Geo-mapping for human rights

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Geo-mapping for human rights

"Geo-mapping for Human Rights" focuses on the role of spatial mapping tools in working to further human rights goals. This online dialogue is a space for practitioners to discuss this new tool to use towards advocacy, promoting transparency around human rights issues, tracking the impact of human rights efforts, and engaging the community in local issues.

New Tactics featured 'Geo-Mapping for Human Rights,’ as the topic of our October featured online dialogue.  New Tactics, our co-moderator, Christian Kreutz, and our featured resource practitioners participated from October 28 – November 3, 2009 in a conversation about the ways in which geographical mapping has been used to share critical information, promote transparency and engage communities.

Featured Resource Practitioners

Our featured resource practitioners, leading this dialogue, include (click here for more biographical information):

  • Lars Bromley, director of the Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights program at the AAAS, United States
  • Patrick Meier, of Ushahidi, United States
  • Michael Graham, of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the World Is Witness project, United States
  • Sandra Sudhoff, and Yann Rebois of CartONG, France
  • Mifan Careem, director of Respere Lanka (Pvt) Ltd.


This New Tactics dialogue titled “Geo-mapping for Human Rights” focused on the role of spatial mapping tools in working to further human rights goals. With the rise of technology, mapping tools become not only more available to practitioners that may previously have shied away from using technology, but maps also offer new possibilities for advocacy, promoting transparency around human rights issues, tracking impact of human rights efforts, and engaging the community in local issues. Geo-mapping is a rapidly developing tool in the human rights community, and this dialogue acted as a  platform for practitioners to share ideas, advice, and resources regarding its use. Dialogue participants provided case studies from their own work and work they have encountered, shared mapping tools for beginners as well as experienced cartographers, and shared ideas on how mapping can be used in advocacy, sharing critical information and community engagement.

What Can a Map Be Used For?

  • Sharing and Representation of Stories – Maps can be used to represent different stories of people living in conflict zones or areas hit by natural disasters. By sharing their stories, the community not only documents the events, but also explains progress and setbacks. By mapping narratives spatially, a conflict or a disaster situation is situated within its context, allowing practitioners and the community to respond more effectively. For example, The World Is Witness ( project collects stories of people affected by the genocide around the world and portrays them geo-spatially.
  • Sharing Critical Information – Various types of maps can be used to report and share critical information at times of conflict or disaster. Maps can aid in delivering more effective relief, identifying frequent sources of violence. Ushahidi developed a crisis mapping tool, that is an open platform. In the context of natural disaster, Sahana offers a tool suited for disaster relief mapping.
  • Mapping Long-term Impact – In order to document progress on human rights issues, the same map can be generated on a regular basis for comparison, or using color-coding for different years, one map provides a powerful visual representation of the spatial dimension of impact over time. For example, ILGA-Europe maps LGB rights in Europe. Their Rainbow Europe map depicts various legal advances made by the different countries. Another example is tracking the harmful environmental impact on communities using geo-mapping.
  • Combining Existing Data to Create Impact – Information on human rights issues can be combined with existing maps or satellite images and serve as a powerful basis for advocacy and transparency. In the case of Colombia, a map was created that combined data on the frequency of human rights violations caused by military officials with the locations of US government funding for military operations. The map portrayed the links between US military funding and local human rights violations in Colombia, and thus challenged the US government's claim that the funding did not have any adverse effects in Colombia.
  • Empowering Local Communities – Organizing the community to create their own map displaying their stories, and displaying the map in a place that is significant to the community acts to reclaim histories, recover losses, and promote social justice. New Tactics' tactical notebook titled: The Power of Place: How historic sites can engage citizens in human rights issues documents a powerful story of District Six Museum in South Africa that utilized a community-created map.

