Syria: No word on four abducted activists

Razan Zatouneh is an esteemed colleague of ours, and we are one of 57 organizations demanding immediate release for her and the three other human rights defenders still missing. A year on, no information on Douma Four The prominent Syrian human rights defenders Razan Zaitouneh, Samira Khalil, Wa’el Hamada and Nazem Hamadi – the Douma Four—remain missing a year after their abduction, 57 organizations said today. The four were abducted in Duma, a city near Damascus under the control of armed opposition groups. They should be released immediately, the groups ...

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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 ...

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The AHPN: Home of Stories Old and New

Access to the records contained in archives is a concern shared by many. Archives support memory and free access to them strengthens democratic processes. Everyone should be allowed to see first-hand the records contained in an archive and be free to interpret them as needed. Access to archives can increase knowledge on various topics and opens opportunities for different fields of knowledge. (more…)

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Release of Yellow Book Calls on Salvadoran Military to Open Archives

With the release today of a civil war-era catalog of “enemies,” Salvadorans are calling for a new look at the 12-year civil war during which hundreds of citizens were victims of human rights violations such as torture, forced disappearance, and illegal imprisonment. The recently leaked document, known as The Yellow Book, is a list created and (more…)

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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 ...

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Patrick Ball Honored as New ASA Fellow

We’re very happy to announce that our executive director, Patrick Ball, has been elected as a Fellow of the American Statistical Association (ASA), as announced by ASA President Nathaniel Schenker. Patrick is one of 63 new ASA Fellows to be honored this year in a ceremony at the Joint Statistical Meetings, which will take place this August 5 in Boston, Massachusetts. (more…)

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IRR: Agreement Among Coders is Key

For years I have been engaged in a quantitative study at Guatemala’s Historic Archive of the National Police, or AHPN. (See the blogposts below.) In this study coders collect data on sheets of paper according to criteria established and explained in manuals. But when collecting data, there’s always room for human error—this is why the validity of the study hinges on verifying that coders use the correct criteria. It is important to mention that the mainstay of coding is the use of a controlled vocabulary. A controlled vocabulary gives analysts a framework, or ...

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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…)

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Deportation Possible for El Salvador’s Gen. García – Supported by HRDAG Analysis

Gen. José Guillermo García, El Salvador’s defense minister from 1979 to 1983, may be deported from Florida to El Salvador because of his involvement in war crimes that occurred under his command. The recommendation comes from a Miami immigration judge, whose decision was supported with expert testimony from Stanford political science professor Terry Karl, who presented extensive statistical analysis of killings, disappearances, kidnappings, torture and other crimes under Gen. García’s watch. The statistical analysis was a joint effort between Professor Karl and ...

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HRDAG Drops Dropbox

On Wednesday, April 9, the file hosting service Dropbox announced the addition of Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, to their Board of Directors, citing the need for “a leader who could help us expand our global footprint.” In response to this announcement, HRDAG requested (and rapidly received) a refund for our recent purchase of Dropbox for Business, and will drop the use of their service entirely. Patrick Ball, HRDAG’s Executive Director stated: “As a human rights organization, we find Condoleezza Rice's complic...

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Learning Day by Day: Quantitative Research at the AHPN

Working at the Historic Archive of the National Police (AHPN) of Guatemala, there are many skills I learned on the job. My many years of work on the team that studies the recovered documents have been like a custom-made course in how to do quantitative research. The Archive documents I study are the result of 36 years of creation during civil war (1960 to 1996). Many of these documents are simply administrative—but we are able to use them to understand patterns that occurred during the conflict, to get a sense of what mattered to the National Police and what ...

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14 Questions about Counting Casualties in Syria

In early 2012, HRDAG was commissioned by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to do an enumeration project, essentially a count of all of the reported casualties in the Syrian conflict. HRDAG has published two analyses so far, the first in January 2013, and the second in June 2013. In this post, HRDAG scientists Anita Gohdes, Megan Price, and Patrick Ball answer questions about that project. So, how many people have been killed in the Syrian conflict? This is a complicated question. As of our last report, in June 2013, we know that there have ...

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Welcoming Our New Admistrative Coordinator

After a long search, we're pleased to welcome Suzanne Nathans as our new administrative "hub" at HRDAG. It was no easy feat to find someone whose skills and experience promise to be such a good fit with our team. Suzanne comes to HRDAG with  a great deal of experience in nonprofit administration, success stories in operations, communications, and organization, and warmth and compassion. (more…)

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HRDAG at Strata Conference 2014

Last Thursday, HRDAG co-founder and director of research Megan Price presented at Strata, the conference for data scientists and people who work with "big data." In her talk, she addressed the question of how we can know the actual number of conflict casualties in Syrian. Her short answer was, "We don't know." The longer answer was that we have a very good idea of how many conflict casualties have been reported, by several documentation groups, and that we're working on analyzing (more…)

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The Day We Fight Back

Today, February 11, is the day of national protests against the National Security Administration. The critical threat is mass surveillance. In the words of The Day We Fight Back, “Together we will push back against powers that seek to observe, collect, and analyze our every digital action. Together, we will make it clear that such behavior is not compatible with democratic governance. Together, if we persist, we will win this fight.” (more…)

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Ouster of Guatemala’s Attorney General

We were surprised and disappointed to learn that our colleague Claudia Paz y Paz has had her term as Guatemala’s attorney general cut short. The nation’s Constitutional Court ruled on 6 February that her four-year term will end this May, instead of in December. (She was appointed in December 2010, replacing an attorney general who was appointed in May 2010.) During her term, she put four generals from Guatemala’s civil war on the stand for charges of crimes against humanity and genocide, including General José Efraín Ríos Montt, who ruled from 1982 to 1983. We ...

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Celebrating our First Anniversary and Welcoming Our Newest Board Member

One year ago, HRDAG cast out on its own as an independent nonprofit—and this first year has been busy, productive, and exciting. We’re indebted to our Advisory Board for their valuable contributions and to our funders for their generosity and participation in our mission. Highlights of the past year include contributing testimony to three court cases, publishing two reports on conflict-casualties in Syria, presenting over a dozen talks (many of which are available on our talks page), traveling to over half a dozen countries to testify, collaborate with partners, and ...

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HRDAG Retreat 2014

Ten data nerds gathered in a large hilltop beach house to analyze counts of killings from several war-torn countries. The time was January 16-20, 2014, the place was near San Francisco, the agenda was packed, and I was excited to be there. Having defended my dissertation at Carnegie Mellon University just days before, I had often supposed that my thesis on a generalization of log-linear models for capture-recapture might serve little other purpose than to fill a line on my curriculum vitae. This perception faded after a mid-2013 discussion with Patrick convinced me ...

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Seeking the Truth with Documentation

The need to establish the truth around events is central to goals of transitional justice, particularly securing accountability, establishing legitimate and effective justice mechanisms, and laying the foundations for a peaceful society. Documentation to provide verifiable and widely accepted accounts of such events is a critical component of establishing this truth, or the multiple truths that may exist for a population. It is difficult to overstate the important role of documentation in transitional justice efforts. If some of what follows sounds familiar, echoing ...

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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 ...

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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.

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