Human Rights Institute's New Project on Security Forces Wins Knight Foundation Award

The 'Security Force Monitor' Works to Make Police, Military, and Other Security Forces Around the World More Transparent and Accountable

Media Contact: Public Affairs, 212-854-2650 or [email protected] 
New York, January 26, 2016—Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute Security Force Monitor, a new web-based platform to improve investigations of police and military abuses, is a winner of the 2016 Knight News Challenge on Data, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced today. Knight Foundation's award for innovative data projects includes $237,589 in support to the Security Force Monitor.
Tony Wilson is the director of the new Security Force Monitor project at Columbia Law School's
Human Rights Institute.
The Security Force Monitor aims to solve a significant obstacle facing human rights research, investigative journalism, and other public interest work: the lack of easily accessible and detailed information on the police, military, and other security forces of countries around the world. Publicly available data on security forces is often unstructured and scattered among a wide variety of sources, making it prohibitively costly and time-consuming for human rights organizations to investigate and monitor abuses by police, military or other security forces and hold them accountable. The Monitor is a web-based platform, currently in development, that will compile publicly available data and structure it so that journalists, human rights groups, and others can easily explore the data and use it to help identify specific perpetrators when abuses occur.
“The Security Force Monitor will be a valuable resource and tool for anyone investigating security forces,” said Tony Wilson, the director of the Security Force Monitor project. “Pulling this dispersed information together is an enormous task that will ultimately make it much easier to investigate human rights abuses committed by security forces. Utilizing the Security Force Monitor’s data will enable more human rights groups to identify specific abusive units and commanders.” 
The Monitor compiles data from government sources, local and international news media, civil society reporting and other sources. It grades the information for reliability, and produces organizational charts of police, military and other security forces; maps of the location and jurisdiction of security forces; profiles of commanders and units; and maps and dossiers of human rights abuses committed by security forces as reported by civil society organizations, the United Nations and other sources. Columbia Law School students will also play an important role in the Security Force Monitor project by assisting with research, including refining research methodologies, and also drafting special reports using the Monitor’s data.
“Impunity for human rights abuses thrives where there is a lack of transparency and information,” said Sarah Knuckey, Director of the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic and Co-Director of the Human Rights Institute. “This project will assist efforts to advance accountability by providing one easily accessible platform linking abuse reports and security structures, and tracking abuses and troop movements over time.”
“By organizing complex data and making it easier to understand, Security Force Monitor will help to inform and advance journalism, human rights and other public interest work— showing the impact that data can have on influencing important issues," said John Bracken, Knight Foundation vice president for media innovation.
The Security Force Monitor is scheduled to be launched early in the spring of 2016.
The Knight News Challenge on Data funds breakthrough ideas that make data work for individuals and communities.
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Founded in 1998 by the late Professor Louis Henkin, the Human Rights Institute serves as the focal point of international human rights education, scholarship practice at Columbia Law School and draws on the law school’s deep human rights tradition to support and influence human rights practice in the United States and throughout the world.
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit
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