Civilian-Led Human Rights Monitoring

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    • 00:09

      MARK LATTIMER: My name is Mark Lattimer.I'm the director of a new organization calledthe Ceasefire Centre, which exists to support civiliansin monitoring and documenting violations of their rights,often in conflict situations, but also to seek justicefor those violations.

    • 00:31

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: Ceasefire was set up to address a terrible gap in human rightsprotection that occurs when states fail or fallinto conflict.It's not that human rights no longer apply.In theory, human rights still apply in conflict.But the enforcement mechanisms fail, sometimes

    • 00:53

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: catastrophically, and civilians areleft without protection and without any means of redress.So Ceasefire was set up to address those challenges.It's a range of techniques, essentiallyabout building a practice of civilian-lead monitoring.So giving local NGOs or civilian activists

    • 01:14

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: the technical means to monitor violations of their rights,to document them so that information can be used later,perhaps in a court, but also to seek justicefor those violations.Ceasefire is about doing certain technical thingsto support civilians in documenting violationsand seeking justice.But, more generally, it's about upholding

    • 01:37

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: the promise of the Geneva Conventions,saying that there are limits to what can be done in war.That certain fundamental principlesstill have to be observed, and that we need to supportcivilians in doing that.

    • 01:59

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: Human rights monitoring and investigations basicallyhave relied on the same fundamental techniqueever since human rights was invented in its modern sense.So 110 years ago, Roger Casement went to the Congo.He wrote a report.He came back.

    • 02:19

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: The investigative mission is reallythe technique on which human rights monitoringis still based, whether it's UN SpecialRapporteurs, whether it's government employees,whether it's NGOs-- someone gets on a plane,usually from Geneva or London or New York.They go to somewhere where something terrible

    • 02:40

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: is happening.They spend three weeks, they write a report,and they come back.And it is published, either to shockthe conscience of humankind or, as is often the case,to stay on a shelf somewhere gathering dust.But it seems to me that, nowadays,with all the modern communication

    • 03:01

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: techniques that we have, that fundamental technique is stillimportant, but it needs to be supplemented.And the Syrian conflict is, perhaps, the real turnoverconflict.For the first time, nearly all the good human rightsinformation we have from Syria has come not from monitors.The monitors can't get into the country.

    • 03:23

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: They don't want to go because it isn't safe.It has come from people on the ground--from civilians, from ordinary people gathering togetherto document what's happening.In some cases, that's in terms of writing about cases.It might also be filming evidence.It might also be gathering material evidence.

    • 03:46

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: But, nowadays, I think, we have to say, why do weneed to rely on someone-- usuallyfrom the North-- getting on a plane to go somewhere else?We need to actually have faith in what civilians in conflictcan do themselves.

    • 04:12

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: Most of the really valuable informationis collected by nationals of the state concerned,by people who actually live in the situationswe're talking about.We do sometimes use some of the old techniquesas well, including going on missions, training.

    • 04:35

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: And what's called in the trade "buildingcapacity" or "capacity building" of monitorsoften requires face-to-face interaction.So some of that has been done as well.I've been to Iraq a couple of timesover last year, for example, to do some of those things.I think any technique that relies

    • 04:57

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: too much on gaining access to everywherefrom international monitors is something that isn't reallygoing to work in some of the most profoundlydifficult situations around the worldwhere international monitors haven't had access.So for most of central and southern Iraq,

    • 05:18

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: parts of northern Iraq and Nineveh, through nearly allof Syria, large parts of Afghanistan,the whole of south central Somalia, most of Yemen now--these are large territories whichare effectively closed to international human rightsmonitors.

    • 05:38

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: And that presents a challenge, but it also presents, ,it seems to me, an imperative for us to start taking the workof the civilians on the ground who are doing the monitoringseriously.We talk about developing civilian-lead monitoring.

    • 05:60

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: But, of course, in practice, thisisn't just taking someone off the streetand expecting them to become a professional human rightsinvestigator.In practice, it also means workingthrough local NGOs, local groups of activists,and also local lawyers.In countries such as Syria, for example,

    • 06:20

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: you have a hugely developed legal sphere,many trained lawyers, many professionalswho are able to adjust their skills.And that presents an enormous resource for doing human rightsand civilian rights work on the ground.

    • 06:40

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: Now, it's partly about the technical stuff.It's partly about enabling peopleto report using the internet, enabling peopleto report securely so that they can't be found outif someone is trying to stop what they're doing.It might be about preserving evidence.But it's also actually about the skills, the training,

    • 07:03

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: and enabling people to use what is alreadythere in a way which is most likely to geta positive result in terms of documentationand the building of a case, building evidence.Now, that might mean training lawyers.It might mean training activists.It might, in some cases, also mean training judges.

    • 07:32

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: Part of the idea that governs our work also makes very clearthe most obvious challenge.If we're trying to do documentation of violationsin situations where there are profound securityissues, whether it's open conflict, wherehuman rights monitors aren't able to gain access--

    • 07:55

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: that gives you an idea of where the single mostprofound challenge is, which is in the security.Both of the people we work with and also Ceasefirestaff who may be finding themselves travelingon missions to countries like that.So you need to take security issues very, very seriously,but also to realize that, for people on the ground with whom

    • 08:17

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: you're working, those are the challenges theyface on a daily basis.If a country is closed to international human rightsmonitors, that doesn't mean that all the peoplein that country who are trying to document what's happening,who are trying to seek redress, don't also need protection.

