Nadia Murad Code

The Global Code of Conduct for Gathering and Using Information about Systematic and Conflict-Related Sexual Violence


This is a voluntary Code of Conduct which distils existing minimum standards for the safe, effective and ethical gathering and use of victim or survivor (“survivor”)1 information in relation to systematic and conflict-related sexual violence (“SCRSV”).2  It addresses those who document, investigate, report on, research, monitor and otherwise collect (“gather”) and use such information.

The Code is rooted in international law, including the fundamental human rights of survivors, such as the rights to dignity, privacy, health, security, access to justice, truth, and an effective remedy.  As such, the Code reflects universal, non-negotiable core standards which should be applied by all actors in all contexts to uphold a survivor-centred approach.  The Code embodies standards applying to individuals and to organisations, which should embed these standards in systems, policies, procedures, contracts and practice.

The Code is not a licence or encouragement to gather and use SCRSV information.  It does not summarise or replace important technical guidelines in different sectors.  The Code is not a shortcut to becoming and remaining competent to do this work responsibly and in a survivor-centred manner. 

The Code is framed in the collective “we” to emphasise our voluntary commitment to work together to build and maintain safer and more effective survivor-centred practices.  “We” signifies the important principle, “nothing about us, without us, is for us”, and working together with survivors, many of whom are also documenters, activists, lawyers, health workers, counsellors, etc., to promote their rights and choices.  The Code has been developed through an extensive global consultative process, including survivors at every stage.  “We” refers to individuals, teams, stakeholders and organisations in and across different contexts, including governments, inter-governmental organisations, civil society and funders.  “We” rarely work alone, and shared standards across sectors can enable individuals, teams and organisations to work together responsibly.       

This Code of Conduct applies: 

  • to the direct, indirect, in-person and remote gathering of information from and about survivors in any form (including digital, written, verbal, audio-visual, photography) and its subsequent transportation, transfer, storage, use, sharing or publishing,

  • in relation to SCRSV (defined broadly and inclusively),  

  • for any purpose which involves sharing or publishing such information, but excluding information-gathering for the purpose of immediate care or support of survivors.

It should therefore be applied, for example, by human rights investigators, documenters, monitors and activists, including open-source investigators; criminal investigators; other officials and experts who gather, seek or receive SCRSV information, including immigration and asylum officials and medico-legal experts; journalists; researchers; interpreters; and community-based support organisations, survivor groups and humanitarian workers who gather and share or publish such information (other than for immediate care and support purposes).  It should also be applied by those who appoint, manage, fund and otherwise support or facilitate such information-gathering and use, including policy-makers.  This is a not a complete list.

The current SCRSV focus of the Code stems from the origins of the initiative to identify and distil SCRSV standards and some factors specific to sexual violence, such as the societal attitude and stigma which further harm survivors.  However, many of the standards in the Code apply equally to gathering and using information from or about survivors of other crimes and human rights violations. 

“Survivor” includes survivors of all ages, including adults and children (persons under 183), and all genders and identities.4  SCRSV has a disproportionate impact on women and girls (situated within a broader continuum of violence arising from systemic gender and other inequities), which results in multiple harmful repercussions in their lives and affects our work.  We should also factor into our work the breadth of other survivors, such as persons with disabilities, persons from LGBTQI+ communities,5 men and boys, and the overlaps in such identities.

The Code emphasises the need to recognise the individuality of survivors and to avoid making assumptions based on the groups that they belong to or on any single facet of their identities.6  For example, “children” are not a homogenous group and include people who are very diverse in terms of their age, maturity, resilience, education, gender, other identities and situations.  Tailoring our approach to the individual strengths, needs and realities of survivors facilitates more effective and survivor-centred information-gathering and use.     

Preparation is essential.  We should actively avoid unplanned information-gathering and use, especially if we do not have the necessary systems, policies, procedures, risk assessments and plans in place.  We must also address our over-reliance on survivor information.  If we all decide that we need information from survivors, we create multiple demands and pressures on survivors and amplify risks of exposure and re-traumatisation.  Whenever we can, we should look for SCRSV information from sources other than survivors (such as fact-pattern witnesses and expert reports) to reduce pressure on survivors.

The Code reflects that if done properly, those who gather and use SCRSV can avoid the false choice between being either survivor-centred or effective.   

The Code’s principles and commitments are all inter-connected, mutually reinforcing and important. The numerical order does not signify priority or importance.


Principle in the Code.

1.1 Adapt to survivor’s individuality:  We respect that each survivor is unique.  We will tailor our approach to their specific identities, characteristics, groups and contexts, such as their age, gender, evolving capacities, resilience, relationships with and connections to others, socio-economic and political situation, and the discrimination they face.⁶  We recognise that such elements change over time and context and that our approach may have to be adjusted accordingly.

1.2 Counter assumptions:  We will not make assumptions or generalisations about survivors or their experiences, such as how they ‘should’ behave or react, their vulnerability, trauma, resilience, gender, disabilities, capacity, maturity, reliability, needs or concerns.  

1.3 Ask the survivor:  Following initial preparation work, we will ask the survivor, including child survivors, about what they want, their priorities, concerns, risks and current situation.  We will respect and reflect these to the extent possible within our mandates and resources.

