A recent study on violence in Colombia aims to provide an objective overview of the often murky facts of the nation’s ongoing conflict, through an analysis of murders and disappearances in the north-east department of Casanare.
Tamy Guberek, an American based in Bogota and the study’s lead author, told Colombia Reports that the study aims to “fill in the gaps” of data on victims of conflict.
“Data helps to make the invisible, visible. Human rights groups have a hard time showing how serious crimes are when there is limited data; if they know more then they can document cases,” Guberek said.
Guberek is the Latin America Coordinator of the Benetech Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG), a U.S. based NGO which “designs and builds information management solutions and conducts statistical analysis on behalf of human rights projects.” HRDAG has been in Colombia for six years and works closely with Colombian NGOs.
The research for NGO’s report “To Count the Uncounted: An estimation of lethal violence in Casanare,” was conducted over two years and aims to provide hard evidence of the gravity of human rights abuses in the department.
In the report HRDAG analyzes the patterns of killings and disappearances in the Colombian state of Casanare from 1998 to 2007 using a technique called Multiple Systems Estimation (MSE).
Guberek explained that her team gathered “raw” data on deaths and disappearances of victims from fifteen sources – Colombia government agencies and civil society organizations – including first names, last names and dates.
The team then used the MSE technique to match up any overlaps between independent sources, as a way of determining which victims were reported by more than one source.
“The idea is the more independent sources overlap, the less we estimate we’ve missed,” Guberek explained.
“What we’re trying to say is that no one list [of victims] can cover the whole ‘universe’. Each list has its niche, different groups have different access and capture different parts of the ‘universe’.”
Guberek said that this method of analysis enables researchers to estimate gaps in information. Her team worked with U.S. mathematicians and academics to compile and analyze the data.
HRDAG chose to focus on the Casanare department because partner organization Equitas was working on a project in the region at the the time, according to Guberek.
Equitas is a Colombian NGO which provides free-of-charge forensic, anthropological and mental health services to relatives of victims of forced disappearance or murder.
Guberek said that Equitas wanted to prove that the problems of forced disappearance and murder in Casanare were much graver than the 190 cases they were aware of.
For example, the HRDAG study revealed that in regions where killings and disappearances were previously estimated to be low, analysis proved that incidence of victims per capita was relatively high. In essence the study shows how data on victims drawn from individual sources can be misleading and that the violence in Casanare was much more widespread than previously believed.
Guberek said that HRDAG hopes the study will have a “concrete impact” in Colombia.
HRDAG believes that the data analyzed will help prosecutors in Casanare to prove that many of those affected by violence were the victims of “collective harm;” of organised, systematic persecution rather than isolated violent incidents. Guberek said that showing collective harm helps prosecutors to “contextualize” and demonstrate that violent incidents are not random but part of a pattern of violence perpetrated by illegal armed groups.
The study also provides human rights groups with data to protest with greater authority against human rights abuses perpetrated in Colombia. The hope is that with more evidence available, more resources will allocated to human rights defenders in Colombia.
With the two year study complete, Guberek said HRDAG is now assessing in which Colombian departments similar studies could be carried out. The neighboring departments of Meta and Boyaca are options, as are Magdalena and Antioquia.