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What is human rights monitoring?

Last edited: December 21, 2011

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Human rights monitoring is a unique activity that is separate from monitoring and evaluation, as well as from research. Human rights monitoring seeks to gather information about the human rights situation in a country or region over time through readily available methods, with the goal of engaging in advocacy to address human rights violations. It also involves a process of documenting human rights violations and practices so that the information can be categorized, verified, and used effectively. Human rights monitoring is sometimes called fact-finding. Fact-finding consists of investigating a specific incident or allegation of human rights violations, collecting or finding a set of facts that proves or disproves that the incident occurred and how it occurred, and verifying allegations or rumors.

Human rights monitoring should be based on principles of:

  • Accuracy
  • Confidentiality
  • Impartiality
  • Gender-sensitivity

Although monitoring human rights of women should be a state responsibility, monitoring by community-based organizations and non-governmental organizations can also produce an important perspective. Informal justice systems themselves should also take on the role of self-monitoring and reviewing how they impact women’s safety and human rights.

Efforts to monitor human rights in the informal sector are few, but emerging.


Example: in Timor Leste, the Judicial System Monitoring Program interacts with chief’s suco councils. Reports from this monitoring programme have been used to institute reforms and to increase the number of women elected to community governance bodies, including the informal judicial body. In Bangladesh, Ain O Salish Kendra helps train local committees, sometimes all women, to monitor shalish proceedings and conduct informal education on women’s rights for those involved in the proceedings


Sources: Wojkowska/UNDP, 2006; Australian Agency for International Development, 2008.

Monitoring violence against women can be very challenging because of the social stigma attached to these issues, underreporting of violence, and male dominated power structures in communities. Key principles for monitoring violence against women include (Amnesty International and CODESRIA 2000):
  • Build contacts with women’s NGOs, women activists, and women contacts in all areas of the country.
  • Ensure that the fact-finding delegation is comprised of women, and include men and women delegates with experience in dealing with women’s human rights violations; seek contact with women from the area.
  • Organize focus groups composed of women to develop a better understanding of the situation and explain your research.
  • Be aware and knowledgeable about social and cultural attitudes attached to women, sexual violence, rape, and sex in the region or community.
  • Ensure that women’s rights violations are properly documented; discrimination may exist in the laws and constitution, in the beliefs of society, in cultural practices, in access to economic resources and legal systems, and in family relations.
  • Maintain confidentiality and safety of any participating survivors.

Additional resources on human rights monitoring include:

Documenting Women's Rights Violations by Non-state Actors (Rights and Democracy, 2006). Available in English and French.  

Documenting Human Rights Violations by State Agents: Sexual Violence (Amnesty International and International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, 1999). Available in English. 

Documenting the Implementation of Domestic Violence Laws: A Human Rights Monitoring Methodology (The Advocates for Human Rights, 2011). Available in English. 

A Practitioner’s Guide to Human Rights Monitoring, Documentation, and Advocacy (The Advocates for Human Rights, 2010). Available in English.

Training Manual on Human Rights Monitoring (United Nations, 2001). Available in Arabic, English, French, Russian, and Spanish.  

Events Standard Formats – A Tool for Documenting Human Rights Violations (HURIDOCS 2010). Available in English.

New Tactics – Documenting Violations: Choosing the Right Approach (Center for Victims of Torture, 2009). Available in English.

Familiar Tools, Emerging Issues: Adapting traditional human rights monitoring to emerging issues (Prestholdt, 2004). Available in English.

Ukweli: Monitoring and Documenting Human Rights Violations in Africa (Amnesty International and CODESRIA 2000). Available in English.