Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Computer Geeks Track Human Rights Abuses

Wired News has printed some fascinating articles about the Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) that builds computer databases and conducts statistical analysis on the data collected to build objective evidence of human rights abuses.

HRDAG works with international human rights investigations. It grew out of the Science and Human Rights Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Coders Bare Invasion Death Count explains how HRDAG used computers to create a report documenting more than 102,000 civilian deaths in the former Portuguese colony of East Timor from the time of the Indonesian invasion of 1975 to independence in 1999.

HRDAG "developed an array of descriptive statistical analysis profiling the scale, pattern and structure of torture, ill-treatment, arbitrary detention and sexual violations. In order to estimate what was missing from the data, the HRDAG developed software to link multiple reports of the same death in a technique called record linkage. The group then used multiple systems estimation to calculate the deaths no one remembered."

An earlier Wired article about some of the AAAS's human rights work is How Coder Cornered Milosevic that describes the role of Patrick Ball as a prosecution witness at the war crimes trial of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic.

Ball used open-source software to analyze the refugee flows during the 1999 war in Kosovo. His results tended to show the systematic pattern of killings of Kosovar Albanians by Serb forces. Patterns were unrelated to actions by NATO or the Kosovo Liberation Army, the rebel force fighting the Serb authorities. In other words, Serb forces were not reacting to attacks, the killings were not part of the "fog of war", they were part of an orchestrated program.

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 5:47 pm

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