Creating a database tool that protects human rights information from confiscation

Human rights groups can now use internet technology in order to help collect, organise, safeguard and disseminate information about human rights violations. The Martus Human Rights Bulletin System is a database tool that addresses the specific technological needs of the human rights community by dramatically improving their ability to manage information, document abuses and prevent the information from being confiscated or destroyed.

Timely and accurate information is one of the most powerful weapons available to combat human rights violations, and human rights groups worldwide expend much of their resources collecting massive amounts of data about abuses. Unfortunately, much of this information is often lost due to government confiscation, destruction or neglect. Furthermore, some grassroots organizations lack the resources to document violations systematically: in Sri Lanka, for example, a human rights group lost five years of records to termites, while another group recorded their data on computers only to have their PCs stolen. This situation makes it difficult for prosecutors, truth commission and others to use such information as evidence and hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes.

The Martus Human Rights Bulletin System is an initiative specifically developed by Benetech, a Silicon Valley nonprofit, in order to address this pressing problem; it helps groups store the data on their PCs and also makes back-ups of their files on remote Internet servers so the data cannot be lost even if the original PC is destroyed. Martus functions in three steps: it provides human rights monitors with a simple format for creating information bulletins about violations and encrypting them. It then backs up the encrypted bulletins on a remote Internet server and replicates them to multiple cyber locations in order to safeguard the information from loss. Local NGOs can then decide what information they want to fileshare with other groups, and what information they want to keep private. Martus software is all available for free download online so that everyone from small NGOs to large international groups can make use of it. Martus is now available in Arabic, English, French, Russian, Nepali, Persian, Spanish and Thai, and the project is constantly working to support more languages.  Martus can also be customised so that bulletins match the format that is most useful to a particular group or project.

This system can serve grassroots NGOs through each stage of data collection and analysis, from securely documenting human rights data to analyzing this data and harnessing its power for change.

The HRDAG team builds software and applies scientific techniques to create unique knowledge about the patterns and magnitude of human rights cases, including mass killings, forced displacements, torture, sexual violence and detention.  The information that the software helps produce then becomes an integral part of the effort of truth commissions, victim advocates and other groups who seek to clarify history, assist in the reconciliation of societies and bring the world’s worst criminals to justice.

At the core of HRDAG's work is a software application known as Analyzer.  First released to the public in 2002, Analyzer is a free and open source statistical database tool that provides the structure and computing power required to quantify patterns of large-scale human rights abuse.  

Analyzer is primarily used to support collection of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of witness testimonies, government documents, household surveys and other data.  Specifically designed to help groups capture vast data sets from multiple sources, Analyzer assures that no information is lost and that all information is considered during analysis.  As a result of the database tool Analyzer, scientifically-defensible answers to questions on large scale human rights violations are much more feasible.

Analyzer, like Martus, is free and open source software. As such, both the software and its source code are available for download and review by any interested party.

Applications of the Martus and Analyzer software for social justice groups include monitoring issues like violence against women, human trafficking, environmental destruction, hate crimes, and other human rights abuses.


New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.