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How we go about estimating casualties in Syria—Part 1

I spent the two weeks over Easter working with Patrick and Megan in San Francisco, trying to figure out a strategy of how best to estimate the number of casualties the Syrian civil war has claimed in the past two years. In January, HRDAG published a report on the number of fully identified casualties reported in the Syrian Arab Republic between March 2011 and November 2012. The number of de-duplicated records of killings for this period was 59,648, a number that is likely to be an undercount since we know that many incidences of lethal violence in conflict go unreported, and that the unreported cases are not missing at random. (more…)


In December 2006, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report documenting torture and unlawful killings committed by Bangladesh's Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), an elite anti-crime and anti-terrorism force. According to HRW, many of the deaths for which RAB is responsible resulted from summary executions or extreme physical abuse. The statistical analysis presented in the report, "Judge, Jury, and Death: Torture and Executions by Bangladesh's Elite Security Force," was conducted by Romesh Silva, a statistician who worked within the Benetech Human Rights Program at the time, and who now works with HRDAG. While researching these incidents, HRW compiled ...

500 Tamils forcibly disappeared in three days, after surrendering to army in 2009

A new study has estimated that over 500 Tamils were forcibly disappeared in just three days, after surrendering to the Sri Lankan army in May 2009.

The study, carried out by the Human Rights Data Analysis Group and the International Truth and Justice Project, based on compiled lists which identify those who were known to have surrendered, estimated that 503 people had been forcibly disappeared between the 17th– 19th of May 2009.

Why raw data doesn't support analysis of violence

This morning I got a query from a journalist asking for our data from the report we published yesterday. The journalist was hoping to create an interactive infographic to track the number of deaths in the Syrian conflict over time. Our data would not support an analysis like the one proposed, so I wrote this reply. We can't send you these data because they would be misleading—seriously misleading—for the purpose you describe. Here's why: What we have is a list of documented deaths, in essence, a highly non-random sample, though a very big one. We like bigger samples because we think that they must be closer to true. The mathematical justificat...


How Many Social Movement Leaders Have Been Killed in Colombia? The killing of social movement leaders has been widely documented in Colombia, particularly since the Peace Agreement in 2016. Documentation organizations do not agree on the exact number of killings. 2018: Using data from six organizations, this report estimates the total number of social movement leaders killed in 2016 and 2017. We conclude that the number of killings is increasing. More precisely, we estimate that there is a 50 percent probability that the increase between 2016-2017 was 10 percent or greater. HRDAG has drafted and published this report in partnership with Dejus...

How Many People Will Get Covid-19?

HRDAG has authored two articles in Significance that add depth to discussions around infection rates.

Press Release, Timor-Leste, February 2006

SILICON VALLEY GROUP USES TECHNOLOGY TO HELP THE TRUTH COMMISSION ANSWER DISPUTED QUESTIONS ABOUT MASSIVE POLITICAL VIOLENCE IN TIMOR-LESTE Palo Alto, CA, February 9, 2006 – The Benetech® Initiative today released a statistical report detailing widespread and systematic violations in Timor-Leste during the period 1974-1999. Benetech's statistical analysis establishes that at least 102,800 (+/- 11,000) Timorese died as a result of the conflict. Approximately 18,600 (+/- 1000) Timorese were killed or disappeared, while the remainder died due to hunger and illness in excess of what would be expected due to peacetime mortality. The magnitude of deaths ...

Chad – FAQs

State Coordinated Violence in Chad under Hissène Habré -- [Français]      


During the conflict between NATO and Yugoslavia in early 1999, hundreds of thousands of people fled Kosovo, and thousands more were killed. Who were the perpetrators? Statistical analysis helped answer this question. While at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), members of the HRDAG team wrote several reports on the conflict. With partners at ABA CEELI (American Bar Association/Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative), HRDAG submitted an expert report that was used in the trial of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milošević at the  ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia) in The  Hague, ...

Report on Measures of Fairness in NYC Risk Assessment Tool

The report tries to answer the question of whether a particular risk assessment model reinforces racial inequalities in the criminal justice system.

Learning to Learn: Reflections on My Time at HRDAG

So much of what I learned at HRDAG was intangible, and I'm grateful to have been able to go deep.

Why Collecting Data In Conflict Zones Is Invaluable—And Nearly Impossible

Casanare, Colombia

Estimates of Killings and Disappearances in Casanare Casanare is a large, rural department or state in Colombia that includes 19 municipalities and a population of almost 300,000 inhabitants. Located in the foothills of the Andes and on the eastern plains, Casanare has a history of violence. Multiple armed groups have operated in Casanare including paramilitaries, guerillas and the Colombian military. Many Casanare citizens have suffered violent deaths and disappearances. But how many people have been killed or disappeared? For reasons of policy, accountability and historical clarification, this question deserves a valid answer. In February ...

Press Release, Timor-Leste, November 2006

Palo Alto, CA, November 12, 2006 –The Benetech® Initiative congratulates the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) and the Timorese people for the official release of the CAVR's final report Chega! in Australia today. The 2,500 page report uncovers previously unknown findings about past human rights abuses in Timor-Leste between 1974 and 1999. In particular, the report uncovers widespread and systematic human rights violations in Timor-Leste during the period 1974-1999. Benetech's statistical analysis establishes that at least 102,800 (+/- 11,000) Timorese died as a result of the conflict. Approximately 18,600 (+/- 1000) ...

Colombia Report

Benetech Human Rights Program and Corporación Punto de Vista Issues Report on Sexual Violence in Colombia Researchers Find that Data About Sexual Violence is Difficult To Collect and Subject to Misinterpretation May 2, 2011, Palo Alto, CA — The Benetech Human Rights Program has issued a report with the Colombian NGO Corporación Punto de Vista which examines how quantitative data can be used to assess conflict related sexual violence in Colombia. Written by Francoise Roth, Tamy Guberek and Amelia Hoover Green, Using Quantitative Data to Assess Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in Colombia: Challenges and Opportunities notes that sexual violations ...

60,000 Dead in Syria? Why the Death Toll is Likely Even Higher

A Model to Estimate SARS-CoV-2-Positive Americans

We’ve built a model for estimating the true number of positives, using what we have determined to be the most reliable datasets—deaths.

FAQs on Predictive Policing and Bias

Last month Significance magazine published an article on the topic of predictive policing and police bias, which I co-authored with William Isaac. Since then, we've published a blogpost about it and fielded a few recurring questions. Here they are, along with our responses. Do your findings still apply given that PredPol uses crime reports rather than arrests as training data? Because this article was meant for an audience that is not necessarily well-versed in criminal justice data and we were under a strict word limit, we simplified language in describing the data. The data we used is a version of the Oakland Police Department’s crime report...

Death Toll In Syria Jumps To Nearly 93,000

How we make sure that nobody is counted twice: A peek into HRDAG's record de-duplication

HRDAG is currently evaluating the quality and completeness of the Kosovo Memory Book of the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) in Belgrade, Serbia. The objective of the Kosovo Memory Book (KMB) is to commemorate every single person who fell victim to armed conflict in Kosovo from 1998 to 2000, either through death or disappearance. While building and reviewing their database, one of the things that HLC has to do is “record linkage,” a process also known as “matching.” Matching determines whether two records are the same people (“a match”) or different people (“a non-match”). Matching helps to identify whether two existing records refer ...

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.