Practical Examples and Open Forum

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Practical Examples and Open Forum

This is a space for conversation leaders and guests to pose specific questions or propose ideas to one another that have not been addressed in other sections.

hostility against the state

In many contexts of urban poverty, the relationships between the police and resident are characterised by extreme forms of hostility. In both South Africa, the Philippines and in Denmark where I have conducted fieldwork, incidents, ranging betwen the violent and the confrontational are common, even banal. In such contexts, no reporting will take place - that is, accountability is virtually impossible via the normal channels. And it is not because there is nothing to report. In Cape Town, every single young man I interviewed - gangs or not gang - had run-ins with the police. Not one single incident was reported over the two years I was there. It is simply imperative to find other avenues for reporting. This might be churches, local community organizations, etc. that might mediate between the criminal justice system and the residents of urban neighbourhoods.

Thats interesting Steffen.

Thats interesting Steffen. Could you elaborate on why reporting does not take place? Is it because individuals are unwilling to go to the police?

If so, I wonder is this an opportunity for alternative forms of reporting, such as those you mentioned, but also perhaps more innovative forms of digital reportin, such as the uploading of video files relating to specific incidents etc? This might be somewhat akin to B'Tselem's camera distrubtion project:

There are of course several

There are of course several reasons why people won't report. In Cape Town and the townships the non-reporting has to do with historical antagonisms among other things. In many of the other cases we have explored through victimization surveys for instance in Nairobi and Manila people often say that nothing will come of it any way. Our data from Dhaka also illustrates that calling in the police is never cheap. So fear, antagonism, the sense of uselessness, loss of time and extortion all play into why people don't report.

And yes, I do think that there are other ways. In the project we are working to develop an app for Kenya. Other people may talk more about that. Catrine and Toby, please... The Asian Human Rights Commiussion also have used mobile phones in reporting - and actually also protection. Morten, can you talk more about that?

This is exactly the point

This is exactly the point. Many do not report the incidences of violations because a. Noting comes out of it b. It is costly c. It puts you at risk d. You are exposed and make enemy...

In terms of reporting, I have seen how Nepal Monitor, initiative of PBI is helping to increase the reporting of violations. It is just kicking off (it appears) but a very good initiative, easy and accessible.

We still need to see how these then turn into the reporting to the authority; responsible for violations is something that has not been tested yet. 

Digital reporting and monitoring

The App that Steffen is refering to is being developed with IMLU and Kenya, and is designed to provide basic reporting documentation tools to a wider populations that human rights works, to include for example health workers and teachers. This is obviously building on a model that has been tried elsewhere, most famously in the US by ACLU with Mobile Justice: 

The idea here is the enable human rights groups to reach areas and populations that they would not otherwise have the resources to reach, and therefore hopefully spread the net of protection, such as it is. There are obvious risks though, not least in terms of security of data, but also due to the digital divide and the limited reach of mobile phones amongst some populations. I would be really interested to hear what other people thing about the issue.

International standards on protection

A human right to protection is explicit in the UN Convention Against Torture but only implicit in many other human rights treaties. As a result, the standards of protection are often not particularly well articulated, and it can be difficult for victims and witnesses to assert a 'right' to protection in the absence of domestic legislation and a corresponding victim and witness protection framework. Is there a need for greater standard-setting? At the UN, the work on protection has stayed mainly in the sphere of protection of human rights defenders; is there a need to broaden this out?

In addition to the lack of

In addition to the lack of express recognition and specificity such as in UNCAT, the proliferation of rights and standards in various settings (international human rights law, international criminal law, EU law, national law; and in relation to particular activities, eg human rights fact-finding), risks resulting in fragmentation, also because they may speak to different audiences and apply in different contexts. Having said that, they provide growing evidence of the importance of victim and witness protection and have much in common that could be drawn upon for standard-setting at the UN level.

A Video about our grass roots work for survivors

Please find a video to watch for understanding of dynamics of grassroots work 

Thanks, Lenin. Really

Thanks, Lenin. Really interesting and useful way to look at accountability from below.

Dalits, local action and support

GREAT to see this video - impressive and inspiring to see how the tight relationship between Poverty and discrimiantion, exploitation, abuse, marginalization and powerlesness can be tackled.   A great example of mobilizing to tackle an abusive economic and power structure at the local level and beyond. Well done!




