Laureate 2021

Human Rights Data Analysis Group

Seeking justice behind the numbers

Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) uncover large-scale human rights violations. By using statistics and data science, HRDAG document human rights violations that might otherwise go undetected. Their approach has enabled courts to bring perpetrators to justice and given closure to affected victims and their families.

Statisticians for Human Rights

HRDAG seek to uphold credible information as a foundation of human rights advocacy and justice and by doing so, they represent a new generation of human rights defenders that advances the enforcement of human rights globally.

HRDAG promotes accountability for human rights abuse. Evidence is crucial in demanding accountability and justice. Systematic documentation of human rights violations exposes the scope of transgressions. This is central to putting an end to impunity for perpetrators, and vital for the protection and empowerment of the courageous human rights activists at the frontline.

"Everyone who has been murdered should be remembered”.

Patrick Ball, HRDAG Director of Research
Patrick Ball testifying in the Ríos Montt trial in 2013 (Photo: HRDAG)
Patrick Ball testifying in the Ríos Montt trial in 2013 (Photo: HRDAG)

HRDAG’s rigorous methods and analyses also ensure that every death is counted, and a minimum standard of human dignity is respected. The HRDAG team consists of a small group of dedicated experts in computer science, software development, mathematical and applied statistics, and demography. In their work, HRDAG partner with human rights defenders, experts, and organizations worldwide.

Holding perpetrators to account

Based on the idea that “truth leads to accountability”, HRDAG provides thorough documentation of torture, forced disappearances, kidnappings, war crimes and extrajudicial killings. Perpetrators of human rights abuses often do everything they can to hide their crimes from the public, while victims and their families seek answers and justice.

For example, in collaboration with Amnesty International, HRDAG has documented that 25 % of the deaths in Syrian prisons were unreported. Their researchers have been expert witnesses in the trial of General José Efraín Ríos Montt in Guatemala, who was convicted as the chief perpetrator of genocide against the Maya Ixil indigenous people. They have provided evidence of unusually high death tolls among political prisoners under the rule of former President Hissène Habré in Chad, as well as evidence of ethnic cleansing carried out by Serbian forces and former President Slobodan Milošević in Kosovo.

HRDAG has recently launched a project on underreporting police violence in the United States, where their analysis show that one third of all victims murdered by strangers, are killed by the police.

Founder Patrick Ball teaching how to do random sampling with the Historical Archive of the National Police in Guatemala in 2012 (Photo: HRDAG)
Founder Patrick Ball teaching how to do random sampling with the Historical Archive of the National Police in Guatemala in 2012 (Photo: HRDAG)

A new approach

The novelty of HRDAG’s approach lies in their efforts to invent and extend scientific methods from other fields, such as mathematical statistics, machine learning, software engineering, and computer science. They apply these methods to the area of human rights to detect patterns of violence and provide statistical estimates traditional approaches have not been able to deliver. They bring the power of quantitative analysis to the pursuit of justice and accountability. In doing so, they establish scientifically defensible historical records of human rights crimes.

Credible information is key

In an era of misinformation and polarization, credible information is more crucial than ever. The Rafto Prize 2021 aims to highlight the importance of HRDAG and other human right defenders’ work in seeking and upholding the truth as a foundation of human rights advocacy and justice.

The Rafto Prize 2021 is a recognition of HRDAG’s pioneering approach and dedicated commitment to detecting and deterring human rights violators by providing reliable scientific documentation.

The prize sends a firm message to human rights violators, both state and non-state perpetrators, that violations will not go unnoticed.

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