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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 ...

Building Capacity in Colombia: Truth and Reconciliation

The datasets contributed by 30+ organizations do a wonderful job of tallying the violence that was observed—but they don’t account for the violence that nobody witnessed or documented.

How to Become a Data Scientist: My Lessons at HRDAG

I will use the skills and culture I learned from HRDAG’s team to understand how the conflict has affected the people in my country.

Reflections on Data Science for Real-World Problems

Trina Reynolds-Tyler's internship at HRDAG helped her use data science to find patterns in state-sanctioned violence.

FAQ about the JEP-CEV-HRDAG data integration and statistical estimation project

    1. Is there a single source of information about the victims of the armed conflict in Colombia? No. Colombia has an extensive documentation process for victims of the armed conflict. Hundreds of institutions, victims' organizations, and civil society organizations have focused their efforts on recording this information. However, each entity or organization develops their documentation process with its own limitations related to technical, logistical, social, and missionary capacities. No entity or organization is able to document the complete universe of victims. This is because it is impossible for them to reach every part of the country, ...

Where Stats and Rights Thrive Together

Everyone I had the pleasure of interacting with enriched my summer in some way.

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...

In Syrian Conflict, Real-Time Evidence Of Violations

Reflections: A Love Letter to HRDAG

On the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, HRDAG executive director Megan Price tells us why she loves her work, and why she feels hopeful about the future.

Multiple Systems Estimation: Does it Really Work?

<< Previous post, MSE: Stratification and Estimation Q15. Are there other MSE models one might use with human rights data? Q16. Is it possible to use MSE to model non-lethal human rights violations? Q17. I am concerned about using MSE with my data, because the datasets were gathered by opposing organizations. Victims who were reported to an NGO were very unlikely to be reported to state sources, but also very likely to be reported to religious organizations. Won't that cause the overlaps between the NGO list and the state list to be artificially low, and the overlaps between the NGO list and the church list to be artificially high? Does ...

Reflections: The G in HRDAG is the Real Fuel

It took me a while to realize I had become part of the HRDAG incubator—at least that’s what it felt like to me—for young data analysts who wanted to use statistical knowledge to make a real impact on human rights debates.

The Great Lessons in Research at the Archive

Doing an investigation on the contents of the Archive brought with it three major lessons. The first big lesson was the constant movement (nothing was static), The second great lesson was that everything evolved (the changes were a constant). The third major lesson was to discover how two institutions can work together while geographically far apart. The constant movement As there were other processes being carried out at the Archive, everything was in constant movement. In other words, one day the documents were in X location and tomorrow they may be in location Y or dispersed in multiple locations. This made it impossible to know with certai...

12 Questions about Using Data Analysis to Bring Guatemalan War Criminals to Justice

When people talk about war criminals in Guatemala, which war are they talking about? They’re talking about the Guatemalan civil war, which began in 1960 and ended in 1996. That’s thirty-six years of civil war. Even though it ended almost two decades ago, Guatemala is still recovering from it. At its simplest, this civil war story was right-wing government forces fighting leftist rebels. But it went deeper than that, of course. The majority of the rebel forces was composed of indigenous peoples, primarily the Maya, (more…)

Reflections: HRDAG Was Born in Washington

I began working with HRDAG in the summer of 2001 before it was ever even called HRDAG. In fact, not intended as a boast, I think I’m responsible for coming up with the name. After contracting with Dr. Patrick Ball for a time writing the Analyzer data management platform, I left New York City and joined him in Washington, DC, at AAAS in 2002. Soon after starting, Patrick decided to establish an identity for this new team, consisting mainly of myself, Miguel Cruz and a handful of field relationships. We discussed what to name it briefly in the AAAS Science & Policy break room, which at the time, being in the mind of unclever descriptive naming ...


Collecting and Protecting Human Rights Data in Guatemala (1991-2013) In 1996, a peace accord brokered by the United Nations ended 36 years of internal armed conflict in Guatemala. During the hostilities, non-governmental organizations asked for technical support from the scientific community in the project to gather the experiences of witnesses and victims in databases. From 1993 to 1999 Dr. Patrick Ball, then at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), worked with the International Center for Human Rights Research in Guatemala (CIIDH) to collect and organize evidence of more than 43,000 human rights violations. The ...

Reflections: Pivotal Moments in Freetown

The summer of 2002 in Washington, DC, was steamy and hot, which is how I remember my introduction to HRDAG. I had begun working with them, while they were still at AAAS, in the late spring, learning all about their core concepts: duplicate reporting and MSE, controlled vocabularies, inter-rater reliability, data models and more. The days were long, with a second shift more often than not running late into the evening. In addition to all the learning, I also helped with matching for the Chad project – that is, identifying multiple records of the same violation – back when matching was done by hand. But it was not long after I arrived in Washington ...

Timor-Leste FAQs

How do you know that there are more conflict-related deaths than have been reported to the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR, by its Portuguese acronym)? Where did the method of multiple systems estimation come from? If you didn't have access to the whole population, how do you know how representative these data are of the entire population? i.e. How do you control for bias? What are the total conflict-related mortality numbers? How many people were killed and disappeared between 1974 and 1999? And how many people died due to hunger and illness? What is the margin of error associated with these results? What is ...

Celebrating Ten Years of Data from the AHPN

Ten years ago, in July 2005, human rights officers stumbled upon a nondescript warehouse in a commercial zone of Guatemala City and changed history. They had discovered an archive–its existence kept secret–belonging to the Guatemalan National Police, whose officers committed human rights atrocities on behalf of the government during the civil war. Inside the building was the bureaucratic detritus typical of a large government agency: 80 million pages detailing shifts worked, tasks assigned, assignments fulfilled, workers’ whereabouts, and who was supervising whom. The documents, which were found stacked on dirty floors, shoved into bags, ...

The Art and Science of Coding AHPN Documents

The coding, from my perspective, is the heart of the project. I say this, because the coding team has the responsibility of selecting documents according to the random sample, recording the documents’ contents, and applying the criteria to convert that content into an entry in a quantitative database. Not to mention the fact that this team has the privilege of being in direct contact with the documents. At present, because of advanced organizational processes, not everyone has a chance to hold an original document in their hands. The quantitative study had many advantages in this regard; since we started work in parallel with the archival ...

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.

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.