Accountability from below

If people have examples, it

If people have examples, it would be raelly good to hear about practical steps that human rights and other organisations, as well as survivosrs themelves, take in order to provide protection. As has been said several times before, formal state led witness protection schemes have their place and are very important, but will always be limited. In part this is because they are very resource intensive. In part, it is because they are start with organised crime cases, and therefore the state has very different insentives to provide protection when compared to survivors of human rights abuses. In part, it is because people do not trust the state. So in practice there are many ways that people do find to make themselves relatively safe, or at least safer. It might be that we have a great deal to learn from work on domestic violence (whilst recognising there are important differences), and the work that is done there on shelters and refuge. Either way, it would be very useful to hear examples of practical forms of protection, both from conversation leaders and other people following this thread.

Adapting and applying practices

You are raising a great point here about looking at practices from the human rights work in the domestic violence arena where protection of victims is a serious concern. I particularly agree that their experience in establishing and maintaining confidential shelters could be adapted to survivors of other human rights abuses in need of protection.

This also made me think about the kinds of recommendations that the Office on the High Commisisoner on Human Rights provides to their Human Rights Officers (HROs) when they travel to different countries to investigate violations. The Manual on Human Rights Monitoring has continued to be updated. Chapter 14 concerns Protection of Victims, Witnesses and other cooperating persons. Here are specific points found on pages 32-33 that could provide ideas that could be adpated and implemented by in-country organization as they work with victims and witnesses.

Protective measures by HROs can include:

  • Strengthening the cooperating person’s capacity for self-protection;
  • Supporting or establishing community-level protection networks;
  • Using visibility strategies with a deterrent effect;
  • Seeking the support of relevant partners and international mechanisms, such as international NGOs,diplomatic missions, United Nations agencies or special procedures;
  • Mobilizing efforts to directly or indirectly provide physical protection to the person at risk, including through relocation;
  • Limiting the capacity of the source of the threat to carry out an attack by reducing the vulnerability factors of the person at risk;
  • Intervening to influence or affect the behaviour/attitude of the source of the threat;
  • Requesting an influential person, for example a religious, community, political or civil society leader, to intervene with the source of the threat;
  • Increasing the political and social costs to the source carrying out the threat through, for instance, public advocacy in partnership with national and international networks. The costs of carrying out the threat should outweigh the benefits;
  • Advocacy and engagement with national authorities, stressing their human rights obligations, including their duty to protect those at risk and to prosecute offenders;
  • Accompaniment of the person at risk during national criminal proceedings, if applicable;
  • Capacity-building and technical cooperation directed at developing or improving national witness protection capabilities, as well as accountability mechanisms.

In consultation with the person at risk, HROs should devise a protection strategy, not only mapping appropriate protective options, but also establishing a course of action with measures that should be taken in parallel and those that should follow a sequence. [emphasis is mine]... It is fundamental that both HROs and the person at risk act in accordance with the agreed protection road map.

When weighing the pros and cons of the different protective measures, HROs should consider the following: 

  • The effectiveness of such measures in guaranteeing protection;
  • Their promptness in responding to the security needs of the person at risk, including in emergencies;
  • Their sustainability, particularly for protective measures that envisage long-term changes (instead of just aiming at fulfilling short-term objectives);
  • Their adaptability to new circumstances, such as deteriorating security conditions;
  • Their reversibility when the risk disappears (for example, in case of relocation, the person being able to return home). 


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Many thanks for this Nancy.

Many thanks for this Nancy. It is very helpful. My strong sense is that it is the first three points, that might have most practical impact:

  • Strengthening the cooperating person’s capacity for self-protection;
  • Supporting or establishing community-level protection networks;
  • Using visibility strategies with a deterrent effect;

It is here that we can perhaps learn most from domestic violence, and perhaps even broader crime prevention strategies- as in many context it might be that- as far as survivors experience it- their is little practical difference between state abuses and those of criminal groups- I am think for example of extortion etc, which can often lead to violence.

The Pathmini Peiris v Sri

The Pathmini Peiris v Sri Lanka case,, shows the whole range of threats and attacks victims and their relatives, as well as lawyers/NGOs, acting on their behalf, can face. In this case, human rights organisations supported the family to enable them to stay in hiding for a while but this provided only a measure of protection as threats continued after their return to the country. The case also highlights the role of international human rights treay bodies though they are remote and often have limited capacity and leverage.


