Every year, millions of government-supported human rights violations — torture, political arrests, disappearances, censorship, harassment, aggressive protest policing — go unreported, making it impossible to understand fully or address state repression around the world. Victims and those close to them often are voiceless, having no way to document safely what they have experienced or seen. Perpetrators themselves are unlikely to provide information, so scholars and human rights advocates have little to go on except partial or sometimes biased second-hand accounts.
A new Web-based database and research tool, developed by Christian Davenport, professor of peace studies, political science, and sociology at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, will expand dramatically what academic researchers, international human rights advocates, journalists, students and the public know about government repression. The Illustrative Information Interface (iii) will allow anyone with Internet access to register his or her view of the scope and severity of government abuse for a particular geographic area from 1900 to the present.
“With this Web site, anyone can be a human rights monitor,” says Davenport. “When someone experiences or observes a situation of abuse, they could ‘iii’ it directly into the database. Eventually, we'll move to texting and emailing as well.”
The site is already "open" for anyone to enter data. To accelerate the data compilation process, Notre Dame Ph.D. students in political science, armed with iPads, will conduct interviews and enter data from "anchors" — scholars, journalists, legal experts, and human rights activists in Central and South America. The project eventually will include data from all over the world, including refugee camps and isolated rural areas.
Once a significant amount of historic and current data is aggregated — or crowdsourced — researchers will be able to see the magnitude of the problem and trends over time and space, Davenport said. Also, users can sort (by gender, religion, ethnic group, type of abuse, etc.) and analyze the data to inform human rights work, shape interventions to prevent war or genocide, and encourage study and practice of truth-telling, reconciliation, and healing.
The idea for the project began when Davenport was in Tanzania talking to a young man about the abuses the man had experienced at the hand of the government in a nearby country. To illustrate the ebb and flow of repression in his region, the man drew a simple chart on a napkin, showing severity of abuse on one axis and time on the other.
“With that simple gesture, it occurred to me that nearly everyone who has been a victim or an observer to abuses had a good sense of whether things were better or worse over time,” said Davenport, who received a grant for the project from Notre Dame’s Faculty Research Support Program. “You didn’t have to be an expert or highly educated to report abuse, and if many people did so, the data would show patterns that would be extremely useful.”
Historically, information compiled by governments, newspapers and select US human rights organizations has been used to understand diverse forms of political behavior throughout the world (e.g., human rights violation/state repression, dissent, insurgency and democracy). Unfortunately, each of these sources has their own limitations and it is frequently the case that certain groups are not given an opportunity to provide information about what they have heard, seen, experienced or read about. The Illustrative Information Interface (III) is designed to change this.
Specifically, III provides a secure, easy and user-friendly environment for ordinary citizens, experts, NGOs and victims of political behavior as well as governments, journalists and human rights activists to provide information about events and/or conditions in a systematic and comparable way across time and space. This is principally achieved through drawing and answering a few questions, taking only a few minutes.
Based on what is provided, aggregated information will facilitate an overall view of the magnitude and scope of relevant behavior beyond individual and isolated reports. Using all information given to III or only selected source categories, the compiled data can be used by those who are interested in the relevant topic - for example, downloading or viewing compiled information in a variety of formats. With this in mind, III will help individuals throughout the world better understand what has happened, where, when, who was involved as well as why things took place. Such information can be also used to improve conditions in the future.
Thank you for participating in III. It is only through your contribution that our understanding is advanced.
III Administrator / Co-Creator
Great work, Prof. Davenport. I teach human rights at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. The tool you have developed will be valuable in our course on "Human Rights Monitoring and Reporting". Congratulations and keep up the good work!
This is indeed a very useful tool. Hope human rights activist will use it to report cases of human rights abuses.
Thanks Prof for the the tool. Need to share the information so that common man can access it.
I work as Human Rights consultant in SADC region.
thank you for the explanations.
the idea of generalizing the III services will be a great corner for us,MENA region, to share and report data.
Dear Prof. Davenport,
Thank you for this opportunity. I am sending this response from the Libyan Capital, Tripoli, where human rights abuses occur on a daily base. It is very good to monitor and report on human rights abuses but the provision of justice is another ball-game. I only hope and pray that what is happening today in Libya will be given the needed attention and appropriate legal response.
Thank you once again,