Community Engagement
Communities can be engaged and mobilized through “participatory mapping.” In a broad sense, participatory mapping refers to maps that have been created by the community. One way of engaging the community is to use existing maps and add elements that the community finds useful, as shown in this example from Samoa. Oftentimes, government maps contain biases or contain too much technical information that the community does not necessarily find useful. By building on such maps, the community can create its own mapping resources tracking specific issues in several areas at once and over time. Through this experience, communities gain ownership over the issues at hand, and have a chance to acknowledge their own experiences of the situation as well as utilize their knowledge of the local area.

Given the availability of free mapping tools online and the possibility of engaging the community in re-defining already existing maps, geo-mapping constitutes a powerful tool that can be used for a wide range of human rights issues, both at the local and global scale. For example, local youth centers could use participatory mapping in order to identify safe and unsafe areas in their neighborhood, and subsequently engage youth in working on potential solutions. On a national scale, non-profit organizations could create a common map online and map the impact of new law. Worldwide, maps could be to collect data on the routes “taken” by human trafficking victims to potentially identify locations in which the perpetrators may reside.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

  • Mapping Data as Reliable Evidence – It has at times been difficult to transfer mapping data into reliable evidence. First of all, not all mapping tools detect changes that occur overtime, and maps thus gradually lose some of their validity. Second, as discussed in this post satellite imagery is an inherently visual medium, and while it can be used for large scale mapping of the impact of human rights violations, it can rarely detect and identify the perpetrators.
  • Estimating Implications of Mapping Data – Maps often act as the basis for estimating population and environmental data. However, such estimates often assume equal distribution of the subject we are measuring. An interesting example about the potential difficulty of inferring the number of IDPs from the number of refugee camps can be found here.
  • Protecting the Data – Maps offer many different outlets for sharing critical information. However, at times that information can be misused and do harm. Practitioners in the dialogue emphasized that those working on maps should pay special attention to who gains access to such maps and ensure that those persons cannot use the data in malicious ways. For example, maps containing data on human rights activists in Iran run the risk of being used to find and capture those activists,  or maps containing information on refugee camps could be used by militias to target populations.  
  • Reviewing data – Especially in the case of maps that are open to all, the accuracy of data ought to be periodically reviewed or the mapping system should contain an approval system.

Free Mapping Resources and Image Sources

Resources on Advocacy and the Use of Technology:

--- What is geo-mapping?

What is geographic (geo) mapping?  Why is this form of visualizing information being used more and more often in human rights work?  How has geo-mapping changed and transformed?  What are the trends?  

Multi-sensing data collection

It seems that information is commonly collected by geo-tagging and annotating text, video, audio, and images. Are there any experiences collecting other type of information. Are enviornmental factors relevant for evidence gathering? What are the best practices? Is there anything to learn from biomedical data collection and processing?

Urban Sensing: Mobile Phones for Environmental Data Collection

Dear Enrique,

when I read your question, I thought immediately of a project in Ghana, to collect environmental data such as pollution in the city of Accra. There is a nice summary on the mobile active blog:

"Mobile sensing—also known as ‘participatory sensing,’ ‘urban sensing,’ or ‘participatory urbanism,’—enables data collection from large numbers of people in ways that previously were not possible. By affixing a sensory device to a mobile phone, mobile sensing provides the opportunity to track multiple data points and collect dynamic information about environmental trends from ambient air quality to urban traffic patterns. “sparse sensing strategy does little to capture the very dynamic variability of air quality that depends on automobile traffic patterns, human activity, and output of industries.”

The results are then presented in different maps, which you can find in this document: I imagine environmental data is just one of many ways to track data through mobile phones. What do you think?  



See also...

Patrick Meier, Ushahidi

Participatory sensing - urbanism to impact policy?

Thank you so much for sharing the document "Wireless Technology for Social Change: Trends in Mobile Use by NGOs" published by The Vodafone Group Foundation and the UN Foundation Partnership. It shares some really wonderful examples of mobile phone use including the one you mention from Ghana.

