Human Rights Data Collection and Information Management Systems

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The cases of human rights violations have been rampant across the world for the past many decades. Additionally, most of the victims never found justice since there were no technologies for gathering evidence to initiate court proceedings. Besides, most of the human rights agencies have been dependent on traditional databases and information management systems for storage, processing, and protection of the pieces of evidence collected from the field. Hence this study aimed at examining the effectiveness of the traditional database (human rights data collection and information management systems) in collecting, storing and protecting evidence. The objectives of the study included investigating the effectiveness current information systems used by human rights agencies, studying the recent trends of human rights violations, assessing different technology options available for human rights data storage and protection, and determining the most effective tool of for human rights violations data management. Due to the increased use of small technology tools such as smartphones, the current databases could not be able to perform these critical tasks. Besides, the databases are likely to be manipulated, modified and even destroyed by perpetrators in collaboration with the administrators of the database. To assess and determine the most suitable technology option, the study adopted a comparative study approach where blockchain, social media, software, and cloud computing technologies were selected as the options for enhancing the practices of human rights due diligence. Based on the findings of the comparisons against the traditional databases, the technologies proved to be effective in storing, processing and protecting human rights violations evidence. The social media, cloud computing, and blockchain technology indicated significant benefits such as improved security of data, capacity for storing vast amounts of data and in different formats, ability to hold information long hence they can be used to effectively store data collected from different incidences of human rights abuses. However, the software technology option was considered ineffective due to similar challenges as the traditional databases.

Table of Contents

1-page summary. 2

Introduction. 5

Background. 5

Research aim and objectives. 7

Objectives. 7

Research questions. 7

Literature review.. 8

Current trends of Human rights violations. 8

Technology options for enhancing human rights evidence management 11

Methodology. 17

Results. 19

Discussion. 24

Conclusion. 28

References. 29


Technology has significantly impacted most of the sectors through the provision of multiple solutions to solve the daily challenges of humans. For instance, numerous technological solutions have been developed with the ability to enable the storage of data, exchange of messages or long distance communications between human rights agencies and specific communities or people whose rights are being violated. Besides, some solutions offer the capability of collecting, storing, processing and visualizing data from the people whose rights are being violated to enable human rights advocated gather enough evidence to use in a court of law (Land and Aronson 2018). However, the increase in availability of low-cost technological options used in documenting the abuses indicates that means that the organizations handling the human rights issues, victims, perpetrators, and bystanders document more information than ever before. This results in the generation of vast amounts of data which is difficult to collect, sort and store as some of the systems may lack the capacity of performing tasks involving huge amounts of data. Moreover, this renders the information about violations more likely to be distorted as well as the loss the critical evidence that could have been used to prosecute the perpetrators. Hence, an effective, reliable and scalable data storage management system is needed to store, secure and transmit data to the agencies without interruption. Moreover, this research is useful since the results shall be used to support a body of knowledge in technology applications for human rights management and it will support propose effective technology options to be adopted in human rights agencies to store and protect violation evidence.


Human rights violations are widespread across the world where the perpetrators can be individuals, politicians or governments. Currently, human rights have improved to be a major concern of governments worldwide and the international community (Rannut 2010). However, before the introduction of technology tools for gathering and storing data and transmitting the information, it was difficult for human rights agencies to initiate proceedings against the perpetrators due to lack of evidence. Technology has provided multiple tools capable of collecting data, sorting and storing data which can be used by the human rights advocates as evidence against the perpetrators (Land and Aronson 2018). On the other hand, technology has grown rapidly which means that the early tools or systems used in data collection and storage are no-longer efficient since the capacity of data continues to expand significantly. Simple database tools such as spreadsheets and simple relational databases are no-longer appropriate in processing Big Data generated from the available low-cost technology tools (Land and Aronson 2018; Berman 2013). Some of the perpetrators such as governments tend to find every strategy of destroying evidence collected against them to avoid being reported to the international human rights agencies. For instance, the United States governments are reported to distort some of the human rights evidence gathered by media or news coverage (Qian and Yanagizawa-Drott 2017). Due to this challenges, it is notable that there is the possibility for the lack of an effective and reliable data collection and information management systems capable of securely gathering human rights violations evidence, store them is secure platform and transmits the data to the appropriate agencies on the crimes committed against the specific victims. This indicates the potential that most of the human rights crimes can be mitigated effectively and the perpetrators held accountable to the crimes through the support of a reliable technology tool. This research paper is motivated to investigate the reliability and effectiveness of information management systems (selected technology option) in collecting, sorting and storing information with better visualization and security constraints set to mitigate challenges of potential threats and distortion by perpetrators. 

