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Interview with a Researcher: Missions     auf Deutsch

Q: What are the first steps in planning a mission?
    A: All researchers confront a fundamental question in planning a mission: which violation should we highlight in which country? We receive reports of violations against women in many different countries. Before we even select a research topic, we must run through a strategic checklist: Would a report from Human Rights Watch improve the situation? Do local women's human rights activists believe that a report by an international nongovernmental organization (NGO) would effectively support their work and advocacy? Is this the most important violation for the Women's Rights Division to focus on right now? Are there areas where we have political leverage and can push for change to improve women's rights? Can we sustain the work? The team within the Women's Rights Division discusses these questions after we consult with NGOs in the region under consideration.

    Once we decide on a country and strategy, we begin to gather information on laws, recent developments, key officials to interview, and press accounts of the human rights situation in the county. We also begin working with local NGOs to conceptualize the research and begin to plan the mission.

    Preparation for a mission can take a month or more before climbing onto the airplane.

Q: How do you develop relationships with NGOs in the countries you research?
    A: Human Rights Watch tries to maintain close ties with NGOs in the field. We consult women's groups when we draft our world report each year and we discuss research priorities with those groups. The success of Human Rights Watch's work largely depends on the cooperation of local human rights organizations, especially those that monitor, document, and report on human rights violations and those that provide services. In the end, we hope that our reports assist local groups in developing successful advocacy strategies and creating local change.

Q: Do you interview victims of human rights abuses? How long are the interviews?
    A: Human Rights Watch's methodology involves interviewing the victims of human rights violations around the world. When I go on a mission, my main goal is to find women who can talk about the abuses they have suffered and identify the perpetrators of those abuses. The victims we meet often suffer from acute levels of trauma. Researchers take great care to avoid re-traumatizing victims: I always conduct interviews only with the express permission of the woman and at the pace she chooses. She can stop the interview at any time.

    Interviews can last anywhere from half an hour to three hours, depending on the content.

Q: Do you interview government officials? How do they respond to your research?
    A: We always want to interview state officials and get their comments on abuses we have found. This is very important for balanced fact-finding and for presenting a complete picture. The officials sometimes deny the allegations, sometimes admit the abuse, and sometimes shoot themselves in the foot. We try to do these interviews at the end of each mission in order to confront the officials with our findings. We never violate the confidentiality of the witnesses and victims who have spoken to us.

Q: Besides interviews, what else do you do on a mission?
    A: Research calls for creativity. Often I will interview nurses when looking for evidence of rape as a war crime, collect court documents on specific cases when researching trafficking, track local press stories about a human rights issue, and review forensic medical reports when delving into state response to violence against women. The most powerful and compelling evidence always comes from the victims of human rights abuses. I use additional non-testimonial evidence to corroborate the accounts shared by victims or to expose a state's failure to respond to violations.

Q: What kinds of obstacles do you face?
    A: The obstacles abound. Missions sometimes involve long periods of waiting - for meetings with government officials or with women held in detention facilities, for example. I also spend a great deal of time seeking out women willing to speak about the deeply traumatic abuses they have suffered, such as rape, forced prostitution, and domestic violence.



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