Your Ghana example made me think about the potential that technology has to provide us and our communities with critical information. The New Tactics database has an example of participatory sensing/participatory urbanism that has used more basic, rudimentary technology to engage communities in collecting important environmental and healh-related information using the Bucket Brigades. The tactic example, Distributing air quality testing equipment to community members to promote environmental justice.

I don't know if Global Community Monitor is using geo-mapping but it made me think that geo-mapping could provide an excellent way to collect multiple community information in order to link communities involved in participatory sensing, help assess broader impacts and provide a data foundation for recommending more far reaching policy and actions.

Have any of you used geo-mapping for advancing policy decisions or providing data for litigation of cases or for other purposes?  

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

Another example

Is the work that my colleague Russell Schimmer has been doing which draws on remote sensing to identify patterns in environmental data that can serve as evidence of mass atrocities:

Patrick Meier, Ushahidi

Another example: Kobo at Berkeley

I forgot this one but its another good example:

Lars Bromley, AAAS-SHRP

Human Rights Watch and Bug4Good

Using various sensors or testing devices in conjunction with GPS is probably a growing area of interest for various groups and academic efforts. The conservation and environmental science communities, for example, have long gathered data in the field which is geo-referenced. One of the neatest efforts I have been involved with currently is the Bug4Good effort of Human Rights Watch and BugLabs (see, which was a runner up of the NetSquared Mobile Challenge competition earlier this year (see NetSquared is a good source of info on mobile computing devices in general, and I'm sure we'll see more synergies and similar devices. Basically, the Bug4Good concept would marry varous environmental sensors to a computing device that also has a GPS unit, so you could sample air and water, for example, in the field and have it geocoded right there. The general inspiration for all this would be something like the tricorder of Star Trek fame, but I digress ;)

Again, this is a concept in development so nothing is deployed yet, but the overall theory makes sense. In practical terms, I could foresee such a device being useful to test for explosive residue in soil (indicating artillery use for example), or toxins in water or air. A main limitation or thing to consider would be whether its cheaper and more accurate to gather samples in the field and ship them to a lab somewhere else, which is how most environmental testing is done currently. Or, use a field testing kit not necessarily linked directly to a GPS, but the data gatherer records both results and coordinates on a laptop or piece of paper. 

Other thoughts:

* I know the fine folks at Global Relief Technologies do lots of disaster relief deployment and have various gadgets, some similar to a Bug4Good.

* The gunshot detection system, ShotSpotter, is inherently geocoded but not portable of course. I've heard talk of having such systems in refugee camps, for example.


Volunteer vs. organized efforts

Great examples! I wonder whether these kind of efforts can be voluntarily done or need to be organized around projects? So for example that you can get for ad-hoc activities people involved such as the project to gather such data. Is that realistic and feasible?

Re: Volunteer vs. organized efforts

I think a lot of volunteer work is already underway, for example Ushahidi is a very open/crowd/volunteer sort of model it seems. I think the problem which has been discussed is "controlling" the volunteers or at least keeping track of them. It may or may not be helpful to have hundreds of people running around sending you data. For example, I've learned that a lot of human rights investigations are done by a few people interviewing a lot of people as the interviewers need to keep confidence in their information. With many unknown volunteers you start to worry if some of them are corrupted. However, for environmental justice work, for example, I think many people sampling water or air quality is perfect, as then those samples can be verified via further testing and analysis. This is of course an evolving topic and it will be interesting how the model might play out.

Citizen Water

@Lars Yes I agree with your points. Seems it really depends on the area one focuses. When you talked about evironment, the Citizen Water project came in my mind:

This goes in a similar direction as Ushahidi. 

"Citizen Water empowers communities worldwide to access healthy drinking
water. It incorporates simple, inexpensive water quality test kits;
clear, multi-lingual and multi-media instructions; and open source
spatial mapping."


t!b! (Founder of the Multitude Project)

 "With many unknown volunteers you start to worry if some of them are corrupted."