Research aim and objectives

The primary aim of this research paper is to examine the available data collection and information management systems on their ability to efficiently and securely store human rights evidence to enhance the potential of holding perpetrators accountable for their crimes and improve human rights due diligence.


i. To study and identify the available information management systems for storing and processing human rights violations data.

ii. To investigate the current trends of humans rights violations and understand the rate at which victims get justice out of investigations.

iii. To analyse the impact of the utilization of technology options such as the human rights information management system on protecting data and mitigating the challenges of distortion of evidence by perpetrators.

iv. To determine the most effective technology tool to serve store and manage human rights violations data.

Research questions

I. What is the effectiveness of the current information management systems (traditional databases) used in the human rights agencies to protect human rights violations data in supporting advocates to hold the perpetrators accountable for their crimes against humanity?

II. Which is the best available data storage technology option that can be adopted by human rights agencies to enhance management and protection of violation evidence?

Literature review

Current trends of Human rights violations

Currently, there are multiple human rights violations across the world involving governments and authority’s impunity over the people. Some of these crimes are rarely dealt with while others are never followed due to destruction of evidence. For instance, according to the UN report (2015) on serious human rights violation and massive destruction in the South East parts of Turkey, it was reported that there were numerous human rights violations, killings, and massive destruction but the evidence for the crimes was concealed through total demolition.  The reports involved the investigation of the massive destruction of buildings in Nusaybin town, with the province of Mardin where the local governments are the main perpetrators. Although the security operations ended later, the damages continued even to other towns such as Cizre where most family members’ victims including 189 people were trapped in the demolished buildings’ basements without, medication, band power, and food before they were killed by fire through induced shelling (UN Report 2015). The UN human rights office obtained the information using satellite imagery analysis. However, instead of the governments initiating investigations on issues reported about the excessive use of force, massive destruction, deaths, and recourse to heavy weaponry, the local governments identified the cases as people who participated in terrorist crimes and the measures undertaken were repressive to the affected family members. In this case, evidence collected by the satellite systems proved to be effective in gathering relevant data about human rights violations. Satellite imagery data collection might not be effective due to constraints of resolution (Davis et al. 2015). The UN satellite imagery analysis report (figure 1) indicated such constraints following the unclear images collected which could not effectively clear as shown in figure 1 (a) and (b) below unless stronger analytical algorithms or specialized tools are used to collect evidence.

Figure 1: (a) South East of Turkey buildings destructions slightly clear sites. (b) South East of Turkey buildings destructions with unclear visuals (UN Report 2015).

According to UNESCO (2018) on the study of international human rights documentation and information management systems, it was noted that the primary aim of adopting information technologies and methods of documentation for human rights organizations is to maximize the impact of their work in advocating for victims. Besides, the information systems perform multiple roles in the organizations including the provision of techniques and tools used for information management and documentation control; provide the human rights advocated with customized support and training; provides efficient advice in strengthening/establishing information systems, and promotes cooperation within the various documentation agencies. This indicates that the sole purpose of developing information management systems in human rights environment is to enhance efficiency in advocacy. On the other hand, Read (2016) studied on the tensions in United Nations information management where he focused on human rights monitoring, data and security in Sudan. The study noted that there had been well documentation of the demands of justice and peace issues. However, little attention has been considered especially focused on the generation and data analysis for the provision of data security against monitoring of human rights. Besides, the study noted that governments who are sometimes the main perpetrators are not ready to collaborate and there is no effective goodwill between the human rights agencies and the government. The peacekeeping missions which requires operational data balancing and archiving of human rights violations documents suffer several challenges due to the inability to secure the information effectively (Read 2016).

