Adapting traditional human rights fact-finding methodology to emerging human rights issues

The Advocates for Human Rights (The Advocates), formerly known as the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, uses traditional human rights monitoring methods to document human rights abuses, but has made a practice of adapting this methodology to address emerging human rights issues. The Advocates has developed practical and sustainable strategies for adapting human rights monitoring methods to address domestic violence in Eastern Europe, and has used this tactic to develop a positive legal and social culture on behalf of women’s human rights in Bulgaria.

Violence against women in the family has only recently been recognized as a priority for international action. In the early 1990s, The Advocates began adapting traditional human rights fact-finding methods to document violations of women's human rights such as domestic violence, rape, employment discrimination, sexual harassment in the workplace, and trafficking in women and girls for commercial sexual exploitation. The findings on violence against women in 22 countries have been published in reports that include an analysis of each country's legislation related to women's rights and of the local law enforcement system, as well as recommendations on bringing laws and practice into conformity with international human rights obligations.

At the invitation of women’s groups in Bulgaria in 1995, The Advocates sent a delegation to investigate and document domestic violence and where they analyzed the legal system’s response to domestic violence using a human rights framework. The Advocates’ 1996 Domestic Violence in Bulgaria report documents a legal system where police regularly failed to respond to calls from domestic violence victims, prosecutors categorized domestic violence as a “family matter”, and judges did not hold offenders accountable for their violent crimes. Further, there were no shelters and few services for victims of domestic violence.

After the report was published, The Advocates partnered with human rights and women’s groups in Bulgaria to train legal professionals and advocates to better protect the safety of battered women. The report was also used by Bulgarian NGOs to argue for the necessity of better laws to protect women from domestic violence. The Advocates consulted with the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation in drafting a new civil order for protection law which was introduced in the Bulgarian Parliament in April and became law in October 2003. The first of its kind in the region, the law allows battered women to seek civil orders from the court that direct abusers to stay away from victims. Modeled after Minnesota’s civil order for protection laws, the Bulgarian law provides for immediate protection to victims of domestic violence without requiring that they pursue criminal remedies against or divorce from their abusers. The Advocates staff and volunteers returned to Bulgaria in November 2003 to provide assistance with training police and judges on promoting and implementing the new law.

The Advocates is currently using the human rights methodology that it has used in other countries to investigate and document immigrant women's experiences in the Twin Cities area in the United States. The purpose is to identify both the barriers that battered immigrant women may encounter in seeking such protection, as well as models or programs that have been particularly effective in addressing the specific needs and concerns of immigrant women. The findings will be documented in a report using a human rights law framework. The project's Steering Committee, composed of community members and domestic violence advocates, will guide the report drafting process and review and provide feedback on the report. In conjunction with local advocates, the Women's Program plans to distribute the report to local and national community groups, legislators, advocates, and practitioners.


For more information on this tactic, read our in-depth case study.

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What we can learn from this tactic: 

This tactic’s success is dependent on a number of factors, including a strong resource base of professional volunteers, a sustained organizational commitment to acting on information learned through fact-finding and documentation of human rights abuses, and a strong constructive relationship with government agencies of the country under investigation in order to successfully promote legal and policy changes.