Investigation and Documentation of Women's Human Rights Violations
last updated November 1, 2003

Investigation and documentation of women's human rights violations (sometimes referred to as 'fact-finding') is one of the most commonly used and important advocacy tools in the promotion of human rights. In order to be effective, it is vital that the information gathered in the documenting process be accurate, valid and as timely as possible. The documentation of human rights abuses serves many functions, from putting pressure on government institutions to improve their response to violations of women's rights, to bringing public awareness to serious human rights violations, which have typically remained hidden, to forming the basis of a needs-assessment for future work. Documentation is a particularly effective tool for exposing violations of women's human rights since abuses, for example domestic violence or sexual harassment, are often hidden or receive little attention from government structures.

Research into human rights violations can take many forms, including surveys, statistical analysis, epidemiological studies or case studies. The United Nations has emphasized the critical need for State-compiled data on violence against women. For example, the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women encourages States to "promote research, collect data and compile statistics . . . relating to the prevalence of different forms of violence against women and encourage research on the causes, nature, seriousness and consequences of violence against women and on the effectiveness of measures implemented to prevent and redress violence against women; those statistics and findings of the research will be made public."

On this site, the term 'documentation' is used to refer to a process of research into specific abuses of women's rights and includes the process of analyzing, synthesizing and presenting the information, usually in the form of a report.

Women's rights advocates generally undertake one of two kinds of documentation. The first is traditional human rights fact-finding, which is generally done through interviews and secondary research into a particular abuse of women's rights, in a specific region, country or setting, with the aim of producing a human rights report. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) typically produce such reports, but governmental organizations, such as the United Nations Development Program and the U.S. Department of State may also create comprehensive reports with information about the status of women's rights.

The second form of reporting is the writing of a "shadow report," which is typically produced by an NGO in response to a periodic government report on the implementation of specific treaty provisions. The section on UN enforcement mechanisms provides background information on the UN treaty-monitoring bodies to which State parties are required to submit periodic reports with information about the protection of women's rights.

While much of the process for creating human rights report and shadow reports is the same, the ultimate goals and uses of the reports are different. This section of the site contains general information about the value of human rights documentation, ethical considerations in undertaking research on violence against women, guidelines on conducting fact-finding and writing reports and some uses of human rights reports. Advocates may find this information useful in preparing both human rights reports and shadow reports. In addition, this section also contains information about and links to specific resources on writing shadow reports.