INTERVIEWER: Suppose that time travel were possible, and you could take one trip. You can only observe, not change anything, when you get there. Would you travel to a time in the past or in the future?

JESSICA UTTS, University of California, Irvine professor emerita and past president of the American Statistical Association: I think I would travel about 100 years into the future. I’m very curious about what the status of lots of issues will be by then, including education, global warming, human rights, sources of energy, family composition, the status of nations, and so on.


The Human Rights Data Analysis Group is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that applies rigorous science to the analysis of human rights violations around the world. We are non-partisan—we do not take sides in political or military conflicts, nor do we advocate any particular political party or government policy. However, we are not neutral: we are always in favor of human rights. We support the protections established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Universal Declaration of Human Rights , the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and other international human rights treaties and instruments. As scientists, we work to support our partners—the advocates and human rights defenders who “speak truth to power”—by producing unbiased, scientific results that bring clarity to human rights violence and by ensuring that the “truth” is the most accurate truth possible. While our partners—international and local human rights groups—advance human rights by listening to and amplifying the voices of victims of human rights violations, by shaping the questions we address and by guiding the data collection, we use technical and scientific expertise to analyze the invaluable data they collect. With this data, we use rigorous quantitative reasoning to understand patterns of violence, and even to make statistical estimates of events that are not in the data. For our projects, data come from many sources. We have used individual testimonies, legal depositions, probability surveys, administrative records from morgues and cemeteries, exhumation reports, operational records from a prison, career information on military and police officers, eyewitness interviews, and official customs and immigration records. We work with partners to help them make decisions about the databases and systems they might use to collect and manage data; our primary focus, however, is on the rigorous scientific analysis of our partners’ data. We believe truth leads to accountability, and at HRDAG, promoting accountability for human rights violations is our highest purpose. In the wake of mass killings and genocide, deportations and ethnic cleansing, and systematic detention and torture, accountability may mean many things. It could mean, simply, learning what really happened. Accountability could also mean a criminal trial for perpetrators. Or it might mean having the worst perpetrators removed from public office. Because accountability hinges on truth, we work toward discovering the most accurate “truth” possible. To this end, we apply statistical and scientific methods in the analysis of human rights data so that our partners—human rights advocates—can build scientifically defensible, evidence-based arguments that will result in outcomes of accountability. We know that our work in data analysis is only one of many human rights approaches to investigating the truth. While our partners engage in an array of human rights approaches ranging from remote sensing by satellites to forensic anthropology to the qualitative interpretation of victims’ narratives, our work—data analysis—is one valuable piece in that puzzle. Through scientific analysis, we provide an accurate knowledge and understanding of the past, and that knowledge can be used by international and local human rights group to effect justice.


“Statistics is central to the modern perspective on human rights. It allows researchers to measure the effect of health care policies, the penetration of educational opportunity, and progress towards gender equality. The new wave of entrepreneurial charities demands impact assessments and documentation of milestone achievement. Non-governmental organizations need statistics to build cases, conduct surveys, and target their efforts.”

STATISTICS´ CRITICAL ROLE The realization of human rights,” according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations, “correlates with the availability of sound official statistics. Statisticians play a critical role in supporting evidence-based policy and measuring civil, economic, political and social rights.”


Statistics is especially important in the human rights field, because reliably produced information based on hard evidence can be a key element in securing a remedy for violations. -- Richard Pierre Claude, Science in the Service of Human Rights, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002, p. 106.