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Resources: Professional Ethics Report Fall 2016

Launch of the Human Rights Documentation Toolkit
by Katie Kraska

An increasing number of grassroots and civil society organizations are providing the evidence for serious human rights violations all over the world.  A consortium of 10 organizations has developed a virtual toolkit to assist their efforts.

The Human Rights Documentation Toolkit (HRDT) is designed to bring the expertise of the diverse actors working in this area to a common source, making collaboration easier and streamlining appropriate documentation techniques.

Technological advancement in particular has generated new opportunities to document human rights violations, such as geospatial technologies identifying mass graves or smart-phones recording police brutality. But technology has also shifted documentation to citizens and smaller organizations, which may have little to no training in collection, analysis, or storage. The HRDT seeks to fill this void.

The 10 organizations instrumental to the Toolkit’s development have diverse disciplinary backgrounds, each employing different methods and tools for documentation. Physicians without Borders and the AAAS Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights, and Law Program focus on scientific methods of documentation, like public health and geospatial technology. Other members, like the Public International Law & Policy Group (PILPG), which headed up the consortium, and the Humanitarian Law Center, specialize in legal documentation for resolving conflicts and establishing criminal responsibility for violations. OutRight Action International advocates for individuals discriminated against based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression, while the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative aims to advance the science and practice of humanitarian response. This array of perspectives ensured that many methods and tools were represented in the Toolkit.

It was developed by the consortium in phases, first by compiling resources already available from human rights organizations for background. They then surveyed 57 documenters working in 42 countries to obtain a clear picture of the current tools being used for documentation and the most pressing challenges faced. Meetings with in-country stakeholders and experts also contributed to the final product, which was later peer reviewed. This extensive process ensured that many voices were heard, challenges were holistically identified and addressed, and approaches properly assessed.

Designed as a dynamic and participatory resource, the Toolkit is not only a repository for effective and responsible ways to document. It also provides a space for practitioners and others to start conversations and develop best documentation practices for their specific needs.

The website details this methodology, as well as terminology used in the available resources, and a list of expert contacts from human rights organizations that specialize in areas of law, forensics, public health, technology, and so forth. The aforementioned survey results are also available, demonstrating the diversity of violations documented and varying priorities and challenges for each country. The digital resource library is searchable, allowing users to filter by 8 languages, the type of violation committed, the tool or method needed, or a more targeted custom filter.

The Toolkit was made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Tom Malinowski, the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau, announced the Toolkit’s launch at AAAS Headquarters on October 24, 2016.  It is available at

New Podcast Series Brings Attention to Bioethical Issues
by Ellen Platts

Ethically Sound is a new resource from the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Commission) that provides an alternative way to learn about and understand the Commission’s work. Over a period of ten weeks in from September to November 2016, the Commission released a weekly episode, each focused on a different ethically challenging topic, ranging from whole genome sequencing, to public health emergency preparedness, to human subjects research. Based on the ten reports released by the Commission since 2009, each podcast episode opens with a note from a speaker who has a specialpersonal or professional connection to the topic. For example, the first episode, “Safeguarding Children,” opens with Dr. Suzet McKinney, Executive Director of the Illinois Medical District Commission, who recounted her experience seeing the severe effect the H1N1 pandemic flu had on the children of Chicago. She noted that mistrust of vaccines by parents was high, despite aggressive educational efforts. Dr. McKinney’s experience opened the floor for discussion of the Commission’s report, Safeguarding Children: Pediatric Medical Countermeasure Research, which focuses on how to best protect children in the event of a bioterror attack.

The podcasts are less than fifteen minutes each, providing a succinct overview of the contents of the Commission’s reports in a way that is easily digestible and accessible to a variety of audiences. The Commission also released a discussion guide to accompany the podcast series that includes a set of questions for classroom or seminar discussion. These questions can be adapted for many educational settings, from high school to post-graduate training, and encourage students or trainees to think about how to address the ethical challenges that are discussed in the podcast series. All ten podcasts are available for online listening or download at the Commission’s website: The discussion guide, as well as other educational materials produced by the Commission, can be downloaded here:  


Joel Ericsen

Program Associate