Protection of Witnesses, Victims and Staff in Monitoring, Reporting, and Fact-Finding Mechanisms

Beyond (peace)
Feb 2014

One dilemma that faces practitioners serving on monitoring, reporting, and fact-finding (MRF) missions concerns the protection of witnesses, victims, and staff. The paradox underlying the issue of protection is that, while statements from witnesses and victims account for the predominant evidence when investigating human rights violations, the very fact that victims and witnesses decide to come forward and contribute to the establishment of the truth can put these individuals at risk. Another dilemma emanates from the ad hoc nature of such missions, in contrast with the need to ensure protection on a long-term scale. In the often-volatile contexts in which MRF missions typically operate, security risks also arise for MRF staff members participating in on-the-ground operations. This paper analyzes how past MRF missions, whether commissioned by ad hoc bodies or by the UN, have grappled with these risks. The paper examines the sources of the obligations to protect witnesses, victims, and staff; the nature of the threats that could arise; the protective steps that have been taken; and the measures that could be taken by MRF professionals in the future. As this paper demonstrates, often a divide exists between aspirational notions of best practice and the reality of what can be delivered, leaving MRF practitioners frequently uncertain about the lengths and limits of their protective responsibilities.