Tech Tools for Human Rights Documenters

Helen Kilbey

For many civil society organisations working to document human rights abuses, technology plays a key role in their workflows – from collecting data (for example, recording interviews, taking photographs, or filling in standardised digital forms), to storing, managing, verifying, analysing, visualising, and sharing that data. 

There is a vast array of tools currently available to organisations for these purposes, but many of these options are not necessarily suitable to the specific contexts and needs of human rights documenters. Particular needs can be shaped by significant safety concerns and limited resources, alongside challenges such as making sure collected data is verified and maintaining chain of custody for eventual use in a future legal context.  

In 2020, The Engine Room conducted research with PILPG and HURIDOCS to gain insight into how technology could better fit the needs of human rights documenters, particularly in the context of transitional justice. To this end, together we interviewed a range of civil society documenters, tool developers, and transitional justice actors, and conducted research into a number of tools themselves. On PILPG’s website you can read the full findings of the research, and watch the report launch roundtable.    

We have now published an adapted excerpt of these findings, which focuses primarily on the ‘tools’ part of this work.

About this report

Tech tools for human rights documentation: a snapshot of the landscape is specifically designed for:

  • Civil society documenters looking for practical guidance on relevant tech tools,
  • Tool developers working in the human rights documentation space, and 
  • Funders looking for insight into tool development for human rights documentation.

The snapshot includes: 

  • An overview of some of the tools currently being used for human rights documentation, including data collection tools, secure camera apps, and database management and publishing tools. 
  • Common challenges faced, and strategies adopted, by tool developers working on technology designed for use in a human rights documentation context. These include strategies for sustainability, learnings around trade-offs, and current work towards greater interoperability.   

Having identified a number of needs and gaps in the human rights documentation technology space, we are now supporting PILPG and HURIDOCS in a collaboration with three human rights documentation groups to adapt an existing technology – HURIDOCS’s open-source database tool Uwazi – to try and better meet some of those needs. 

In a fast-changing, under-resourced and challenging environment, we hope that this work serves to make a contribution to improving the resources available to groups doing crucial documentation work.  

If you have questions about this work, or are interested in support around selecting a tool for your human rights documentation work, contact us at hello[at]

Image by Christa Dodoo via Unsplash.


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