Documenting Human Rights Violations in Challenging Environments

Once you have selected one or more eyewitnesses, the next step is to set up a meeting –whether in person, via Skype or another call/instant messaging service, or via email. If you will be discussing sensitive topics, take all necessary precautions to ensure the safety of your source. See the Nabz-Iran Digital Security course for tips on developing safe communication channels. Once you have established a secure communications plan with your source, set up a meeting.

Here are a few dos and don’ts for the interview(s).

Dos

Listen

Click here to listen to a TED talk about the need to corroborate direct testimony and review witness testimony.

  • DO build trust with the interviewee. This can be done directly or through third parties who know them. Allow trusted third-parties to be present if your eyewitness wishes. It generates trust.
  • DO identify yourself, explain the objective of the interview and explain that the interview is being done in confidence. Also, explain how the information of the interview will be used.
  • DO interview people in a way that allows you to guarantee their privacy, including interviewing them separate from other witnesses to the same event.
  • DO avoid interviewing women and children in the presence of husbands or family members to avoid self-censorship.

Don'ts

  • DO NOT meet in a place where your eyewitness does not feel comfortable or where you could be under surveillance.
  • DO NOT allow security forces or police to attend interviews with eyewitnesses, as this may lead to self-censorship and/or present a danger to your source.
  • DO NOT make the people the center of attention during an interview. For instance, avoid group interviews where you are focusing on only one person.
  • DO NOT forget to corroborate direct testimony.

If it is possible, without endangering yourself or your source, visiting the scene of an incident with an eyewitness can provide context to a testimony by allowing you to visualize the event and corroborate facts or find inconsistencies. In addition, site visits can sometimes help eyewitnesses remember details of an event. However, be careful not to pressure the eyewitness to remember new details or change their story.