Practical Examples as per Toby Kelly Request

In my experience, the bulk of the effort to safeguard human life in crisis settings is by those who are directly threatened or at imminent risk. Involuntary re-location/displacement/seeking refuge across abroad (mostly in neighbouring countries) is the most understood and best-documented coping mechanism.  Extended family or other networks are often crucial as is information on power struggles or particular personalities, militia, henchmen etc.    When fighting erupted in South Sudan end 2013 between troops and others loyal to President Salva Kiir, a Dinka and Vice President Riek Marchar, a Nuer many civilians fled to Churches – a long standing practice – and others to UN military bases where camps called “protection of civilian” sites were established with mixed results. At the end of the war in Liberia, 2003, Liberian IDPs (internally displaced) fled to Monrovia, the capital, to keep ahead of the fighting and when the war ended many residents of the city joined the new IDP settlements as that is where food and safety was seen to be most readily available.

In terms of examples of HR or other entities, such as journalist groupings, helping particular individuals hold on to their lives, there are numerous cases of practical help from providing temporary shelter in a UN office, to engaging judiciously with senior government officials, to speaking out in a manner that is focused on obtaining protective outcomes.  An example from 2001 Taliban run Afghanistan – sorry! – includes a decision to close women-run bakeries in Kabul. This gave rise to a stand-off between the UN and the Taliban as the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Erick de Mul (a) sought to negotiate a solution and (b) when that did not happen, he indicated that he was lined up to give a press interview in X hours if the decision to close the bakeries was not undone and noted that he had information that Kabuli women were asking to die rather than starve their kids.   The Taliban did back down and this incident is more complicated than presented here but it shows (a) that there was astute use of leverage –the Taliban did not want to be seen as deliberately starving their own people – and they had some respect for Mr de Mul who met them regularly and (b) the aid community at the time was small, united, and committed to holding a line on basic principles.  (For more details, see “UN bakeries in doubt after talks break down”     )

Another example concerns the case of a young Afghan student, Sayed Kambakhsh and aspiring  journalist who was detained in Oct 2007 for alleged blasphemy given that he had downloaded material on his computer concerning the status of women under Islam. He was accused of distributing material that was anti-Islamic. He was tried and sentenced to death in early 2008. His family and a wide network mobilized a big – both quiet and public – campaign on his behalf. His death sentence was eventually commuted and he was re-located to a prison in Kabul where his family and lawyer had better access to him.   Getting positive action for Kambakhsh was a long-winded and nail-biting affair and I remain reluctant to go into all the details in public but suffice to say that this was seen as an emblematic case by many with implications for freedom of expression in general and the way in which conservative clergy influenced court decisions with their particular interpretation of Sharia law.   Kambakhsh was eventually released on the back of a secret pardon by President Karzia and was spirited out of the country in a “private” as in diplomatic plane before it hit the press. In the meantime, his lawyer and many others had to be assured that Kambakhsh was in a safe house that had diplomatic immunity. He was eventually re-settled to Canada.

The Kambakhsh case showed the significance of many factors including widespread hostility for those accused of being anti-Islamic, the role of conservative clergy, and how different politicians were eager to profit from the case or not be perceived as supportive of Kambakhsh and thus being tarred with the same brush. It was a success for different civil society and other actors including journalist groups although at the end of the day it was the leverage of senior UN and other diplomats who convinced Karzai to release the student althoguh throughout this case the role of UN and other external actors were kept very quite to avoid the allegatoin that foreigners were interfering and antagonistic to Afghan  norms. Information on Kambarkhsh's actual release was tightly controlled, including when he reached freedom in Scandanavia, to avoid political fall-out. The amount of resources mobilized and made available for this one case was impressive but justified given the message it sent. Some additional information is available on these links:

Few examples of practical work
Protecting the 'average' poor

It is a very interesting conversation and there are many issues to follow up on.

Steffen began with a question about reporting and how to improve access to report violations/violence. This was later coupled with questions about protection of the average poor person. The video from India was a powerful example of the work possible at the grassroots level in relation to education, awareness raising, reporting, protection and legal action.

In Kenya, two rather different solutions are popular today: Technological solutions and networks at the local level. The tech solutions are often Apps or hotlines which give the individual survivor access to report to a civil society actor that is then expected to respond to the person; the latter, on the other hand, is about the survivor's social relations and access to networks/protective mechanism at the local level. The technology offers access to reporting through distance and anonymity, the network is to provide protection from further violence through nearness and knowing one another.

Interestingly, human rights actors are keen on the use of technology to solve issues such as reporting and awareness raising on human rights. I am among these people and currently part of the development of two Apps in Kenya: one concerns reporting violence/human rights, the second one gives information on the rights and duties of the police and the rights and duties of the citizens in encounters with the police. At first we thought of making one App with both the information and functions as a reporting tool, but later skipped the idea as it would be too comprehensive/heavy.

