To address the possible conflicts investigators may face in protecting participants in the course of health and human rights investigations, local RECs are needed that can be considered truly independent. In addition, two distinct and complementary strategies—community-based review and the development of strong ethical operating principles—can help protect investigators and participants in health-related human rights research.
In the context of governments that persecute specific populations, actively limit free speech, and routinely punish criticism of the state, RECs are unlikely to be independent. Under these circumstances, using local RECs to safeguard the rights and interests of research participants may be counterproductive, putting both investigators and participants at risk. In these settings, researchers may need to actively engage communities and follow clear ethical operating principles in place of local REC review.
Community-based review and participatory research have a long history and were developed to address community members' concerns about neglect by and communities' mistrust of researchers, health-care systems, and government 
. Conducted correctly, community-based participatory research (including financial and technical support for community engagement and leadership) creates bridges between policy-makers, scientists, and communities; facilitates reciprocal learning; assists in the development of culturally appropriate measurement instruments and interventions; and establishes a level of trust that enhances both the quantity and the quality of data collected and programs delivered 
. While there is a well-established body of literature on engagement of marginalized populations in high-income settings and on some vulnerable populations in LMICs 
, the issues faced by criminalized and violently stigmatized populations have less often been addressed.
One challenge of community-based review is that in many settings the “community” is not homogenous, organized, or able to participate in extensive consultation and review of proposed research. Research with migrants, prisoners, drug users, and criminalized populations is often conducted without a representative advocacy group. In other settings, it may not be clear who legitimately speaks for marginalized populations. In all settings, community-based review can be time-consuming and resource intensive.
In conducting human rights research, particularly in settings where safety may be of particular concern, a critical first step is to have standing procedures on investigator and participant protection. All Human Rights Watch staff who conduct interviews, for example, undergo security training and training on participants' protection and data safety. Researchers can also receive specialized training on how to sensitively interview people in such a way as to minimize risk of re-traumatization, including training on interviewing victims of sexual violence, children, persons in extreme pain, prisoners, and the mentally disabled. All researchers must participate in a security meeting prior to a research mission that establishes chains of communication so that security emergencies can be identified and handled once the mission is in progress. Post-mission meetings are held if security concerns arise, and the security of participants stemming from contact with researchers is monitored. Prior to publication of any findings from research (in the form of reports, journal articles, press releases, opinion pieces, photography, or other media), legal review is required and provides further assessment of research participant protection.