El Salvador 1991 – Who Did What To Whom?

Members of the Salvadoran military committed tens of thousands of killings during the country’s civil war which raged from the late 1970’s until 1990. While working for a peace organization in El Salvador in 1991, Patrick Ball was asked by a colleague at a human rights group to help organize a large collection of human rights testimonies. Trained as a social scientist, Ball created the “Who Did What To Whom” (WTWTW) model for examining human rights data. Ball used this system to create a structured, relational database of violations reported in more than 9,000 testimonies to the Salvadoran Human Rights Commission.

To determine who was most responsible for these human rights violations, Ball created another structured database that showed the career history of the 400 most senior military officials gleaned from newspaper accounts and declassified U.S. government documents. Ball linked the two datasets together and compared the dates in which individual officials led specific military units with the dates of documented human rights violations. Ball then compared this database to another dataset of Salvadoran military officials and identified 100 officers who led units involved in the worst human rights violations. The names of the officers were reported in the press and they were forced into retirement. The officers sued for defamation, but withdrew after the testimonies and Ball’s database were presented to a Salvadoran court.

Our work has been used by truth commissions, international criminal tribunals, and non-governmental human rights organizations. We have worked with partners on projects on five continents.