How does a case become a ‘Case’? Understanding Torture and Ill Treatment Documentation in Nepal
Human rights organisations draw on the language, institutions and norms of international human rights law. They invest considerable time, expertise and resources to monitor, screen and document cases of torture and ill treatment. The documentation of torture and ill treatment is challenging not only because of limited political space available for this work and the lack of protection for survivors as well as human rights workers, but also because the very practice of documentation is not straightforward. In their attempt to gather reliable and persuasive evidence that are often used for ‘naming and shaming’ strategies, human rights organisations have to make decisions on where to focus, how to identify and document cases of torture and ill treatment. This gets pronounced in the context of low-income countries that have a few active organisations and limited legal or medical expertise or resources available for torture and ill-treatment documentation work.
How is the torture and ill-treatment work institutionally organised and how does it shape the documentation practices? How do human rights organisations identify, document and take forward a case, and for what purpose? Why do human rights organisations document cases? How has Nepal’s Torture Compensation Act 1996 (TCA) shaped the documentation of torture and ill treatment? Based on an ESRC/DFID funded research project on documentation of torture and ill treatment, this paper examines the institutional form and the methods used by human rights organisations in Nepal to identity and document experiences of torture and ill treatment, and the decisions they make on whether or not certain ‘perceived grievances’ transition into cases (in their legal, medical, media or political forms) of torture and ill treatment. This paper argues that a large number of experiences of torture and ill treatment in Nepal never get perceived as such and they never transition into legal, medical, medical or political cases of torture or ill treatment. The paper draws the implications of the research findings for human rights documentation more broadly.