In this cases, where your data relies on subjectivity rather than on objective measurements, you have 2 choices: use trained and trusted individuals, which limits the number of such individuals you can use, OR use a large number of unknown volunteers, large enough to reach statistical stability (this is the principle Wikipedia works on). If you are in between your data becomes instable, and possibly unreliable.  

Full disclosure

Note on this, I just noticed that the original poster of this question is Enrique from HRW and the guy behind Bug4Good. We are not conspiring, I swear!

Geo-mapping: an attempt at a definition

For the next 6 days, we'll be having an on-line conversation about 'geo-mapping.'  But what is 'geo-mapping?'   Here is my attempt at explaining what we're talking about when we use the term 'geo-mapping.'

Geo-mapping (short for geographic mapping) is the method of visualizing data by mapping it, geographically.  It often looks like a geographic map with symbols representing different information (like the ILGA example).  However, it can also be detailed images representing a sequence of events (like Lars' Afghanistan example).

Geo-mapping is different from other forms of mapping (such as
relationship-mapping, mind-mapping, power-mapping and resource-mapping)
in that it always has a geographic location attached to the data (GPS
coordinates) being represented.

The data used to create the map can be collected in a number of different ways such as applying GPS coordinates to existing data (please help me by ellaborating on this point!).  

Geo-mapping can be used for many different purposes in human rights work - such as the purposes we layout in this dialogue:

  • sharing critical information (like Ushahidi's crisis-mapping)
  • promoting transparency (like ILGA's Rainbow Map)
  • engaging communties (like Open Street Map)

What is missing from this definition?  Please add your own definitions of geo-mapping to this thread!  Are there any good resources out there for tutorials on geo-mapping for beginners, like me?

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Geo-mapping for long-term impact information


Thanks for this outline explaining geo-mapping.

I wanted to add one more purpose that perhaps others can also elaborate upon - geo-mapping for long-term impact information.

For example, during the New Tactics International Symposium in 2004 in Ankara, Turkey, the Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI), presented its work with
partners from the University of Liverpool and the Halabja Postgraduate
Medical Institute (a consortium of local physicians and academics) regarding their use
Geographic Information Systems analysis to correlate environmental and health data with chemical weapons attack sites. This use of geo-mapping correlated with health information can assist in creating better research, environmental safety and medical treatment
programs to track and address long-term impact of chemical weapons.

Do others have examples where they are using geo-mapping information to track both short and long-term impact?

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

Tactical Tech's categorization of purposes for geo-mapping

Thanks for adding this Nancy.  Indeed, geo-mapping is often used to collect and track data for long-term impact information.  After revisiting Tactical Tech's Guide to Maps for Advocacy, I noticed that they categorize four main uses of geo-mapping in human rights advocacy:

  1. Representation of stories (e.g. explaining issues, documenting changes)
  2. Data collection and tracking
  3. Using maps to explain and explore
  4. Constituency Organising and Mobilising

For me, it is always useful to see the ways that others are explaining the uses of tactics, such as geo-mapping.  Tactical Tech's categorization is a nice way of thinking about why activists might use geo-mapping, and the case studies they give are also really helpful!

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

thematics on the geomapping related to Human rights violation?

I do not see a  big difference with a mapping and geo-mapping, except  as you said kristin, the component of spatial representation. You are talking about GPS, but it could be an administrative units as well that has a spatial componenents. You will link your collected information on the specific geographic dataset. Sure we have all in mind the Google red fever as it is quite visual and friendly… but it is only a point (X, Y).

