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Memo from Khartoum: Responding to Documenters’ Needs in Escalating Conflict

In a moment of escalating conflict in Sudan, our recent needs assessment with a local human rights organization offers an insightful glimpse into the realities, challenges, and opportunities that Sudanese human rights defenders are facing as they document and archive evidence of injustice.

In recent weeks, the escalating conflict in Sudan has resulted in thousands of casualties and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes and country. In April 2023, civilians faced an extreme internet outage, during which nearly all connectivity collapsed due to “power shortages and difficulty supplying backup generators amid heavy weapons strikes on population centers.” This current reality in Sudan is tied to a notable history of internet blocking/shutdowns, website filtering/blocking, censorship, and targeting of human rights defenders and eyewitnesses – a reality that impacts the safety and work of those documenting and archiving injustices.

OpenArchive and a Sudanese NGO – who wishes to remain anonymous due to security concerns – have launched the first research phase which maps the needs, risks, and threats of the Sudanese documenter community. This needs assessment was conducted prior to the conflict that began in April

In the Spring of 2023, OpenArchive and the Sudanese NGO jointly launched a needs assessment survey that yielded insightful information about the challenges and realities shaping the experiences of those working within Sudan.

“This critical documentation work in Sudan started long ago throughout multiple crises over the last decades. Our research findings are even more valuable now that we have a lens into the groups’ archiving practices during active conflict. It is important for OpenArchive and human rights NGOs working in Sudan to understand how these brave documenters do this essential work,” said Natalie Cadranel, Founder and Executive director of OpenArchive. “Through this research, we can more effectively assist their evidentiary archiving efforts in meaningful and impactful ways to bring accountability and justice against the powerful forces oppressing the people of Sudan.”

Opportunities for Support

Sudanese survey respondents identified three gaps in resources and capacities that shape their everyday workflow: insecure archival practices, technologies and software that don’t prioritize privacy, and a lack of security training and resources.

Funding, resource allocation, distributing secure devices, updating software, and technical training (especially digital security training and archival training) could all play a meaningful role in improving the working experience for Sudanese human rights defenders.

OpenArchive remains committed to supporting our Sudanese counterparts, especially during this time of crisis and conflict. In an effort to respond to the situation on the ground, OpenArchive is expediting the local deployment of the Save app and trainings to the Sudanese Decentralized Archivist Community (DAC).


OpenArchive approached the survey analysis by grouping participants by role. This method is rooted in findings from previous needs assessments through which OpenArchive identified three key roles within communities: documenter (one who records and documents evidence first-hand), receiver (one who oversees and manages the reception, organization, and potential distribution of media/data), and dual-role (one who plays both a documenting and receiving role in their work).

Threat Landscape and Challenges

Physical and digital threats characterize the risk landscape for the survey respondents. Documenters identify their primary risks as data loss, phone confiscation, arrest, attack, and inconsistent access to the internet due to power outages. Receivers identify their primary risks as data loss, compromised quality of multimedia materials, hacking, misinformation, and internet outages/inconsistent connectivity. Most participants in a dual-role responded that all the above risks affected them, indicating that, with this role’s many responsibilities, those who play a dual-role experience the broadest spectrum of threats.

Connectivity and Technical Constraints

Data loss and internet outages are the two risks that are universally identified as relevant across all three categories, demanding a closer investigation of the community’s connectivity.

Connectivity challenges pose a significant hurdle in the efforts of documenters and receivers alike. Spotty and inconsistent internet not only creates limitations to documenting, preserving, and analyzing media, but also leads to further risks related to data loss and reliance on insecure network connections.

Internet usage and access remains low in Sudan with 31% of the population using the internet as of 2022. Major mobile service providers – such as Zain or Sudani – have experienced long-term outages and geographical gaps in coverage. Pair these circumstances with unreliable electricity, and connectivity is often severely strained. Rolling power outages are common in cities and rural areas experience sporadic electricity access at best.


Over half (57%) of documenters from our sample do not have access to WiFi and prefer to connect to the internet via mobile data. However, despite the low rate of WiFi connection, all the documenters noted that they access the internet all the time (57%) or most of the time (43%).


While the majority (60%) of receivers do have access to WiFi, almost all prefer to connect to the internet via mobile data. Only 50% of receivers have access to the internet all the time (30% of receivers have access some of the time and 20% have access most of the time).

Dual Role

The majority (62.5%) of those in a dual-role do have access to WiFi. Interestingly, 50% of those in a dual-role do not have a preference regarding the mode of connectivity, while 37.5% prefer WiFi and 12.5% prefer to connect via mobile data. A quarter of dual-role workers have access to the internet most of the time, 12.5% have access some of the time, and 62.5% have access all the time.

Given these circumstances, the most prevalent frustration among the full sample is inconsistent connectivity. To manage the uncertain conditions, survey respondents often have large mobile data plans (up to 500 GB/month) to boost connectivity opportunities.

Another key finding was that, on average, survey participants assessed their technical capacity to be a 2.3 on a scale of 1 to 5.This indicates that there is space for educational and outreach efforts to strengthen the community’s technical capabilities.

Despite lower technical capacity assessments, 92% of respondents noted that they would be willing to adopt new technologies, indicating an openness to tools and trainings that could advance the community’s efforts to defend human rights.

User Personas

OpenArchive is leveraging the findings from this survey to map the Sudanese DAC’s needs and activities in order to build a more responsive tools. This is largely conducted through user persona building and other research methods outlined in the human-rights-centered-design (HRCD) methodology, which allows us to discover and gain deeper insight into the structural harms that the Sudanese organization and its partners’ experience.

User personas are modeled after a particular individual or role, but also incorporate fictional aspects that researchers use to create archetypes that describe the behavior patterns, goals, skills, attitudes, and background information, as well as the environment in which the role operates. This HRCD-focused strategy is an intersectional, safe, and secure approach to developing a robust archetype that represents key characteristics relevant to the role.

Read about the following user personas here: Leila, Nasser, and Amal.