Formats are a Tool for the Quest for Truth: HURIDOCS Human Rights Materials for Library and Human Rights Workers
by Susan L. Maret
Sergio Vieira De Mello's (2003) idea that the culture of human rights derives its greatest strength from the informed expectations of each individual, underscores the relationship between information and human rights. Further, international human rights instruments such as the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1976), and the Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information (1996), serve as benchmarks of what constitute a set of information rights, which includes the implied role of information in self-determination. It is in this context that Martin Ennals (74) writes,
Without the knowledge that human rights exist, people cannot seek their own protection. Without the knowledge that human rights are violated, no individuals or organization can seek to provide protection. Both the promotion and protection of human rights therefore require that information be available for all.
Enter Human Rights Information and Documentation Systems, International
In 1981, Martin Ennals (74) former Secretary-General of Amnesty International, and founding president of Human Rights Information and Documentation Systems, International (HURIDOCS), observed that despite a standardized, universal and statutory concern for human rights, there is no universal and homogenous system of handling information about human rights. This dearth of information standards, techniques and appropriate technology for human rights violations information classification, documentation, reporting and storage led Ennals and others in the global human rights community to propose a Human Rights International Documentation System, leading to the formal establishment of HURIDOCS in 1982. HURIDOCS offices are located near Geneva, Switzerland.
Acting on Ennals' idea, over the last several decades HURIDOCS has evolved into a global network of human rights advocates concerned with various educational and technological aspects of human rights information. Fundamental to its mission, HURIDOCS activities include access to human rights information by developing and promoting monitoring, information handling and communication tools for use by the human rights community. HURIDOCS works closely with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in networking, information exchange, and adapting its publications for specific cases of human rights infringements. For example, the Coalition against Trafficking in Women (CATW) and the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) modified HURIDOCS materials for their work.
HURIDOCS offer training to representative human rights groups and advocates in the practical use of human rights violations classification, documentation, and monitoring tools. Specifically, HURIDOCS concentrates on methods and techniques for human rights information handling, rather than concentrating on specific human rights abuses. HURIDOCS has identified twenty-six training modules that focus on the relationship of human rights and information, information and communications technology, documentation, HURIDOCS tools and monitoring and reporting techniques. Training on these educational tools, is, really, community capacity building.