The geo mapping implies to put in place a system of collecting, collating and dissemination of the information to the rights users.
The maps are done with indicators and those indicators are collected in the field trough paper forms (I will see if I could share some of the forms) , Portable Device Assitant and mobile SMS.
I will propose maybe some thematic on the geo mapping related to Human Right Violation
SGBV (Sexual and gender Based Violence), Land use violation it is really common after displacement , crime, violence, forced labour… maybe we have to dig a bit in those thematic, that should have specific representation according the thematic ? -Digging in terms of attribute related to that thematic, and as well in representation, BTW, some work was done by the UNHCR in 2006 for developing fonts related to protection issues.
I will say it is the step one definition of the” family “ of protections issues (well done by the UNHCR), now how and what attribute information could be collected ?
Like on the land issues what will be the data that should be collected to get actions immediately, in the mid-term and long term…. and here we need the inputs of lawyers, protection officers, paralegals, students in laws….

Yann Rebois



Thanks for the dialogue

I am new on that after India's Meeting, I read the tool about maps of tacthical tech, for me is an innovative and good tool for our work

I am starting the proccess to use maps for advocacy in HIV issues in my country

I started with a groups of 73 NGOs working in HIV issues, in a traditional way I put them into Colombia'map; but I dont know what is the best way to put it this ONG's in the Colombia Map on line?







Hi Everyone!

First of all i really thank New Tactics for introducing , such a wonderful and excellent concept , for first time i am hearing about this concept of geo-mapping. I am really excited to know ,and  learn more from the room about geo-mapping.  


Some good examples...

Hello all,

 I just wanted to share a couple really great examples of the ways in which Geo-Mapping can be used. The first, is really expansive. A ridiculously large number of concepts/issues have been researched and mapped in a clear, easily communicated way. The second, provides a really simple, positive approach for those who are new to the concept of geo-mapping.  Enjoy!

mapping success

This reminds me of the map of Unsung Peace Heroes:

And also of recent conversations taking place in the humanitarian space about using crisis mapping for monitoring & Evaluation

Patrick Meier, Ushahidi

--- Using geo-mapping to share critical information

How have you used geo-mapping to share critical information with citizens, communities, journalists, activists, organizations, governments etc?  Have you used this tactic for advocacy / activism?  Or humanitarian or disaster relief work? 

Under this theme, share your examples, the challenges you have faced and the lessons you learned.  We want to hear your stories.  Any resources or tools to share?  Yes, add those, too!  

Google Earth and Darfur

At the Museum's Genocide Prevention Initiative, we partnered with Google to present large amounts of data on the genocide in Darfur to the public via Google Earth.  We mashed together data on damaged and destoyed villages from the U.S. State Department with refugee camp locations from the UN, and other data (photos, testimonies etc) on top of Google's satellite imagery which they purchase from private companies.  Today most of Darfur is available in high resolution, and you can zoom down to individual villages and see the destroyed structures first hand.  This summer we updated the project to include new data showing more than 3,300 villages damaged or destroyed, and users can see before and after images of around 100 of these villages.

For me,  the powerful part of this is that this data existed separately, but by bringing it together we were able to present irrefutable evidence of the scope of destruction throughout Darfur and on the individual village level.  Regardless of disagreement over what to call the situation in Darfur, the fact that the villages were destroyed on a massive level is visually evident- not just to experts in remote sensing, but regular citizens.  That is the power of a globally accessible tool like Google Earth.

But it's all about the data.  We only had it for Darfur because of millions spent on imagery already, a massive aid presence on the ground, etc.  We were several years behind the curve, and that needs to change if we want this sort of mapping to have an early impact on policy or the behavior of governments or groups that would target others for genocide.

I think the more we can push forward evidence-based approaches to human rights awareness and genocide prevention, approaches that combine remote sensing, capturing rich data from the ground (from public and private sources as well as in person groundtruthing), we can start to get ahead of the curve in both analyzing patterns of conflict for early warning, and raising the alarm in situations like Darfur or Rwanda.  The better data we have, the faster and more compellingly we can leverage tools like Google Earth to present clear evidence and argue for involvement.

Here is a case study on the Crisis in Darfur project

 Another project we are working on is World is Witness, a site focused on telling the stories of people affected by genocide around the world, in a geospatial way.  This is focused on linking the narratives to the map, to put the stories in context.