Ball et al. (2000) conducted research on human rights violations investigation of a large scale using information systems. The study indicated that the human rights database is set for preserving, standardizing and representing information gathered by organizations. The database is required to be effectively designed to serve the purposes; however, it encounters challenges during its usage such as the ‘problem of duplicated cases’ due to the representation of multiple but similar information. Moreover, the database should be capable of collecting and storing different forms of information and evidence such as press clippings, video clips, testimonies, physical evidence, documents including files, and secondary materials. The database is required to provide an effective mechanism of accessing and retrieving data effectively based on the integrity constraints set between the entities holding different evidences (Ball et al. 2000). On the other hand, the Centre on Democracy, development and the Rule of Law reports (2012) indicated that human rights organizations are advancing by the adoption of new technologies to improve their efficiency. Some of the innovative technologies noted include first; a software package which is designed for helping the civil society, and governments to use information systems for the management of human rights violations. The specific features of the software package are designed for facilitating the detailed stories collection and process the stories into data which is used for presenting an accurate and complete image of the human rights abuses.  Secondly, a platform which provides activists and other witnesses such as journalists to share stories through uploads video images and digital content to the human rights organizations websites, blogging and the use of data visualization tools to provide enough evidence.

Technology options for enhancing human rights evidence management

As indicated by Land and Aronson (2018) data visualization tools are effective technologies that enhance the potential of presenting evidence by human rights advocates in court proceedings against the perpetrators as well as the help in the analysis of the human rights challenges. Emerson, Satterthwaite, and Pandey (2018) supported these arguments where they noted that data visualization of more effective in human rights evidence representation since they make the stories more memorable and lends urgency for immediate action. Moreover, it is noted that data visualization has the potential of strengthening the work of human rights when involving data and is doing something promoting processing such as through the combination of visuals and textual data to allow advocates improve the power of narrative and statistics (Emerson, Satterthwaite, and Pandey 2018). Besides, Emerson, Satterthwaite, and Pandey (2018) indicated that visual features and visualization in human rights advocacy and communication is in rapid growth. For instance, a study conducted by Amnesty International reports, New York University’s Center of Human Rights and Global Justice published in 2006, 2010 and 2014 indicated that the rise in the use of satellite imagery, maps, photographs, charts, and graphs had enhanced human rights violations evidence collection and communication (Rall et al. 2016). Additionally, human rights advocates have been identified to increase more technology tools and techniques for data analysis to improve their advocacy, communications, and research. Data visualization also can be used on campaigning for human rights such as the health or soldiers did by Florence Nightingale (figure 2) (Rogers 2010).

Figure 2: Florence Nightingale coxcomb diagram (Rogers 2010)

Multiple information management systems and technologies have been proposed with the aim of storing, processing and analysing human rights data and evidence. CDDRL (2012) reported that live streaming platforms such as the social media help in directly transmitting human rights violation to the public as well as the agencies dealing crimes committed by the perpetrators. The videos are archived in the cloud, and they can be extracted anytime whenever court proceedings have been initiated. For instance, these platforms were reported to be helpful in facilitating protests coverage in the Arab spring as well as in Syria human rights abuses (CDDRL 2012). As indicated by Sookhak et al. (2017) cloud computing is an emerging paradigm provide capabilities of storing data remotely. However, due to the increased number of cyber attacks and the sophistication of technology tools, then some cloud servers are insecure in maintaining the integrity of data. Therefore, some of the cloud services users require adequate remote auditing of the data sent to the cloud (Chen and Lee 2013). This approach will assure most of the victims, activists or advocates that the data outsourced to the cloud serves is secure and the perpetrators have no capabilities of reaching the systems. Additionally, users need assurance of the availability of cloud services and the potential of integrating mobile computing to enable them to continue to gather and transmit evidence to the cloud servers. According to Alsmadi and Prybutok (2018), the security and privacy of information sent into the cloud should be effectively managed since it is a fundamental human right to avoid issues such as harms which might be caused by potential violations. In this case, cases of hacking and compromising sensitive information which belongs to the people is another serious issue required sufficient attention.

Chen and Neill (2015) conducted research on the detection of human rights events from social media graphs. The study there is a significant increase in the use of social media by human rights organizations to monitor identification, verification, and documents of human rights abuses. Due to the challenges noted with huge amounts of data in social media platforms, Chen and Neill (2015) proposed the adoption of large-scale discovery and automated systems used to extract and analyse data related to the violation of human rights. The Non-Parametric Heterogeneous graph scan (NPHGS) models the data from social media platforms such as Twitter to exactly detect and extract data related to human rights events only. Figure 3 below shows an example of the heterogeneous graph network for Twitter.  Hence, the NPHGS system was noted to effectively minimize the challenges associated with the initial systems such as databases which and simple software tools that were incapable of mining contents and filtering appropriately to address unique issues such as the events. The human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch need an extensive framework for verifying violations and adequate, and admissible evidence to be used in court proceedings (Koettl 2013). Chen and Neill (2015) noted that these new technologies involving social media provides better results of evidence unlike the traditional systems and approaches such as fact-finding techniques based on interviews. Fuchs (2017) also supported the use of social media platform in monitoring human rights abuses across the globe to gather evidence used against the perpetrators.

