The Project on Soldier Testimony and Human Rights

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www.soldiertestimony.org was created in 2004 as part of a Ford Foundation-supported project to explore links between testimony by state agents and human rights. The site highlights the unique role that “perpetrator-side” testimony can play in what we know about, and how we respond to human rights abuses.

Moving forward, the site aims to be an online reference for people interested in human rights and for persons following particular conflicts, notably the war in Iraq.

The students participating in this project would benefit from taking an approach to human rights that is not the conventional one – a focus on perpetrators as witnesses – and building a website around this notion.

At present, the site consists mostly of media reports about soldier testimony (“soldier” here is shorthand for state agents; “testimony” is shorthand for the act of bearing witness in its various forms), and has a focus on the testimony of Israeli soldiers who served in Lebanon and the Occupied Territories. The site has materials in English and Hebrew and is searchable in both languages. This is the result of the Israel-focused origins of the project itself, and the fact that Israeli soldiers speak out more than their counterparts elsewhere. There is no reason the site must preserve this focus, although the eruption of the conflict in Lebanon in the summer of 2006 may provide an impetus for keeping Israel as one of the countries that the site features heavily.

The proposed project would be to develop new kinds of materials related to soldier testimony in order to transform the site from what is essentially a searchable database into something more dynamic and useful as a resource for those monitoring various conflicts and seeking to hear the voice of soldiers. The project team might aggregate materials from soldier blogs, upload audio clips of interviews, upload photos taken by soldiers, provide links to soldier testimonies elsewhere online, and develop a legal section of the site dealing with laws governing freedom of expression for persons in uniform (see below). The site could also solicit testimony from soldiers – although this would require developing a methodology for determining which submissions were suitable for posting.

The objective is not merely to facilitate public access to what soldiers have reported and the impact that it has had on policy and on shaping public opinion. It is also to create a space online that is supportive of the notion that soldiers have a duty to report human rights abuse that they witness, either internally if the mechanism for doing so functions, or publicly.