitted is reviewed by the eyeWitness expert team, who then seek to ensure that the data is used to bring perpetrators of international crimes to justice. If you are interested in this tool and additional support for capturing evidence of human rights violations, we recommend that you reach out to the eyeWitness organisation to explore a partnership. More info:
  • Tella is an open source mobile application and documentation tool for activists, human rights defenders and citizen journalists facing surveillance and repression. With Tella, users can “capture and share evidence of human rights abuses, violence or corruption in an easy and secure way”. All multimedia captured through Tella, or imported into Tella from your device, is encrypted and hidden in Tella’s gallery. (Note that the text has been edited on 14 March 2019 to include Tella, rather than Whistler, The reason is that Whistler is currently not available for download and Tella is a fork (a copy of the code) that continues to be supported at the time of writing.) More info:

HURIDOCS advice: These mobile applications are very helpful in capturing metadata on images and videos that can be used to verify the authenticity of the file. However, it’s important to also keep in mind that these tools do not necessarily help you to organise or analyse your information in a meaningful way, so you may want to explore a tool (or wokflow) that will allow you to use this information with a database tool, such as the ones listed above under “change-centred documentation”.

Our full curated list of tools and resources that support the documentation of verifiable evidence >>

All of these tools contribute something important to the human rights documentation field. At HURIDOCS, we believe that in order to address the wide range of needs from organisations, tool developers need to design more integration links between these platforms. Stay tuned for our work on this!

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