What do we need to document human rights violations?

The conflict in Ukraine is not the first one in which serious human rights violations occurred. It concerns primarily serious international crimes committed under the policy of the state or those of the organization. These violations are listed in Art. 5 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court - genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, aggression and crime against peace.

34768Human rights activists strongly believe that cases of murder, unlawful detention, torture, rape and a number of other serious human rights violations in the Donbass can be classified as international crimes. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (in particular, Art. 7 and 8) envisages criminal responsibility in case of crimes against humanity and war crimes. Namely, these "articles" may be grasped to punish criminals who gave orders or knew that their subordinates commited such crimes.


The armed conflict between Serbs and Croats, and Serbs and Bosnians caused the death of over 100,000 people, of which the absolute majority consisted of civilians. Ethnic cleansing, mass murder and rape – this is just an incomplete list of all the atrocities committed during the tragic events in the former Yugoslavia.

Civic activists, being aware of the importance of punishing war criminals for restoring peace, began to record cases of human rights violations. What did it lead to?

The collected evidence has been used may times as the basis for criminal proceedings long before the respective cases were processed within the judicial system. As a result, it allowed both lawyers and prosecutors to use the evidence collected by civic activists for proving the innocence or guilt of the suspects.


5878934525681. Documented cases of human reights violations were used in order to convince the offenders to voluntarily confess the crime. This happened in particular during the Bosnian War: for example, the existence of photographs in which the Bosnian Serb Goran Yelisich killed prisoners, caused the fact that the offender testified about the crimes against humanity that he committed.

2. Documented evidence can also help to confirm the testimoninies of witnesses and victims of the crimes. For example, in one case at the Special Court for Sierra Leone a doctor used photos of his patients to provide evidence of crimes against humanity.

3. Prosecutors may use the documented stories as evidence for support individual elements of crimes. So, in Rwanda prosecutors appealed to the government briefs on government-controlled broadcast stations to confirm the intention to commit genocide.

4. Documented evidence can also confirm the fact that the crime was committed exactly as described by other kinds of sources. For example, in Cambodia prosecutors used the evidence collected during the exhumation of bodies from mass grave sites to determine the cause of death of the victims.


Олег Врагов87989Documentated human rights violations can help to provide necessary information to identify the victims of human rights violations. For example, in Cambodia the non-government organisations analyzed the official prison records, and they managed to find out information about the prisoners of the Khmer Rouge (nationalist underground communist movement, which seized and held power in the country in the years 1975-1979) and to submit it to the families of the victims.

In addition, it is important for the history of every single conflict to establish a common understanding of the tragic events. The elaboration process leading to a common and agreed interpretation of conflicts helps to create objective evidence and documentation, because in this case the information comes from all parties involved in the conflict, and from various victims who suffered in different ways from the armed conflict.


28093877591 7cc4b21243yhg75769The documentation process helps "to include" all those affected by the conflict in its history. The possibility to speak out is granted to everyone, therefore, everyone who is willing to speak can contribute into creation of a common story of pain by telling his/her own story. This practice of reconciliation through the collection of documents and testimonies can also be used in Ukraine, if we manage to create a reasonable basis for trust and accessibility that allows even victims living in occupied territories to testify. This is the only way to fight the lies and stereotypes that currently dominate both sides of the boundary line. The Park of Freedom in South Africa, for example, is making efforts in this direction, trying to capture different views and perceptions on the history to provide a unified version of past facts and events.

Another important step towards the reconciliation between conflict parties should be the initiation of a national dialogue. And, oddly enough, this plays an important role in the documentation of cases of human rights violations, because the elaboration of past violences can paradoxically push people to move on together and to build a better society by learning from the traumatic past. This was especially the case of the reconciliation after the Bosnian war. Even if the Serbs initially denied the cruelty of their countrymen, they were pushed to engage in discussions for reconciliation by the evidence provided through videos showing Serbs killing Bosnian civilians.


Documentation helps to preserve the memory of historical events and combine it with common values for all the conflict parties. At this stage of reconciliation, documentation is used not to punish but rather to reduce social tensions. The key meaning of commonly accepted documented evidence is that nothing will be forgotten, and that mothing is lost from the overall picture of armed confrontation. Documentation preserves cultural, historical and symbolic importance of the events without charging a particular offender. This helps to break down the wall of alienation between criminals and victims, allowing the community or the country to move forward together.

Full reconciliation is one of the most ambitious and challenging goals for those who collect evidence and documentation. This is the reason why researcher and historians use an unbiased approach and different sources to fix evidence, in order to minimize the risk of renewed hostility.

content img 5304The "Justice for Peace in Donbas" Coalition is actively engaged in documenting serious human rights violations. The list of crimes that the Coaliation deals with includes illegal arrest and detention, torture, enforced disappearances, and sexual violence. The more evidence is collected, the more likely it is that perpetrators of such crimes are brought to justice - this applies to each one of the crimes mentioned above.

Everybody can help preserving the history and restoruing justice in Donbas. If you know anything about cases of human rights violations committed during the conflict in Donbas - please fill in a special and secured online form on the webpage of the Coalition. Without your written consent, the Coalition will neither publish nor disclose to third parties the information received through the online form.

Originally posted at the JFP Coalition web-site.

This article was prepared with the support of Anton Korynevych, (Institute of International Relations, Kyiv) and Militsa Kostich (Centre for Human Rights, Belgrade), which were engaged to enhancing capacities of the JFP Coalition members with the support of the UNDP project "Democratisation, Human Rights and Civil Society Development".