Mapping For Human Rights Research and Activism

…mapping technology has matured into a tool for social justice. Whether it is to promote health, safety, fair politics or a cleaner environment, foundations, non-profit groups and individuals around the world are finding that maps can help them make their case far more intuitively and effectively than speeches, policy papers or press releases. “Mapping a better world.” The Economist, June 4th, 2009

Human rights researchers and activists increasingly use maps for research and activism. This trend follows the rapid proliferation of free and easy to use mapping tools, making basic mapping an easy to learn and much needed skill. In order to not get lost in the myriad of mapping options, we put together this simple online resource to help new mappers in the human rights community to get oriented. The various mapping options are organized in categories, making it easier to navigate. We plan to add new options or projects once they become available. Currently, there are the following categories:

This project is based on several years of experience mapping human rights related data, from attacks against civilians in Darfur (2007) to airstrikes in Al-Raqqa, Syria (2015). A special thanks goes to Ariel Low, who has researched and written all initial postings of this site in January 2015.

The Comparative Advantage of Mapping

Screenshot of interactive map on US drone strikes in Pakistan (Map created by Angela Chang for Amnesty International).

Screenshot of interactive map on US drone strikes in Pakistan (map created by Angela Chang for Amnesty International). Click image to explore

A key challenge for human rights activists is often to transform excellent research output—normally in the form of a lengthy pdf report—into an engaging campaign. The key to success is more often than not to reduce the complexity of the documentation and a specific legal framework, while at the same time increasing the level of engagement for activists. One approach to addressing this challenge is (interactive) mapping. A map is a highly useful tool for reducing complexity. First, it is visual and allows for summarizing vast amounts of data, often into a single, unifying dimension: a digital representation of our physical space. Secondly, it allows for greater ease in demonstrating otherwise complex trends, both spatial and temporal. Creating web-based mapping platforms add an additional interactivity function that allows users to better engage with the content and explore the issues at their own pace, thus sharply increasing the educational value. Human rights work lends itself naturally to mapping, as it is almost impossible to collect (research and activism) data that is not in some form connected to a physical location.

Additionally, the digital realm opens new potential for the creation and maintenance of a global community engaged on one human rights issue in one place, or a range of protection issues across a wide geographic region. Mapping adds value for the centralized collection of diffuse engagement material, as it adds a spatial dimension to ongoing activities and allows for a better sense of community among the engaged. Activists can see what others are doing in different parts of the world, and even coordinate.

Happy mapping!
Christoph Koettl, March 2015

This website is intended as a resource for human rights practitioners and should serve as guidance. References to any organizations or products do not constitute endorsement in any form. The views expressed on this website are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Amnesty International.