Documentation Practices

Documenting violations of human rights, humanitarian, and international criminal law is an enormous challenge during conflict. SJAC applauds the dedicated activists who continue to document violations with limited resources and training, under extremely hostile conditions.

To help ensure that documentation is consistent, in line with international standards, and useable in future accountability processes, SJAC encourages reference to the following materials, which outline best practices in documentation.

Manual: Documenting Human Rights and Humanitarian Law Violations in Syria

Documentation Memos:

Documenting Sexual and Gender Based Violence

SJAC has made the documentation of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) a special focus area due to the unique ethical issues involved and the challenges of accessing survivors and witnesses.  Survivors fear coming forward to document their experiences, established survivor-support services are scarce, and human rights documenters do not have the capacity to ethically document these types of cases.

Without documentation, SJAC will have difficulty promoting redress for survivors of SGBV in transitional justice processes. To remedy these gaps, SJAC has identified needs and outlined steps for ethically addressing SGBV within its own work. To give more survivors the informed choice to document SGBV while ensuring that they have access to needed support, SJAC has established Dual Referral pathways with medical, psycho-social, and humanitarian providers working in Syria and neighboring countries.

SJAC experts are also available to provide additional guidance. Contact [email protected] with questions about documentation practices.

Documentation Training

SJAC provides an online, anonymous training site for Syrian documenters and human rights defenders looking to increase their knowledge of human rights principles and documentation best practices. All courses are tailored to the Syrian context, and new content is released regularly. SJAC’s current course offerings include:

Documenting Violations – SJAC offers a series of courses on how to document different human rights violations via interviews with survivors. Each course provides a definition of the violation, example questions to be asked, and important ethical considerations. Current courses in this category focus on how to document the crimes of human trafficking, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, forced conscription and child recruitment, and detention.

Documentation Best Practices – These courses cover principles that SJAC’s staff utilize throughout their documentation work, and help to ensure that documentation meets SJAC’s ethical and quality standards. Courses in this category teach participants how to maintain a proper chain of custody, write a post-interview reflection, and respect the principle of do no harm.

Human Rights and Transitional Justice Principles – These courses provide background on important principles of human rights and transitional justice through the lens of the Syrian conflict, and can be helpful to those who work in documentation as well as other human rights defenders. Current courses include introductions to international law, transitional justice, and extraterritorial jurisdiction.  

While SJAC’s courses are designed primarily for its documentation staff and partnering organizations, other individuals can be granted access to the training site, free of charge, on a case by case basis. If you are interested in enrolling in SJAC’s training program, please contact [email protected], subject line: Training Course Access. Provide a brief background on your human rights work and why you feel you or your organization would benefit from SJAC’s courses. Courses are available in Arabic only. In some cases, SJAC can share English-language versions of training material for organizations looking to develop similar training programs.