3.4.1 Database fundamentals

There are two aspects to the database's representation: content and structure. The database's content includes 1) a definition of the basic things to be represented, and 2) what information about each thing will be maintained. The "things" to be represented are the basic elements which compose the nouns of the human rights information system. These elements, called entities, usually begin with a list of people and organizations. This list includes people who were victims, perpetrators, witnesses, superior officers in units alleged to have committed violations, judges who heard complaints about the case, etc. The organizations might include military or police units alleged to have committed violations, human rights organizations which did things on behalf of the victims, media organizations, activist groups whose members have been targeted for repression, etc.

Other entities in a human rights system include a controlled vocabulary containing different categories, The controlled vocabulary file would include the list of types of violations, lists of locations, lists of kinds of interventions done by human rights groups on behalf of victims, etc. Another kind of basic entity is a human rights event. This idea is more complex and is discussed in more detail in section 3.4.4.

Each entity is composed of attributes, that is, the actual information that defines what the entity is. For example, a person has several names, a birth date, a sex, a height, various ID numbers, hair and eye color, etc. Each entity is stored in a database file, sometimes called a table. Each attribute is stored in a field, sometimes referred to as a column [7]. A particular thing we want to represent ("George Jones") is a record in the appropriate file. A single database file can be conceptualized as a spreadsheet. The columns are fields, the rows are records. Each record has a value for each field. Fields can be of different types. Some fields contain text, such as names. Other fields contain dates, such as date of birth. Other fields contain numbers, such as a person's height in centimeters.

The structure of a database is composed of the various complex relations between entity files. People interact as family members, as different roles in a human rights violation, etc. People interact with organizations that they work in, that they are affiliated with, etc. These interactions are represented in the database by link structures. Link structures are discussed in more detail in the following section.

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