Side question about the costs of satellite data

Dear Michael, 

thanks for sharing this great project, which was an inspiration for others to follow. I wonder what you think about the involved costs to get satellite data? Was that difficult to achieve and is it replicable?  How difficult is it to share satellite imagery across projects or is it legally impossible? What do you think of efforts such as OpenStreetMaps to create open free geo-data databases? Could this type of geo-data also be used for such a project or is it more feasible to knock on Google's door?

Costs of Satellite Imagery

I spend most of my days it seems budgeting for satellite imagery purchases so I can put some info in here. Basically, GoogleEarth provides a whole lot of satellite images totally for free, which is great. Of course, often you want more than what GoogleEarth has on display, especially for analytical purposes to document destruction and other things. You can think of satellite imagery purchases as following into two groups: archival purchases and new image acquisitions.

Archival images are those images gathered by satellites in the past. You can search for these images via the company providers at and, or my group would be happy to help any human rights group with the search as well. If you find any images in the archives that you can use, costs are generally $10 - $20 per square kilometer, with a minimum purchase generally about $250. So, if we need two images to show one destroyed village (before and after the attack), that is about $500 total. I get a discount, so again please let me know if I can help anyone get images.

If you require the satellite to get a new image, for example if you want an image of San Francisco next  week, the minimum cost is about $2,000. We find this generally to be non-negotiable, though the company ImageSat has given us a few free images. Obviously this can get very expensive if you want multiple new images, but then again satellites are expensive.

Regarding sharing, in general I find we are able to share the imagery for human rights and humanitarian purposes. While the original data is licensed and generally should not be shared too freely, you can make a JPG or GoogleEarth layer and share that freely. Usually, people do not want to have the original data file as its large (250 megabytes for example).

All this assumes you need imagery with a resolution of one meter or better, which is what we use to see damage to houses and stuff like that. If you can use coarser images, and want to see only, for example, large scale changes like construction of a dam, there are a great many free options. For starters, try

Again, my staff and I are very happy to help any human rights group find imagery, and sometimes we can even pay for it. Please do let us know, my email is

re: Side question about the costs of satellite data

Lars pretty much hit the nail on the head about  cost, and it's one of the big barriers - along with slow turn around rates of getting the actual new images- to using this for rapid response to genocide or related.  Lars has plenty of experience with this I know, of ordering an image for an area from a private company and 1. receiving it three days later, or 2. getting it three months later.

Since we weren't buying the imagery, there was no cost to us.... Google was able to include large amounts of Darfur.  However someone, probably a government, had already purchased most of the area at huge cost - we're talking probably much more than a million bucks.  So it was already in the company's archive (Digital Globe), and available to Google for inclusion in Google Earth at far lower cost.  If someone had not already purchased it, we would have been out of luck.

On the Open Street Map question, there's no doubt this is huge, a great resource for the world.  This is of a different utility from satellite imagery, which can be used to ask questions like "Was this building intact before May 2009?"etc.  OSM is collecting the next layer above the imagery- base data on roads, towns etc.  I think OSM has more value at this point for development, humanitarian planning, operations etc, where good maps are critical to effective response, but not human rights monitoring, evidence etc.


On a side note, OpenAerialMap was an initiative to create a repository of free aerial imagery, similar to the OpenStreetMaps concept. The main repo is frozen now, but a newer initiative, code named OAM2009 is underway - this would certainly be interesting in the longer run...

Mifan Careem


Respere, Sahana, OpenEvsys

Geo-mapping in Disaster Relief: Sahana

Geo-mapping in disaster relief: Sahana is a web based Free Open Source disaster management system. Built after the South Asian Tsunami in 2004, it has been used in many major disasters since, including Sri Lanka, Peru, Pakistan, Philippines, Bangladesh etc.

