by Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Sydney, Australia, February 19, 2019
“Information Overload: How Technology Can Help Convert Raw Data into Rich Information for Transitional Justice Processes” written by PIAC staff members Daniela Gavshon and Erol Gorur, was recently published in of the International Journal of Transitional Justice. The article draws on their experience working on PIAC’s Sri Lankan Conflict Mapping and Archive Project (CMAP).
When countries emerge from a period of conflict or mass violations, the regular legal system is not equipped to deal with the volume and type of violations that have occurred. In such situations, countries set up institutions (often temporary) to address the atrocities and support victims. These can include specialised courts, truth commissions, reparations schemes, memorialisation initiatives and institutional reforms. These mechanisms have a significant amount of work to do in what is often a short period of time. They need to set up their own research and investigation teams and collect as much information as possible in order to prosecute crimes, or provide a nuanced, detailed understanding of the various truths.
Prior to these mechanisms being established, a significant amount of information has already been collected and reported on by news outlets, non-government organisations, multilateral organisations, official reporting and so on. This information is highly valuable, but it is often not easy to access and use. CMAP takes publicly available information and enters it into a database, tagging cities, people, dates, sources, and types of violations. The CMAP database can be then searched within these fields. The project is an example of how we can organise existing information and make it accessible for future use by official transitional justice mechanisms and civil society. CMAP, however, is resource intensive as it has been implemented taking little advantage of the various technologies that are available to enhance this work simply because the benefits of technology have filtered into this sector in a limited way.
Technology can increase the efficiency of acquiring and systematizing data, and it can facilitate speed and consistency in complex content analysis. Importantly, it can also present data in a way that is accessible and intuitive for a variety of purposes, while still reflecting its complexity. The transitional justice sector can greatly benefit from examining the technologies that are being implemented in the broader human rights field, identifying developments useful for collecting, analyzing and presenting documentation for use in transitional justice processes.