1.4 Prioritise survivor safety:  We will continuously prioritise a survivor’s safety, well-being and dignity ahead of our objectives.  We will work to understand the risks and repercussions to survivors and those around them which could arise from any contact with us.  Such risks can include revictimisation, reprisals, stigmatisation, physical, online, information and communications safety risks, and legal risks. 

1.5 Identify heightened risks:  We will take additional, specific precautions when there are heightened risks of further harm.  We recognise that any individual may face heightened risks which may change over time and context.  Heightened risks may arise for child survivors including children born of war and unaccompanied children, persons from LGBTQI+ communities, persons with disabilities or with limited literacy, persons from indigenous or marginalised groups, and others.⁶ 

1.6 Support access to justice:  We will support a survivor’s right to exercise their rights (or not), such as to an effective remedy, truth, access to ‘justice’ (however defined by the survivor) and transformative reparations.  We will not negatively impact a survivor’s own priorities, ability to advance or claim rights, or choice to participate (or not) in accountability processes.  Although records or reports of interviews may benefit survivors in later processes, we will mitigate the significant risk that prior interview methodology and records can also be used to argue that the survivor’s account is inconsistent or have been unduly influenced.

1.7 Respect self-identity:  We will respect and reflect a survivor’s choice and expression of identity (such as gender, pronouns, disabilities and other characteristics) and avoid labels or characterisations which offend, sensationalise, marginalise, stigmatise, endanger or are otherwise harmful.

1.8 Be inclusive and do not discriminate:  We will not engage in or tolerate any form of discrimination⁶ including by those who support our work.  We will seek to include and make reasonable accommodation for those who are often excluded or silenced due to persecution, marginalisation, presumed lack of agency or capacity, or being overlooked as victims.



2.1 Whenever possible, we will work through existing and vetted access or referral points or we will create safe pathways so that a survivor can decide to approach us or be placed in contact with us.  We recognise that approaching survivors ourselves or through someone else (rather than creating safe ways for a survivor to choose to come to us), can heighten risks of harm and pressure survivors to cooperate, reducing genuine free choice.   

2.2 Respect a survivor’s choices:  We respect an individual survivor’s choices as the fundamental basis for all aspects and stages of our interaction.  We will ensure that a survivor has full, clear and honest information about our affiliation and purpose, our methodology, and their options, rights and risks, including the confidentiality and deidentification, use, sharing or publication of their information.  We will provide this information in an understandable and accessible format for the survivor to inform their decisions whether to engage with us or not, and on what terms.  We will be clear with survivors that they can pause or terminate any interaction with us, and decide not to answer any particular question.  We will respect a survivor’s decision not to participate or continue.  

2.3 Survivor control over their information:  We will respect and support a survivor’s right to privacy, which we understand to include control and autonomy over their personal history, identity and image.  We will protect any personal survivor information or data (in whatever form) as confidential.  We will not use or share that information without their express informed consent.

2.4   Supported decision-making: Where there may be limitations on our ability to determine a survivor’s choice, for example because of intellectual or cognitive disabilities or communication challenges, we will make reasonable accommodation⁷ to support a survivor's agency and participation in decision-making processes which are based on their will and preferences.

2.5 Decision-making process with children:  We will uphold a child’s right to participate in decision-making processes.  We will undertake an expert assessment of the child’s capacity to participate (which considers their age, maturity, evolving capacities, trauma and experience, gender, and environment/situation), follow the four guiding principles in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and understand what the law may require in terms of the role of guardians.

2 .6 Reduce pressures:  We will proactively mitigate factors that can pressure survivors to share information.  Such factors include real or perceived imbalances in power, status, gender or age, and social etiquette, politicisation, or family and community influences (also recognising that concerns for their community can be positive motivators for survivors).  We will not use any legal power we may have to compel survivors as doing this can harm them and any justice processes and outcomes.

2.7 Do not offer benefits in exchange for information:  We will not (directly or implicitly) condition or promise access to any aid, assistance, protection or other benefit in exchange for a survivor’s agreement to provide information to us.  However, we will seek to remove any financial or other cost to a survivor of assisting us.  We will not incentivise or commercialise the assistance of those around a survivor, to pressure or require a survivor to speak with us.

2.8 Ensure realistic expectations:  We will provide honest and realistic information to survivors about the ways in which their information will be used, and intended outcomes (including any external factors which can influence those outcomes).  We will discuss with the survivors what their expectations are and support them to make decisions based on realistic expectations. 

2.9 Be clear on limitations:  We will be clear and honest with survivors on what we can and cannot do, what we can protect and what we cannot, and where our own limitations and professional boundaries are.  If we are unable to adapt our approach to meet a survivor’s wishes, we will explain why.  Where we are obliged to report or share their information (such as a duty to report crimes to authorities, make disclosures to defence or respond to life-threatening situations), we will discuss these upfront with a survivor and give them time and space to decide whether they wish to proceed to provide information to us.

2.10 Honour withdrawal of consent:  We will make survivors aware of their right to withdraw consent at any time during or after the process (including during any interview), and of how they can notify us of that withdrawal.  We will be clear about what we are able to do upon withdrawal of consent and what we have limited control over.  If consent is withdrawn, we will take the steps we said we would.