It is also interesting that most human rights organisations in Kenya do not have strong networks on the ground. They may have individual monitors and paralegals to identify cases 'here and there' but surprsingly little systematic collaboration with people in areas with high levels of police violence, for example. While these human rights organisations are keen to receive reports from survivors and provide legal aid during the regular outreaches (or in their offices in middle-class areas at a distance from the urban poor), there is close to no assistance to protect the survivor from further violence (especially once the police officers are informed about the person has reported the incidence to a HR organisation that may take legal action).

The tremendous gap between survivors' access to reporting ('universal' access through low tech mobile technology) and to protection at the local level needs to be addressed. How will we bridge this gap in relation to the 'reporting-App' that I am currently working on in Kenya? Parallel to the App development (six month process), we are producing knowledge on existent protective mechanisms and will discuss with survivors, witnesses as well as with community leaders and other authorities in Nairobi slums about their various views on how to offer better protection at the local level.

This will hopefully inform about ways to connect the promises of App technology for reporting with the request for protection of the very many people who experience police violence, for example, as part of everyday life. Relocation is not an option; instead solutions have to be sought at the local level. This work may lead some human rights organisations to set up collaboration with new partners on the ground - and offer the normal urban poor person protection within his/her home area. 


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Dear all,

My apologies for silence today. I have been preoccupied with handling an emergency involving 8 young men who we believe were summarily executed by police last night.


Spekaing from the context of

Spekaing from the context of Nepal, I think HROs would benefit by working closely with the organisations of the poor, marginalised and other community based organisations. Accoridng to one estimate, there are abour 400,000 community based groups in Nepal. Not only would this help in reporting and monitoring, it will also help 'human rights work' to move beyond it legal domain into the arenas where local communities begin to take control and offer protection and other support to the victims. 

Poverty, HR, judicial, political approaches

Further to Jeevan’s comment my general experience is that HR organizations are, in general, slow to acknowledge or work on the HR dimension of poverty even though it is apparent that impoverishment, and the ills that go with it, do not occur in a vacuum.  Some work was done in Afghanistan to identify and expose the linkages between impunity, poverty and marginalization but it was difficult to mobilize sustained interest in HR circles where the dominant focus was on civil and political rights linked to individual cases of abuse such as torture, sexual violence, abductions etc.    My reading of this is that HR work is greatly shaped by legal expertise and the notion that optimal outcomes are best achieved via judicial processes even in settings where legal redress is rare and a corrupt or dysfunctional rule-of-law apparatus is part of the problem. 

Further to Jeevan's and Norah's point

In addition to this, there is a historical reason that we cannot ignore that conditioned human rights organisation to think/ react in a particular way!!!

By the way how do you see the decades long development projects that are largely claimed tackling the poverty in this dicussion? Why have they failed? Why we feel it is important to bring right discourse there?

I can see the point of making the discourse non-legal and understand the criticisms of HROs being narrowly focused (mostly relying on judicial process, taking up individual cases).   but at the same time I wonder the reason why we feel it important for HROs discussing poverty etc... is because we have seen the value of right discourse and individual cases, meaning changing them as our claims/rights so we could have judicial recourse? Claim accountability?

I am not defending myself although I deeply believe in litigation!

Poverty, Litigation .....

Mandira, litigation and the option of pursuing judical means to mitigate or end HR deficits is absolutely vital IN SETTINGS WHERE THIS IS USEFUL.  In the absence of meaningfjul judicial options, redress or necessary systemic change needs to be pursued via other means seems to me!

On human rights and economic justice

These are all great points on poverty and tackling human rights abuses from only an accountability perspective. The focus on accountability and civil and political rights to the detriment of economic rights or reparations interplays, to some extent, with the hesitency of humanitarian service providers (whether international or local) to be involved in human rights and economic justice issues. There is often a deliniation between service provision and groups working on "justice" issues and the two do not really meet. So, those that may be best placed to tackle poverty, for example, from a systemic perspective do not necessarily take on that role. 



HR, Poverty, Justice

Marie, there are different notions as to what constitutes "humanitarian action"; i am of the school that says the key focus is life-saving (including in relatiuon to protection concerns)  ie it is not designed to be transformative.  Of course things are not that clear cut in protractged armed conflict settings.  But, from any perspective, entities involed in programmes described as "developmental" surely need to be doing so within a human rights framework?