Skip to main content

Past Projects: SciTech for Human Rights

Science and Technology for Human Rights

[2016-2019] Developing Ethical Guidelines and Best Practices for the Use of Volunteered Geographic Information and Remotely Sensed Imagery in Crisis Situations
AAAS, funded by the National science Foundation (NSF), developed ethical principles and guidelines, as well as draft best practices for the use of remote sensing and volunteered geographic information (VGI) in crisis situations.

[2017] Holistic Approaches to Forensic Investigations: Increasing the Use of Geospatial Technologies in Exhumation Site Research
AAAS worked with the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG) to build FAFG's capacity of applying innovative methods to visualize, and analyze evidence recovered from exhumation sites.

Toolkit Identifying Best Practices on Human Rights Documentation
At the invitation of the Public International Law and Policy Group (PILPG), AAAS joined a Consortium aimed at developing a toolkit that identifies best practices in human rights documentation using science and technology.

[2014] Cultural Heritage at Risk
In partnership with the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology’s Penn Cultural Heritage Center (PennCHC) and the Smithsonian Institution, and in cooperation with the Syrian Heritage Task Force, the Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) undertook an assessment of Syria’s World Heritage sites using high-resolution satellite imagery. Syria has six World Heritage sites: the Ancient City of Aleppo, the Ancient City of Bosra, the Ancient City of Damascus, the Ancient Site of Palmyra, the Ancient Cities of Northern Syria, and Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din. The purpose of the assessment was to determine the current status of each site. Analysis indicates that five of the six World Heritage sites exhibit significant damage; damage was observed at every site except for the Ancient City of Damascus.

Remote Sensing for Human Rights
The AAAS Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law Program was awarded a grant by the Oak Foundation, based in London, to: determine the human rights-related applications of new high resolution and technically advanced satellite technologies, as well as underutilized lower resolution sensors; and increase understanding among human rights courts and human rights organizations regarding the evolving and potential applications of geospatial technologies and associated research methodologies in human rights litigation.

Science and Technology for Human Rights in Colombia
In partnership with Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN), AAAS supported collaboration between scientific and technical experts and advocates for the rights of Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities in Colombia.

[2005-2013] Geotech & Human Rights: Case Studies
Since 2005, AAAS has used geospatial technologies to illuminate on-the-ground human rights concerns, including: mass violence; secret detention; extrajudicial executions; internal displacement; forced evictions; and displacement caused by development projects. In partnership with an array of NGOs, as well as international courts and commissions, the project's work in the sphere of human rights has generated quantifiable information on dozens of human rights cases worldwide. Through these partnerships, the project has helped to strengthen the impact of human rights advocacy and provide a tool for achieving legal redress in cases of mass human rights violations.

[2001-2014] Cross-Border Conflict
Earth-observation satellite imagery is both a potential resource for understanding border conflicts and a possible conflict prevention tool. Through a grant from the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) to analyze cross-border conflicts using satellite imagery, this project endeavored to determine which elements of border conflict can be verified through remote sensing.

[2004] African Transitional Justice Research Network (ATJRN)
The goal of the Network is to build research capacity and strengthening communication and collaboration among academics and human rights organizations within Africa who are conducting empirical studies on the impacts of transitional justice mechanisms on societies.

[2003-2004] Technical Assistance to the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission (SLTRC)
Following a brutal 11-year civil war, the Parliament of Sierra Leone called for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to create “an impartial, historical record of the conflict”, “address impunity; respond to the needs of victims; promote healing and reconciliation; and prevent a repetition of the violations and abuses suffered.” AAAS, assisted the Truth and Reconciliation Commission via a data analysis process for the thousands of statements which had been given to them in the course of their work. In collaboration with staff of the Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) of the Benetech Initiative, AAAS coauthored the Statistical Appendix to the Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Sierra Leone. AAAS also worked with the Commission to incorporate the statistical findings into the main findings of the report.

[2000-2004] Measuring Human Rights, Democracy and Governance (Metagora)
Over the past three decades, statisticians have increasingly made an impact on the monitoring and attainment of human rights through the development and transition of statistical techniques to the human rights community. Over the past decade, the largest concrete effort to bring those statisticians and human rights practitioners together has been the Metagora project, a project which has resulted in strong contributions to statistical methodology for enhancing and attaining human rights in countries around the world. AAAS was involved in the implementation of a number of aspects of the project.

[2000-2004] Sri Lanka
AAAS provided technical assistance to the Human Rights Documentation Coalition (HRDC), a consortium of non-governmental organizations based in Sri Lanka. It focused on establishment of data collection, classification and processing tools and targeted training for the establishment of a common technical basis for quantifying the patterns and magnitude of gross human rights violations. This project established a massive, objective and undeniable statistical record of human rights violations in the past and present in Sri Lanka. The project aimed to augment the human rights monitoring and reporting enterprise in order to positively influencing the Sri Lankan peace process.

