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An advocacy group uses analytics to uncover human rights violations

At the second annual Women in Data Science conference, the executive director of the Human Rights Data Analysis Group shows how data can be used to hold abusers to account.

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Behind-the-scenes human rights advocates | iStock/Possawat

During the second annual Women in Data Science conference, Megan Price, executive director of the Human Rights Data Analysis Group, outlined the scope of her organization’s work and shared examples of their analytical methods.

“We’re essentially the behind-the-scenes scientists for human rights advocacy organizations,” Price said. “One of the most visible ways that our analytical work comes into play is when we’re asked to provide expert witness testimony in court cases.”

For instance, during the 2002 criminal tribunal for Slobodan Milosevic, the organization provided evidence linking the refugee flow across the border into Albania with known killings during the conflict to demonstrate “patterns of violence that would be consistent with acts of genocide.” And starting in 2012, the group began working with the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights to analyze a set of four databases with information about people being killed in Syria.

Using what Price calls “supervised record linkage,” the group’s methods compared records across the different databases, identified duplicate instances and arrived at the number of documented victims in the Syrian conflict. The group is currently working on estimating undocumented killings in Syria using a method called “multiple systems estimation.” “For the last 25 years we have held state leaders accountable for human rights and we will continue to do that at home and abroad,” Price said.