Documenting Human Rights Violations in Challenging Environments

Monitoring, Fact-Finding, and Documenting – What’s the Difference?

There are a number of methodologies you can use when collecting information about human rights abuses. The three most common methods are monitoring, fact-finding and documenting. Study the three frameworks and decide which one(s) are most relevant to you. Feel free to use more than one method at a time.


Monitoring refers to collecting, verifying, and using information about a situation over a period of time. Use this methodology if you want to:

  • Collect large quantities of data;
  • Investigate a situation over a period of time; and,
  • Assess whether an action or set of actions violates legal standards.

Fact-Finding / Investigating

Fact-finding / investigating is used to gather information about a specific event or series of events. Use this method if you are able to:

  • Interview victims and witnesses;
  • Visually inspect the sight of an incident;
  • Observe specific events (i.e. trials);
  • Review and collect documents relevant to an incident;
  • Record or review photo, audio, and video evidence; and/or,
  • Use forensic evidence (Click here to read more about using forensic evidence in fact-finding investigations).


Documenting abuses refers to the process of recording information found during a fact-finding investigation. Documenting allows you to organize and preserve information so that you or others can use it as a basis for further action.

How can documentation be used as a basis for further action?

In December 2010, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran used sound methodologies to collect information on violations of student rights in Iran. As a result of these efforts, they released a report entitled “Punishing Stars: Systematic Discrimination and Exclusion in Iranian Higher Education.” The report draws attention to the cause of human rights in Iran by presenting unbiased data on student rights violations and making constructive recommendations to key players in Iran.