by Michael Marefka
A human rights report is meant to highlight violations committed by responsible parties. It is often written by human rights advocacy organizations that submit their findings to monitoring bodies, whose purpose is to oversee the implementation of international human rights treaties provisions.
Writing a successful report requires planning, thorough research, knowledge of human rights instruments, and concise language. This article offers step-by-step instructions on how to author a successful human rights report.
Understanding your relationship with the issue(s)
Before beginning your report, establish parameters.
Are you writing as an individual, an international non-profit, or as a governmental organization? Every organization has different expertise, capabilities, and priorities. Understanding your role will help clarify your writing process. Factors such as access to information and name recognition will influence the impact of your report. If writing as a part of an advocacy team, make sure to coordinate objectives with an advocacy director. If writing as an individual, reach out to organizations that specialize in your issue(s) to work together and combine resources. Furthermore, only those with Consultative Status at the United Nations will be able to submit a human rights report directly.
Defining your issue(s)
After identifying your role – the perspective informing your report – define your issue(s). Most often, issues do not exist in a vacuum. Are you writing about a specific issue pertaining to a single country, a regional bloc, or the entire global community? Issues are influenced by context. Cultural variables such as religion and tradition can be specific to particular countries, even regions within countries. The issue(s) in question has to be precisely defined in relation to its context. This will aid the author in identifying responsible parties committing possible human rights violations as well as pinpoint the group(s) who suffers the violations.
Establishing a legal framework
Once you’ve identified the issue(s) and context, its time to place them within the legal framework of international covenants and conventions. A trip to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ website, will give you a list of international treaties. Known as the Core International Human Rights Instruments, these treaties establish provisions for the protection of human rights. Treaty provisions are then monitored by corresponding committees of experts who oversee the implementations of provisions by State parties.
Let’s take a deep breath.
Understanding the inner-workings of United Nation human rights mechanisms can be a daunting task. But comprehension of these mechanisms will only clarify and strengthen your report in the end.
After familiarizing yourself with the treaties, establish those that pertain to your issue(s). When writing your report, information such as evidence of human rights violations will be organized alongside corresponding provisions. Additionally, if submitting your report is also a goal, the correct monitoring body will have to be identified as well.
It’s time to do the research.
A human rights report like any argument is based on supporting evidence. Your research must validate the claims of human rights violations. This means that your information must come from bona fide sources such as peer-reviewed scholarship, non-profit publications, government statistics, and first-hand accounts. Access to information is another reason why understanding your role is so important. Working with an international non-profit that focuses in human rights can provide access to information not accessible to a lone academic.
While conducting research, make sure to keep up to date with monitoring bodies as well as human rights mechanisms such as the Universal Periodic Review. These mechanisms keep track of violations committed by responsible parties as well as the steps made by those parties to correct violations. An outdated human rights report will contribute nothing new.
Writing the report
After finishing your research, you must compose the report. Luckily, this should be the easy part!
The information you gathered should correspond to treaty provisions that define the rights in violation. In short, concise, and thoroughly cited paragraphs, organize your information beneath the actual treaty provisions. Remember, the purpose of your report is to highlight human rights violations. The juxtaposition between evidence and the law is the clearest way to identify discrepancies. Additionally, be sure to incorporate the language in provisions with the language in your report.
After your initial draft, revise your report. Check for any grammatical errors and superfluous language. Your report should be right to the point. If working as a part of an advocacy team, have your peers offer input. A well-written and succinct report will keep the reader’s attention and contribute to its impact.