3.4.4 Example of how to use the concept of an act

The act violation example that follows is drawn from Dueck et al. (1993a).

The victim (V0050290) was arrested in Ramallah on 1 December 1989 and taken to al-Moscobiya detention center where he was severely beaten, deprived of sleep and sufficient food, choked to the point of losing consciousness, and subjected to the "shabeh," whereby the prisoner is forced to stand for prolonged periods in the open, with his head covered and hands tied behind his back, exposed to all weather conditions. Ten days later (i.e., 11 Dec 89) he was transferred to Ramallah prison, where some of this treatment continued. Whilst there, his arm was apparently broken by a Shabak (intelligence) officer known as "Max" (P0502901), although it was only two weeks later that he was taken to a hospital and his arm put in a cast. Following an extension of his detention order by a judge on 17 December, he was returned to Moscobiya prison. He began a hunger strike on 7 Jan 90. (Dueck et al. 1993a:29, ff.)

Note: All the acts represented here were classified by the agency receiving the denouncement as relevant to the same event (E005029); there is only one victim (V0050290). The codes for locations, perpetrators, and actions all follow and expand upon Dueck and Noval et al. (1993b), and are presented here for clarity:

Table List of codes
Code Meaning of code
26.1 al-Moscobiya detention center
26.2 Ramallah prison
40 intelligence service
60 judiciary
05.211 slapping, kicking, or punching
05.261 strangling
05.272 "planton" or forced standing
05.65 bound
05.41 deprived of food
05.43 deprived of sleep
05.2141 breaking bones - arm
05.44 deprived of medical attention
04.071 extension of administrative detention

With this list of controlled vocabulary, the acts in the narrative above are the following.

Table Example ACT database
Perp. Viol. Victim Event Location Date of the
60 05.211 V0050290 E005029 26.1 19891201
60 05.261 V0050290 E005029 26.1 19891201
60 05.272 V0050290 E005029 26.1 19891201
60 05.65 V0050290 E005029 26.1 19891201
60 05.41 V0050290 E005029 26.1
60 05.43 V0050290 E005029 26.1
P0502901 05.2141 V0050290 E005029 26.2
60 05.44 V0050290 E005029 26.2 19891215
40 04.071 V0050290 E005029 26.1 19891217

Note: This example is presented in more detail in Ball et al. (1994).

Distilling the narrative event as acts in this table of codes makes the information much more difficult for a human being to read. However, the information from each act is now just in the form necessary for a computer to relate the references to the victim, the perpetrators, the event, and the act type so that this information stays bundled in the system. Furthermore, a computer can relate one or 10,000 or more such acts to do the kinds of analysis suggested in Section 3.5 below. Information stored in the format of this table can be printed in a form that can make sense to people: see the Types of Violations section of Example

The first record in Table can be read as "perpetrator 60 committed violation 05.211 against victim V0050290 in the context of event E005029 in location 26.1 on 1 December, 1989." The information is in a coded form because we know much more information about victim V0050290 than this brief code. We probably have information about the victim's given and family names, sex, date of birth, passport number, ethnicity, etc. This information is stored in the file of people. We may also know something about the victim's career: that from 1991 until 1993 he was a trade union activist, and since 1987 he has worked at the metal factory. This information would be stored in the file of biography items, linked to the people file by the code V0050290. Again, this technique is covered in more detail in the forthcoming database design handbook.

An event may encompass a variety of violent acts that were committed at different times and at different places by different perpetrators against different victims. There is often a close correspondence between an event in the database and an interview: one interview is one event. However, the organization can also define super-events, that is, events which encompass many sub-events. "Tiananmen Square" might be a super-event which includes dozens or hundreds of related interviews, each of which is also an event including a variety of acts. Note that in Table, all the acts are connected to the same event (E005029).

The nuts and bolts of how the database might actually be set up will be covered in much more detail in a subsequent handbook in this series that will discuss database design for human rights information management systems [8].

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