Setting the Record Straight

The last ten years have seen an explosion of information
resources available to anyone committed to fighting human rights
violations. Spearheading this information revolution are
organizations like the Human Rights
Data Analysis Group
(HRDAG), the
International Relations and
Security Network
(ISN), and the
Stockholm International Peace
Research Institute
(SIPRI). SIPRI and the
ISN
have paired up in an attempt to prevent genocide before it happens
by starting Facts on
International Relations and Security Trends
(FIRST), an open,
searchable database available to anyone with an internet
connection. Its goal is to disseminate information about imminent
and current conflicts as fast as possible to mobilize intervention
when it is needed. The database contains country profiles with
information on recent armed conflicts, arms production, and
indicators such as health and development statistics.

Looking at genocide after the fact, the HRDAG is using
information technology and statistical analysis to retroactively
establish the scope of genocide and other crimes against humanity.
Ann
Harrison reports for Wired News
that HRDAG has
prepared reports for many countries, including Haiti, Guatemala,
South Africa, Kosovo, and, most recently, East Timor. Its director,
Dr.
Patrick Ball, gave seminal testimony
at the trial of Slobodan
Milosevic, correlating the interpolated spikes in civilian deaths
to actions by the former Yugoslav president’s forces. Harrison
reports that the HRDAG’s open-source software programs work by
taking in first-hand accounts of individual atrocities — the who,
what, where, and when — and then projecting those trends over the
population. The reports prepared by the HRDAG (licensed under a
sharing-friendly Creative
Commons license
) have been used in truth and reconciliation
proceedings around the world.

The process is slow, and many want swift justice when former
leaders are being prosecuted. Writing for
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Jeffrey Donovan
examines why it takes so long for former leaders to be tried —
Milosevic’s trial, for example, has been going on for four years.
The snail’s pace, Donovan suggests, is due in large part to the
need to exhaust every avenue of due process, as kangaroo courts do
little to advance the cause of peace and reconciliation. Part of
that process, it now seems, is using information that groups like
HRDAG can generate. It’s slow going — Harrison reports that the
HRDAG spent three years in East Timor — but it can provide
important, holistic evidence, such as the information Ball
introduced at Milosevic’s trial. It can take years to compile the
data for one report, but when trying a former leader or holding a
truth and reconciliation commission, those involved aim to get it
right, and they want to have the facts straight.

Go there >>
Coders
Bare Invasion Death Count

Go there too >>

Why Is It So Hard To Try Former Leaders?

Related Links from the Utne
Archive:

Comments? Story tips?
Write a letter to the editor

Like this? Want more?Subscribe to Utne
magazine

UTNE
UTNE
In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.