[2002 -2003] and [1996-1998] Assistance to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa (TRCSA)
AAAS was asked to assist the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of South Africa design an information management system that would be capable of receiving the statements of tens of thousands of people, keeping track of the statements according to the who-did-what-to-whom data model, and following the statements through the corroborations and findings process. AAAS was also asked to participate in their evaluation of human rights violations in the health care sector. AAAS assembled a consultative team of U.S. based non-governmental organizations active in health and human rights to help frame questions for TRC health sector hearings, make a submission to the hearings, and to produce recommendations on overcoming the legacy of apartheid-era human rights abuses.

[2002-2003] Human Rights Data Analysis Group
The Human Rights Data Analysis Group began as a project that originated within the Science and Human Rights Program in September of 2002. The project provided technical support to large-scale human rights data initiatives. On November 3, 2003, the staff and projects of the Human Rights Data Analysis Group moved to Benetech in Palo Alto, California, and in  2013 HRDAG became a San Francisco-based independent non-profit fiscally sponsored by Community Partners. 

[2001-2003] Technical Assistance to the Peru Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR)
In May 2001, the President of Peru Alejandro Toledo called for the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR) to investigate human rights abuses committed in the past two decades during the democratically elected governments of Fernando Belaunde (1980-85), Alan Garcia (1985-90) and Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000). At the request of Javier Cuirlizza, Executive Secretary of the CVR, and on behalf of the International Center for Transitional Justice, Dr. Patrick Ball of the Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) visited Lima three times during 2003. His reports to the CVR and ICTJ provided evaluations of the CVR technical work and recommendations on the information management process and analytic strategies.

[1998-2000] Assistance to the Guatemalan Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH)
Following the conclusion of the thirty-six year Guatemalan armed conflict, the United Nations organized a Commission of Historical Clarification (known as the CEH by its Spanish acronym), similar to what in other countries has been called a truth commission. The Commissioners invited the AAAS to advise them on the development and implementation of an information management system. In 1998, the National Coordination for Human Rights in Guatemala asked AAAS to host data on human rights violations in Guatemala (1960-1996) for the International Center for Human Rights Research (CIIDH). A report on State Violence in Guatemala, 1960-96  is available in both English and Spanish.

[1995-2000] Honduras: Information Resource Development
AAAS assisted the Honduran National Human Rights Commission in the development of information management systems and data analysis capabilities. The Program helped to develop a variety of information resources, including a full text-based documentation system and a human rights violations casework and analysis system. The Program also developed a monitoring system, including a catalogue of economic, social, and cultural rights to be used and updated by the ombudsmen’s offices; standard formats for documenting violations; and an Internet-based communication system to record and share information.

[1999] Refugee Flow Patterns in Kosovo
Much of the debate about the March – June 1999 war between NATO and Yugoslavia turned on how many people left their homes in particular places and at certain times. Solid information about the flow of refugees out of Kosovo has helped investigators to link patterns in the flow to patterns of NATO bombing, Yugoslav strategic plans for “cleansing” Kosovo, and Yugoslav and irregular troop deployments. At its heart, the debate was about whether refugees left their homes fleeing NATO attacks and fighting between the KLA and Yugoslav forces, or whether they left their homes after being threatened, assaulted, and robbed by Yugoslav police, army, and irregular units. Read the AAAS report that was submitted to the International Criminal Tribunal of Yugoslavia and view a video archive of Patrick Ball’s testimony. AAAS also published a report Policy or Panic? The Flight of Ethnic Albanians from Kosovo.

[1995-1996] Canada-US Human Rights Information and Documentation Network
CUSHRID Net was developed to facilitate the exchange of ideas and information between human rights organizations; establishment of uniform standards for human rights documentation, information management and exchange; development of co-operative projects in the areas of documentation and information management to avoid duplication; training in various aspects of documentation and information management; and contacts and exchanges with information and documentation networks in other parts of the world.

[1995-1996] Assistance to the Haitian National Commission for Truth and Justice (CNVJ)
AAAS was invited by Francoise Bouchard, President of the Haitian National Commission for Truth and Justice, to advise the commission on how to develop a large-scale interviewing project to take the testimonies of a several thousand witnesses of human rights violations. The AAAS team met with the CNVJ commissioners and planned a project to include 40 interviewer teams, ten data processors, and five data entry specialists. The CNVJ team took 5,453 interviews. In all, they identified 8,667 victims who suffered 18,629 violations.