Who We Are
The Human Rights Data Analysis Group is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that applies rigorous science to the analysis of human rights violations around the world. We are a team with expertise in mathematical statistics, computer science, demography, and social science. We are non-partisan—we do not take sides in political or military conflicts, nor do we advocate any particular political party or government policy. However, we are not neutral: we are always in favor of human rights. We support the protections established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and other international human rights treaties and instruments.
HRDAG began in 1991 when Patrick Ball began creating databases for human rights groups in El Salvador. After a project in Ethiopia, he joined the Science and Human Rights Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), in 1994. Many colleagues joined him over the years, and the HRDAG name was first used in a grant proposal to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 2002. In 2003 the Group migrated to Benetech, a non-profit Silicon Valley technology company. In February 2013, HRDAG left Benetech to became a non-profit project of Community Partners®.
What We Do
We are scientists, not advocates. As scientists, we work to support our partners—the advocates and human rights defenders who “speak truth to power”—by producing unbiased, scientific results that bring clarity to human rights violence and by ensuring that the “truth” is the most accurate truth possible. While our partners—international and local human rights groups—advance human rights by listening to and amplifying the voices of victims of human rights violations, by shaping the questions we address and by guiding the data collection, we use technical and scientific expertise to analyze the invaluable data they collect. With this data, we use rigorous quantitative reasoning to understand patterns of violence, and even to make statistical estimates of events that are not in the data.
Our work at HRDAG is organized in three areas. The first area is basic research and development; we invent and extend scientific methods so that we can better understand patterns of mass violence. A second area is the creation of knowledge; we help to establish a scientifically defensible historical record of human rights abuses, including publishing public reports and providing expert testimony in war crimes trials. Our final area is education and outreach in the human rights community; through speaking engagements, publications, and training graduate students, we help those working in the human rights community to better understand the role and power of statistical data and reasoning.
For our projects, data come from many sources. We have used individual testimonies, legal depositions, probability surveys, administrative records from morgues and cemeteries, exhumation reports, operational records from a prison, career information on military and police officers, eyewitness interviews, and official customs and immigration records. We work with partners to help them make decisions about the databases and systems they might use to collect and manage data; our primary focus, however, is on the rigorous scientific analysis of our partners’ data.
Why We Do It
We believe truth leads to accountability, and at HRDAG, promoting accountability for human rights violations is our highest purpose. In the wake of mass killings and genocide, deportations and ethnic cleansing, and systematic detention and torture, accountability may mean many things. It could mean, simply, learning what really happened. Accountability could also mean a criminal trial for perpetrators. Or it might mean having the worst perpetrators removed from public office.
Because accountability hinges on truth, we work toward discovering the most accurate “truth” possible. To this end, we apply statistical and scientific methods in the analysis of human rights data so that our partners—human rights advocates—can build scientifically defensible, evidence-based arguments that will result in outcomes of accountability.
We know that our work in data analysis is only one of many human rights approaches to investigating the truth. While our partners engage in an array of human rights approaches ranging from remote sensing by satellites to forensic anthropology to the qualitative interpretation of victims’ narratives, our work—data analysis—is one valuable piece in that puzzle. Through scientific analysis, we provide an accurate knowledge and understanding of the past, and that knowledge can be used by international and local human rights group to effect justice.
In 2005, HRDAG founder Patrick Ball was awarded the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Pioneer Award. In June 2004, Dr. Ball received the Association for Computing Machinery’s (ACM) Eugene Lawler Award for Humanitarian Contributions within Computer Science and Informatics, and in August 2002, the Social Statistics Section of the American Statistical Association gave him a Special Achievement Award.