Sahana contains a simple geo-mapping interface, based on OpenLayers - it has a b
asic catalog which allows users to select the data sources, ranging from Googlem
aps and Yahoomaps to custom WMS and KML. Functionality-wise, it provides a situa
tion mapping module, allowing users to enter incidents as map markers; e.g: status of disaster in this area, number of tents required etc. It also allows users
to plot Sahana entities such as shelters, people (victims, missing persons), landmarks on a map and assign them a location: this makes information sharing via GeoRSS and other means, map-based visualizations and reports, and simple to advanced spatial analysis a reality - vital stuff during disaster relief efforts.

The Myanmar/Burma Sahana deployment was interesting, especially with the limited amount of relief groups going in. The Myanmar IT professionals group along with the Sahana and OpenStreetMaps communities deployed a version of Sahana, which pointed to a local OpenStreetMaps tile server - the idea was that people on the ground could track damages and disaster areas using handheld GPS and could enter them to the local OSM tile server, which in turn would be the base map for Sahana - thus leading to updated map data. I guess some of this data is available in the OSM project as myanmar.osm. Of course, the use of OSM meant updated maps, built by users on the ground - it was nice to see the new data coming in.

Along with geo-mapping, Sahana is seen as a tool for integration and sharing of data - during disasters, it would contain a large amount of information, which can then be used by other tools, say for more advanced analysis - alternatively, it can read in information as well and display them in various formats.

I talked to a gentleman at the Red Cross who works on human rights cases within shelters -  interesting to see whether this can be achieved in Sahana...


Geo-mapping police behavior with Sahana

This is really great information about this system that seems to compile a large amount of data and correlates it with a specific geographic location. It made me wonder if the system could be useful for documenting police behavior related to community police stations/jails for accountability purposes. What I'm thinking about is if police stations/jails are being monitored for a wide variety of behaviors (positive and negative) that such trends could be more accurately pinpointed and in this case - confidentiality regarding specific police offier behavior would be desirable - those doing a good job would be rewarded and recognized; and those committing abuses would be held accountable and hopefully even prosecuted. The geographic locations would highlight where the problem stations are located so more focus could pinpointed there.

Is this a possible kind of use for this system as well as other geo-mapping systems?

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

Geo-mapping police behavior with Sahana

That's an ideal thing to do I think. There are a few ways to do it besides Sahana:

1) Use Google Maps as part of a data entry system, like a demo I have for Burma here:

In the demo you drag your marker and make a note about it. You can also make a version where you automatically map based on addresses (what we call geocoding), assuming you are interested in a more developed country (US, Europe, Japan, etc). Once you have the data, you can analyze it using a Geographic Information System (GIS). 

2) A free GIS tool to do such things is QuantumGIS, available from, you could enter data into that as well. Note you'd need to acquire data on your area of interest, which is one advantage of using GoogleMaps and other mapping services as they provide you all the basemap data automatically.

3) Ushahidi or something like it can also serve as the mapping interface.

Lars Bromley, AAAS-SHRP

How do I use Google mapping tools?

I like how we're using Nancy's question about the ability to map police behavior as a beginning point to start talking about how to make a geo-map.

I have been looking at the Google resources lately, and found a few helpful tutorials on how to use these tools.  I thought they might be helpful to those just starting out (like me!):

  • Google Maps: Video on how to create a map on Google Maps - they make it look so easy!
  • Google Earth: Video introduction to Google Earth Outreach - this video gives some good examples of how Google Earth Outreach is teaming up with human rights orgs and environmental orgs to create maps for the purposes that we are talking about here in this dialogue - engaging communities, sharing critical information and transparency.  This is a great place to start when looking at examples of what other organizations have done. 

What is the difference between Google Maps and Google Earth?  Google maps is available through your internet browser, whereas Google earth is software that you download onto your computer.  As Lars mentions above, Google Maps can be used as part of a data entry system (can Google Earth be used for this as well?).  Google Earth provides the ability to display the geographic and spatial information is cool ways (it looks good).

Anything that I'm missing regarding these two tools?  Have you used Google maps or Google earth? Are they easy to use?

