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Jun 16, 2016

In Episode 7 of The Rights Track, Todd asks Patrick Ball, Director of Research for the Human Rights Data Analysis Group, how and when statistics can be used to advance and protect human rights. Here are some notes from the interview including useful links and some additional resources from our partner, openGlobalRights

0.00-8.55 mins

  • Todd outlines Patrick’s work testifying against Slobodan Milosevic, on numerous truth commissions and the evidence he provided at the trial of General Ríos Montt in Guatemala.
  • How statistics can be used in general to advance human rights by showing patterns rather than specific individual cases
  • What Patrick means by ‘making the violation the unit of analysis’ using example from El Salvador and how this approach can help in efforts to hold individuals and countries to account and how it prevents us from missing key information and complexities
  • Todd talks about parallels with Chile

8.55-17.20 mins

  • Patrick talks about where he gets his data and information from: voices/testimonies of survivors and victims of mass violence are collected and then coded for quantitative analysis
  • How this is defined by the governing legal structure i.e. Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rightsor local and domestic law
  • Why the only truly reliable witness account is of killing/deaths and why this and violence are what Patrick and HRDAG focus on these in their research
  • The key elements in a testimony that are required for the a violation to be counted and to tackle the problem of people fabricating evidence


  • How statistical modelling can be used to account for unreported deaths
  • Example of how in the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Patrick and his team came up with a figure of 69,000 deaths from 17,000 statements on human rights abuses between 1980 and 2000
  • How concern about underreporting deaths during Apartheid in South Africa prompted Patrick and his team to develop methods to account for missing accounts
  • Explanation of Multiple Systems Estimation and how Patrick employs it to estimate actual deaths and take account of the multiple views presented in data collection
  • How this method helps to close the gap between what we think we know and what is likely to be the truth of the matter - how that can reveal the scale of the issue
  • Explanation of how people in Lima reacted negatively to the statistics because they didn’t have a representative view of what had happened in war torn rural regions
  • Anecdotal accounts versus statistical accounts - how statistical accounts can help us check our preconceptions

23.32-28.30 mins

  • How the law community criticises use of statistics for failing to show ‘intentionality’
  • Patrick explains how statistics are just one piece of the evidence when a case is being built and made in a court of law and the other information that is required to make that case
  • The difference between proof and evidence and taking account of this in the process of showing human rights abuses and holding individuals, groups, governments and countries to account
  • How statistics are one part of the puzzle of who did what to whom and why they are not a silver bullet


  • New work by HRDAG on killings in Syria - challenges of collecting data but how NGOs have been collecting what Patrick believes to be reliable accounts of deaths

Other useful links

Related content on openGlobalRights