Visualizing the Human Rights Crisis in Northwest Pakistan

June 11, 2010

Amnesty International recently released a new report and website on human rights abuses in northwest Pakistan. This guest-posting is part of our Eyes on Pakistan blogging series.

The Northwestern Pakistan region is remote and has a mountainous physical geography. Over the past several years it has become a dangerous place to collect data and conduct research. Relatively little is known about the overall situation in the region, as no one has gathered enough relevant data to make sense of the situation.  Using geographic information techniques, AAAS (the American Association for the Advancement of Science) at the request of AI-USA, worked to visualize the ongoing human rights situation in Pakistan through Eyes on Pakistan. Focusing on the years 2005-2009, we have created a database of human rights incidents for the Northwestern Frontier Province (NWFP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). This database is meant to increase understanding of the situation occurring in Pakistan, both in terms of its recent developments and to determine major trends in the events.

Screenshot of

Media outlets report daily on a wide range of events occurring in the area and were key to the creation of the site. Researchers gathered media reports from popular news sources such as BBC, the Dawn, and the New York Times and created a coding system to identify the main facts of each incident, including: the number of people killed or wounded, the agent of the incident (the group or source responsible for an incident), and the attack methods used (tactic or method employed by agents). Agent was an important category to include in the database so that incidents could be looked at for trends of particular groups acting in certain locations within the two provinces. Agents were parsed into 14 categories, ranging from air strikes, ground offensives, insurgency targeting civilians, collective punishments, to extrajudicial executions. The category attack method was a distillation of the various types of weaponry or attacks used in the incidents reported within the database. Again, it was important to derive spatial trends from the database of media reports, and the ability to see which types of attacks were prevalent in which areas were seen as a crucial set of facts for later data analysis and access by users of the website. Many attack methods were documented, including air strikes, drones, suicide attacks, arrests, and others.

Screenshot of AAAS Fuzzy matcher

Next, AAAS created a Pakistan Fuzzy Matcher to help determine the locations from media reports within NWFP and FATA. This web interface allowed researchers to input the location mentioned in media reports and to locate its precise coordinates (latitude and longitude), the District/Agency in which it is located, as well as the province. This information is drawn from the publically available US Government National Geospatial Intelligence Agency GEOnet Names Server.  We were successful at locating the precise coordinates in 74% of the database, a good result for geocoding locations internationally. We were able to assign the District/Agency information to 99.5% of all incidents, which is the focus level for the web-mapping site.

The final step to creating the spatial database was to create shapefiles of our data. Shapefiles are sets of files which store geographic data (the shape and location of the NWFP, for example) along with the attributes of the geographic data (such as the total number of incidents in NWFP). These files are the basis for the interactive mapping sections for Eyes on Pakistan. The shapefiles are incorporated into ESRI’s ArcGIS Server using the JavaScript Application Programming Interface (API) to create the Interactive Maps section that you see on the site.

Analysis conducted and map produced by AAAS.

In addition to the creation of Eyes on Pakistan, AAAS has been conducting further analysis of data for the region to identify trends. A major data trend is the density of the total number of incidents in the database. Seven Districts/Agencies have experienced the highest level of incidents, and all except for one (Swat) are in the FATA region, which borders Afghanistan. Swat has nearly double the number of incidents of the next highest ranking district/agency, Bajaur. Nearly half of the incidents in Swat have been ground-based attacks. Ground-based attacks are the major incident type in all seven of these areas. North and South Waziristan, however, exhibit air strikes and drone attacks as prevalent methods in addition to ground-based attacks.  Analysis has also shown a major increase in the number of incidents from year to year. The year-to-year increase from 2008 to 2009 shows an incident number increase of 330% (540 to 1787 incidents) and a 600% increase from 2007-2008 (90 to 540 incidents).

by Susan Wolfinbarger
Science and Human Rights Program
American Association for the Advancement of Science

Susan Wolfinbarger is a Senior Program Associate with AAAS, which is an international, independent non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science around the world by serving as an educator, leader, spokesperson and professional association.