Figure 3: Twitter Heterogeneous network (NPHGS graph example) (Chen and Neill 2015)

Additionally, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC 2018) reported that corruption and bribery in elections and basic service delivery significantly affects human rights. Some people are hired by specific political parties to corrupt the majority through buying their voting cards and national identity cards hence leading to the success of one party although the majority would have wished to vote for their preferred leader. Moreover, any protesters attempted by people especially youths have indicated significant use of excessive power to kill innocent people. However, the social media live streaming provides wide coverage of and collects of data uncontrollably which is enough evidence for the prosecution of the perpetrators. However, the question remains in other countries where social media platforms are controlled, and people are limited to the information they transmit online. For instance, the bloggers also try to post the latest and regular information about human rights violations. Besides, some of them are arrested due to the posting of this information which is another case of violating their rights of expression. Then the efficiency and effectiveness of some of these platforms are still in question.

According to the Aronson (2018), the social media content involving user-generated and open source data has become significantly beneficial in the investigations of human rights abuses. However, it is also noted that the results on the social media contents might not effectively provide the most reliable findings, but the increase in the use of social media user-generated data shows the great potential of containing valuable information. Silverman and Tsubaki (2015) supported these arguments where they noted that analysis is now “inseparable from the work of cultivating sources, securing confidential information and other investigative tactics that rely on hidden or less-public information” (1). Moreover, User-generated content involving videos provide effective support for human rights violations investigations (Aronson, 2018). The 2011 report for WITNESS nongovernmental organization noted that a video is helpful in providing and exposing evidence as well as supporting good governance, accountability and transparency. Additionally, video and new technologies poses new vulnerabilities, although they provide opportunities for people to share information and express themselves freely. On the other hand, since people understands the strengths of video evidence, there is need to consider the security and safety of those taking films and the ones being filmed in all stages of production and transmissions (Padania et al. 2011, p.16). Aronson (2018) investigated the challenges of video evidence collected from the social media platforms where he indicated that advocates and activists find it difficult when presenting video evidence in a court of law and some other critical context. The challenges include; first, the audiences and probably the judges find it difficult to watch some traumatic videos hence they get desensitized about its impacts.  Second, some video evidence is difficult to convince the audience about its legitimacy due to doubts about the possibilities in tampering or editing the evidenced to only benefit the alleged victims. Third, there are possibilities of good government operatives, or defence attorney is challenging the authenticity of the evidence to its interpretation. For instance, some governments such as China has been reported to feed wrong information and posts into the social media for strategic destruction of trust in information or evidence collected from the social media (King, Pan, and Roberts 2017). 


The aim of this research was to examine the effectiveness of the human rights data collection and information management system. To effectively investigate the research questions and satisfy the objectives of this study, a comparative research design was adopted. The comparative design implementation in this study involves identifying the major technology options for data storage and comparing each with the current technology (traditional databases) used in the human rights agencies. The purpose of this approach is to determine the effectiveness of each information systems compared to traditional databases and recommend the most applicable technological options to be adopted in by human rights advocacy agencies across the world for data management and protection.

A comparative research design is most suitable for this study due to the following reasons. First, comparison research methods have been widely used in the past, and its results and benefits are outstanding. Particularly, Azarian (2011) reported that comparative research is an old approach and it is utilized in all scientific research. The research design has been determined to be evolving since the comparison results can be found almost all areas of academic inquiry and applicable to any topic. Moreover, due to constraints of lack of knowledge among the public about the operation of the human rights information systems, other methodologies proved ineffective thus the researchers opted for a comparative design which can easily gather information available in literature and reports concerning various technologies utilized for human rights violations evidence management. These strengths of a comparative research design proves it to be fit for this study, since the initial topic of this paper was to determine the technological options for human rights due diligence, the methodology could effectively examine the different options of information management technologies used in human rights abuses evidence gathering and management. The selected technological options to be investigated in this research paper includes social media, cloud computing, software, blockchain technology.  All these technologies shall be compared against the traditional databases (local human rights violations information management systems).

The reliability of this approach is proved by its unquestionable status used in generating reliable knowledge whenever all the technical preconditions have been satisfied effectively. However, potential challenges of this approach such as the difficulty of gathering information in case-independent data and cases about the parameters being compared are not sufficient, or the parameters could not be compared (Azarian 2011).However, in the current study, this limitation could also be viewed as an advantage since there is enough information about the selected technologies being compared.


