What is Documentation?

Documentation is crucial in understanding and analyzing human rights abuses. Many OpenEvSys users new to the idea of documentation may be confused as to what it exactly entails.

There are a variety of definitions for documentation, but in the context of OpenEvSys there is a specific conception involved. The following definitions come directly from the HURIDOCS book What is Documentation?:

Documentation is a process consisting of several activities, namely:

  • determining what information is needed and establishing means for acquiring it;
  • recording the discovered information and storing such in appropriate containers (called documents) or collecting already-existing documents containing the needed information;
  • organising the documents to make them more accessible; and 
  • actually providing the documents to users who need the information.
Documentation could also mean a specific part of this process. Thus, documentation could refer to the act of recording information, or the act of collecting and organising documents. ...

Why Document?

There are a number of reasons why documentation is important. For one, events happen and are finished after a certain time. Or there could be some events which are useful to be informed about, but which happen elsewhere. People may also have different perceptions and analyses of events. If there is no documentation on these events, information on them may forever be gone, and the benefit that could have been derived from them is lost.

In other words, documentation is an activity that is forward-looking, meant to address a future need. People who need certain information will need documents that they can refer back to. Moreover, if properly documented, information can be re-used and re-used.

Purposes of Human Rights Documentation

Human right organisations are usually set up for the following purposes:

  • human rights education
  • standard-setting 
  • direct assistance to victims  
  • pursuit of justice 
  • establishment of historical records

Human rights organisations must strive to obtain hard evidence to prove that violations of human rights are taking place and to which degree. This involves both the systematic documentation of particular cases and the compilation of trends and statistics based on a larger amount of information collected and recorded over time. This information can then be used for action at the national, regional and international levels.

A clear presentation of the facts surrounding an alleged violation will help in enabling concerned groups to provide immediate assistance to victims of violations. Systematic documentation that can enable groups to combine pieces of information from various sources is also crucial in bringing perpetrators to justice. Human rights groups can also build up a memory of violations which occurred in the past under a repressive regime, because it is important not to forget.