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How many police homicides in the US? A reconsideration

(This post is co-authored by Patrick Ball and Kristian Lum.) In early March, the Bureau of Justice Statistics published a report that estimated that in the period 2003-2009 and 2011, there were approximately 7427 homicides committed by police in the US. We responded that the method the analysts used, capture-recapture with two databases, is vulnerable to underestimation if the databases exhibit positive dependence. We conduct a thorough sensitivity analysis on the original independence model as applied to the police homicides databases. We used information from several other countries where our partners created multiple databases of homicides. We ...

Experts Greet Kosovo Memory Book

On Wednesday, February 4, in Pristina, international experts praised the Humanitarian Law Centre's database on victims of the Kosovo conflict, the Kosovo Memory Book. HRDAG executive director Patrick Ball is quoted in the article that appeared in Balkan Transitional Justice. HLC’s work won praise from Patrick Ball, from Human Rights Data Analysis Group and from Michael Spagat, professor of economics at Royal Holloway, University of London, who have examined and analysed the database. Ball, with 24 years of experience in databases and statistics of human rights, said that the HLC’s database had enormous quality and marked it out as among the ...

Revisiting the analysis of event size bias in the Iraq Body Count

(This post is co-authored by Patrick Ball and Megan Price) In a recent article in the SAIS Review of International Affairs, we wrote about "event size bias," the problem that events of different sizes have different probabilities of being reported. In this case, the size of an event is defined by the number of reported victims. Our concern is that not all violent (in this case homicide) events are recorded, that is, some events will have zero sources. Our theory is that events with fewer victims will receive less coverage than events with more victims, and that a higher proportion of small events will have zero sources relative to large events. The ...

Updated Casualty Count for Syria

Today the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released an HRDAG-prepared report that describes and tallies documented killings in the Syrian Arab Republic from the beginning of the conflict in March 2011 through April 2014. (The report is here.) This is our third report for the UN on the Syrian conflict, and it is an update of work we published in January 2013 and June 2013. The report, Updated Statistical Analysis of Documentation of Killings in the Syrian Arab Republic, concludes that approximately 191,000 identifiable victims have been reported in the period covered (March 2011 – April 2014). (more…)

How statistics lifts the fog of war in Syria

Megan Price, director of research, is quoted from her Strata talk, regarding how to handle multiple data sources in conflicts such as the one in Syria. From the blogpost: "The true number of casualties in conflicts like the Syrian war seems unknowable, but the mission of the Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) is to make sense of such information, clouded as it is by the fog of war. They do this not by nominating one source of information as the "best", but instead with statistical modeling of the differences between sources." Revolution Analytics blog David Smith March 14, 2014 Link to story in Revolutions Back to Press Room

A Universal Declaration of a Few Data Rights

Today we celebrate the 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948. At HRDAG, we are non-partisan: we do not favor any party or government in conflicts. But we are not neutral: we are always in favor of human rights. We believe in the power and value of data; as we see it, data distills human actions and existence, all of which have power and value. With this in mind, we propose these seven articles that comprise our declaration of a few data rights (click through the links for some examples). Preamble Whereas data represents the suffering of human beings, Whereas ...

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…)

Convenience Samples: What they are, and what they should (and should not) be used for

As noted on our Core Concepts page, we spend a lot of time worrying about the ways data are used to make claims about human rights violations.  This is because inaccurate statistics can damage the credibility of human rights claims.  Analyses of records of human rights violations are used to guide policy decisions, determine resource allocation for interventions, and inform transitional justice mechanisms.  It is vital that such analyses are accurate. Unfortunately, all too often these decisions are based, inappropriately, on analyses of a single convenience sample. (more…)


Benetech's Human Rights Data Analysis Group Publishes 2010 Analysis of Human Rights Violations in Five Countries Analysis of Uncovered Government Data from Guatemala and Chad Clarifies History and Supports Criminal Prosecutions By Ann Harrison The past year of research by the Benetech Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) has supported criminal prosecutions and uncovered the truth about political violence in Guatemala, Iran, Colombia, Chad and Liberia. On today's celebration of the 62nd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, HRDAG invites the international community to engage scientifically defensible methodologies that ...

Timor-Leste Op-Ed

Defending Human Rights Data And The Possibility of Justice In East Timor By Patrick Ball and Romesh Silva On June 5th, armed gangs broke into the offices of the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) in Dili, East Timor and stole their motorbikes. Many human rights workers wondered whether the mobs would soon return to loot the irreplaceable paper records used by the CAVR to compile a definitive report on human rights abuses during the Indonesian occupation of East Timor from 1975-1999. The release of this report was preempted by the recent violence in Dili. But in the midst of the chaos, Australian military forces stepped in to ...


In July 2009, The Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) concluded a three-year project with the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission to help clarify Liberia's violent history and hold perpetrators of human rights abuses accountable for their actions. (This work was conducted by HRDAG while with Benetech.) In the course of this work, HRDAG analyzed more than 17,000 victim and witness statements collected by the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission and compiled the data into a report entitled "Descriptive Statistics From Statements to the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission." The report is included as an annex to the final ...

Core Concepts

Inaccurate statistics can damage the credibility of human rights claims—and that's why we strive to ensure that statistics about human rights violations are generated with as much rigor and are as scientifically accurate as possible. But, what are the pitfalls leading to inaccuracy—when, where, and how do data become compromised? How are patterns biased by having only partial data? And what are the best scientific methods for collecting, managing, processing and analyzing data? Here are the data pitfalls that HRDAG has identified, as well as some of our approaches for meeting these challenges. We believe that human rights researchers must take ...

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.