Documenting Human Rights Violations in Challenging Environments

Are my potential eyewitness(es) biased?

Avoid choosing people that will produce testimony motivated by their biases. (For example, interviewing a member of the security forces about whether his organization used unnecessary force on protesters.) This does not mean that biased witnesses cannot sometimes provide useful information about an event. If you think this is the case during an interview, always be conscious of the eyewitness’s potential biases and state these in any reports you write based on this evidence.

Do the eyewitness(es) I’m considering have a diversity of opinion about the event/issue in question?

As people interpret events and issues differently, interviewing several eyewitnesses allows you to hear a wider range of opinions. The more people you speak with, the more diverse the viewpoints you can expect. When documenting a demonstration, for example, participants will view the event differently than those who watched it from the sidelines. Similarly, the testimony from the police stopping the demonstrators will most likely differ from that of the demonstrators.

How recently did the eyewitness(es) observe the event?

Although it is not always necessary—or possible—to interview witnesses immediately following an event, it does make documentation more credible as the events are fresher in their mind. However, you might be documenting events that happened several months or years ago. In these cases, you will still want to talk to witnesses and find other means for corroborating their testimonies.