    • 08:37

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: And that is the most serious, fundamental challengethat we face.In any conflict situation, the organizationsthat you're immediately aware of will be the belligerents,those who are fighting a war.

    • 08:58

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: I In most of the situations in which we work,the primary facet of conflict is a non-international conflict,as it was civil conflict.So even in cases where the state has failed very profoundly,you will have some kind of existing government.

    • 09:21

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: It might itself be involved in gross human rights violations,violations of the laws of war.And you will also have one, or perhaps many, rebel groups,opposition groups.In a situation like the eastern Congo, you've had,over time, hundreds of different rebel groups operating, anand there has been a very confused situation

    • 09:43

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: on the ground.You might have foreign states, neighboring states who are alsoinvolved, either directly or who are effectively sponsoringsome of the armed groups.And this is a profound problem.But I think the existing structure of international lawand the UN system has yet to really grapple

    • 10:05

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: with the extent to which civil conflicts are, in fact, oftenproxy conflicts where neighboringstates or other states around the worldhave their players in the war.Then, you may have international organizations.For example, in the work we're doing in Iraq,we have a major pilot of civilian-led monitoring.

    • 10:27

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: You have other international players.We work in association with the UN High Commissionerfor Refugees, the office of one of the major UN agencies.Some of our work is supported by the European Union.And we will have other government delegations in Iraqwho help to support the general cause, i.e., the need

    • 10:52

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: to ensure that the people in that country-- in Iraq,in this instance-- get better civilian protection,that they get better redress for violations of their rights.One thing that you do have at the moment

    • 11:12

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: is a number of technological organizationswho are developing new software to enable human rightsmonitoring to take place.I think that is tremendously valuable.Many of them are focused on trying to enable peopleon the ground, including using handheld devices,

    • 11:34

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: mobile devices, to record information securelyand to make sure that it is communicated securely.As an organization, we're interested in using potentiallyall of this new technology.We are developing our own software,internet-based formats, forums for enabling people

    • 11:55

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: to report violations.But, I think it's also important to recognizethat it isn't fundamentally about technologicaladvancement.That it's really important, but in my experience,for example, working with civilian activists in Syria,is that it is difficult to second-guess the technology

    • 12:17

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: they want to use.Most of them will most comfortablyuse the technology that they are alreadyusing in their everyday lives.So for example, for security reasons,sometimes I'll be finding myself having a conversationon the messaging facility on Facebook.

    • 12:38

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: And then, suddenly, they'll say to me,we've got to stop using this.We want to talk to you on Skype, but using instant messaging.And we'll do that for a few weeks.And their own perceptions of what is most secure, dependingon what they've used in the past and what is most generally used

    • 13:02

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: by their communities, is tremendously important.And, once again, it's about holding faithwith what civilians are doing on the groundrather than always feeling that we, sitting in Geneva,or sitting in London, or sitting in New York,have all the answers to their problems.We need to reverse that assumption

    • 13:24

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: and to start trusting the people whoare really on the ground facing the dangers and doing the work.If you're interested in the protections offeredby the Geneva Conventions or the laws of warto civilians, if you're interested in human rights,

    • 13:48

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: there are more and more NGOs now to work with.The UN is still a tremendously important organization.There are so many different parts of it,and they all need good people.There are a hundred ways in whichyou could do human rights work.The one thing I would say is, I thinkthat the field has changed very rapidly since I've been working

    • 14:10

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: in human rights, particularly in terms of how quickly ithas become professionalized.I see people coming into my officenow who are just starting and they already have two degrees.They already have a master's degree in human rightsor a master's degree in international humanitarian law.Compared to how I and my colleagues

    • 14:34

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: were in terms of academic credentials, not so long ago,they just seem tremendously knowledgeable.And I think that's a huge value.That professionalization is a tremendously strong force.But I don't think we should forget how messy itfeels on the ground.

    • 14:54

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: As soon as you go to a situation wherethere is an ongoing conflict, you'realways struck by the messiness of the situationand how much can be achieved by individuals.People are often, for example, cynical about the UN.They say there isn't the political will to do anything.

    • 15:17

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: And that might well be true about the UN Security Council.But, in my relatively short career,I've met so many individuals working for the UN,so many individuals working for NGOs,who were working on the ground, possiblyin situations where other people have really forgottenabout what they're doing.

    • 15:39

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: And they're actually saving people's lives.They're actually making sure that people get fed.They're actually making sure that people get representation.And that is still possible now.And the professionalization, the academicizationof human rights, helps us.It's a force for doing our work better.

    • 16:03

      MARK LATTIMER [continued]: But we shouldn't forget how messy it feels on the ground,and also the opportunities there are for almost anyone,potentially, to try and make a difference.

Civilian-Led Human Rights Monitoring

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Abstract

Director Mark Lattimer discusses the work of the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights. He describes the challenges of traditional human rights investigations and argues that the international community should listen to local civilians as they record and report violations in their home area.

SAGE Video In Practice
Civilian-Led Human Rights Monitoring

Director Mark Lattimer discusses the work of the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights. He describes the challenges of traditional human rights investigations and argues that the international community should listen to local civilians as they record and report violations in their home area.

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