Table 1: Comparison between social media and traditional databases

Social Media

Traditional database

Data is uncontrolled and dynamic

Data is structured, organized and controlled by one system in a specific location.

Multiple users are available across the globe

Contains few users who access the systems under authorized access.

Data sources are many since users, advocates, and activists can feed information to the social media without strict authorization or control

Data sources are dependent on the administrator or specific users assigned and authorized to add more data into the systems.

Stores all types of data formats including files, text, videos, images and others

Some databases are not designed to accommodate all data formats due to the capacity and specific purpose.

Lack of authenticity since people can feed in fake or wrong information which is unreliable (Kane 2015)

Has authenticity since the data fed into the database is approved by authorities and the administrator.

Potential limitation and restriction by the administrators on what data to post.

Data can be stored and processed privately in then human rights advocacy agency.

Offers abilities of exchanging data across the internet (data can potential reach to the United Nations for Human rights advocacy within few minutes)

Has no connection capabilities thus not shared through the internet.

Vulnerable to cyber attacks such as eaves dropping, or phishing

Vulnerable to more security issues and attacks involving deletion due to mistakes or intentional and lacks effective encryption methods.

Table 2: Comparison between Blockchain technology and traditional databases

Blockchain technology

Traditional database

Immutable meaning it cannot be modified or manipulated by any user of agency (Catalini and Gans 2016).

Data can be easily modified and manipulated, thus no trust.

Promise of maintaining data integrity (Puthal et al. 2018)

Weak in maintaining data integrity due to errors and ineffective constraints or improper databases development (Mullins 2016).

Decentralized control allowing the untrusted parties to store information in a platforms without central administrator (Naval 2016)

Centralized control and data can be control by specific administrator.

Blockchain data processing is slow which negatively affects its performance

Databases are faster in processing data and compared with other digital media

Stores vast amounts of data since all data objects are treated as blocks.

Database are limited in the storage capacity since they are dependent on organization/agency infrastructure and capabilities.

Data can be transmitted through the internet and it is publicly available

Data requires effective communication channels and security encryption algorithms to be protected while being transmitted and is noted available to the general public.

Helps in the establishment of provenance (users or investigators can trace the custody, ownership and origin of the records).

The users or investigators might lack the abilities of tracing back the data to the origin.

Read and Write operations only

Traditional databases operates on CRUD (Creates, Read, Update, and Delete) which renders it more vulnerable to risks of tampering.

Table 3: Comparison between cloud computing and traditional databases

Cloud Computing

Traditional database

Automatic Tuning and Backup hence does not require human intervention for its operations

Manual tuning and backup thus human intervention is necessary for its operations.

Automatic upgrading

Manual upgrading

Operates with all technology devices including desktop and mobile applications

Operates with desktop applications

Event driven data push

Query driven push  (Jain and Alam 2017)

Operates on a scale of the internet with multiple inputs

Operates on a scale of an enterprise only.

Centralized and built-in security

Dependent on developer security configurations

Multi-channel and mash-ups

Application silos

Wide Area Network access – receives data directly from the internet and local sources.

Local area network access hence cannot be connected to the internet and cannot receiver data directly from the internet.

Scalable – it can management large growing amounts of data and it capable of integrating additional resources (Jain and Alam 2017)

Not-scalable and requires fresh configurations in case of additional infrastructure.

Low initial cost of investment

Software obtained from vendors for information management might be expensive.

Easier to use and manage

Requires users to learn some technical IT skills to operate the databases and understand their operation.

Provides capabilities of live streaming and recording of data

No abilities of collecting data through live streaming. Dependent on the input from users and the administrators

Software applications which are used for data management are being developed each day with custom features to enable them stay relevant and suitable for the context of application. Table 4 below indicates the key differences between software products and traditional databases.

Table 4: Comparison between software and traditional databases


Traditional database

Efficient and reliable decision making (this involves software tools such as knowledge management system with intelligent capabilities)

Unreliable in decision making since it does not possess intelligent tools used to study the patterns and trend of data.

Easy to perform data analysis with custom features.

Traditional database lacks the capabilities of analysing data since they are commonly used as regular storage infrastructure.

Vulnerable to attacks such as malware due to errors which might have not been noted during

August 14, 2023

Human Rights

Subject area:

Information Systems

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