In the last week of January 2018, Cross Cultural Foundation organized a workshop in Pattani province of Thailand for young women interested to work as paralegals. Pattani is one of the three southern-most provinces of Thailand, which has been embroiled in a conflict for many years. Violence has exacerbated in the last ten years.
In this workshop, Marwaan Makan Makar, a senior journalist from Sri Lanka, gave some valuable inputs on the importance of information gathering, documentation, and sharing. This post summarizes the main points.
A conflict situation, or any situation, has many different stories that needs sharing with others in society. They also need to be shared with the decision makers. Each such story may involve events that occur because of the ongoing conflict.
Some events may be obvious and anyone can see them, such as a targeted attack or a bombing incident.
There are other events that need more probing. For example, the existence of military checkpoints on the roads is a fact that everyone can see. However, there may be stories hidden behind this fact. These could be the sudden increase in the number of military check points and the reasons for such increase. It could also be that people with a certain identity profile are being forced to undergo closer scrutiny at the checkpoints. Other examples could be the vulnerability of the arrested persons to being tortured or ill-treated in detention, or the pattern of recruitment and training by militants.
These stories are important. Somebody needs to tell them. And since paralegals are often the first eye-witnesses to such stories. Therefore, their ability to capture all the information related to the stories become very important.
Consider the key elements of such stories from the point of view of gathering and documenting them:
Who are the people involved – who was affected? And, by whom?
Thus, in case of an event that involves arrest of people from their homes – gather as many details about the persons arrested as possible. Also, gather details about the authorities involved in conducting the arrest operations.
Gather details about the event and the sequence of its unfolding. For example, ‘Three officers came at 8 pm and knocked on the door. When the father opened the door, they asked the son to come out…”
When did it happen?
Note details about the date and time. Did the event happen in the evening? Was it during dinner time? Or was it during the day when men are usually working outside the home?
Note the location and any unique features of the location.
Try to gather details from others about what they thing are the reasons or motivation behind such event. Different people may have different perspectives. All these perspectives are important for developing a holistic understanding.
A participant asked – can we do anything to provide assistance at the time the event is unfolding, such as during an arrest or search operation?
Maarwan replied that at such times, local people or paralegals may not have the power to intervene and stop the operations. But what they could do is observe and absorb all information that they can. They must also document it and as soon as possible, share with those who are in a position to make the interventions. Such people could be human rights monitors, lawyers, or journalists who can do the follow-up as required by the situation.
At the end, Maarwan again stressed that in most times, journalists or lawyers engage with the event only after it has occurred. It is the local people who are the first eye witnesses and thus their testimony becomes very important. If we want to use such testimony to fix accountability, then it is very important that they are accurate and based on facts, not on emotions and feelings.
Information Gathering skills handbook
In this context, we would like to introduce our handbook on information gathering and documentation. We prepared this handbook in 2009 following a workshop with local groups in the three southern most conflict-ridden provinces of Thailand. It focuses on collection and documentation of information for the purpose of human rights monitoring.