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Tactical Tech's Guide to Using Maps for Advocacy

Thanks gpeck for sharing the Guide to Humanitarian Mapping (I added a hyperlink to the document in your post).

Since we are on the topic...I wanted to share another great guide for practitioners interested in using geo-maps: Guide to Using Maps for Advocacy (by Tactical Tech).  This guide includes many useful case studies (including Mifan's Sahana tool used in Sri Lanka, Michael Graham's Crisis in Darfur project and Ushahidi in Kenya), tools and technologies (open source GIS, virtual globe software, hosting maps on your website, etc), and geographic data and data sources (user-generated data, web maps and google earth, GPS and mobile phone tech, etc).  Each section includes information on privacy concerns and other risks that should be assessed before implementing these technologies. 

The guide is meant to inspire readers to ask:

  • How can I take advantage of visualising places and information?
  • How can maps be of use in my work?

Sounds pretty good, eh?  All of this great information in only 48 pages, full of graphics and images.  It's a great introduction to geo-mapping for activists.  Thank you Tactical Tech!

What are other useful guides out there for those of us interested in using maps in our human rights work? 

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Field guide ressource


A bit of auto promotion
;-), CartONG did in  2007 and updated in
2008 a field guide  for NGOs (5 MO)  WITH the dataset (230 Mo) the
possibility to learn GIS  with QGIS  open source application  it is in the tool box
section from CartONG web site. 5teh english version is still draft version...  Tools from
 the GIS application are discovered  trough humanitarian thematics (pop movement,
 roads, Watsan , nutrition) . Analogies
with Gearth are done as well.  Maybe we
could thing on a chapter for HRV ? What will be interesting to see on the map  ? 
What kind of analysis will be needed? It might be a good opportunity to presen the new evolution of the software trough the HRV thematics ?

CartONG Yann Rebois

Amnesty International's Geo-spatial toolkit

Thanks for adding CartONG's field guide, Yann!  I found another resource to add to the list: Amnesty International developed the 'Geo-Spatial Toolkit' with many of the examples that happen to be discussing here in this dialogue.  A very short (9 pages) but interesting list of examples of the uses of geo-spatial technologies.  

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Mapping violations and military assistance

I was interested in mapping human rights violations in Colombia, and comparing these with maps of where US military assistance was being directed. This could test claims that US assistance only goes to military units with "clean" records (a legal requirement under what's known as the Leahy Amendment), or whether, on the contrary, US assistance was concentrated in areas where the military was more abusive.

To do this, we needed data on where violations were occurring (which we obtained from Colombian human rights groups), on what military units received US assistance (which we obtained from the State Department), and also what the geographic jurisdiction of different military units was (much harder to obtain). The jurisdiction information was put into shape files, and uploaded onto Google Earth. 

The result is a map of executions by army brigade jurisdiction:

and a map of levels of US assistance to army brigades (both for 2006-07):

I am not especially tech savvy in mapping, but I think the technique is powerful, both as an advocacy tool, and for popular education. The latter can be expanded - to show where indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities are concentrated; to show where forced displacement is occurirng; to show where investment and large infrastructure and resource extraction projects are located; and to show where armed groups are active - then layering these to show relationships. 

Colombia's is a very regional and complex armed conflict, so geo-mapping offers some powerful  tools for understanding it and advocating policy change - including challenging the idea that US assistance is beneficial or that human rights vetting is working. 

I am eager to learn accessible methods for developing these tools, so that non-techies like me are able to deepen and share the learning.

Re: Mapping violations and military assistance

This is a really fascinating example of using geo-maps for promote transparency and accountability.  Thanks for sharing this, jlindsaypoland!

I hope that others will share their examples of using geo-maps for similar purposes.  I have been looking on the internet for examples of anti-land mine campaigns using geo-maps to hold governments and militaries accountable, but I haven't come up with anything yet.

I would really like to hear more about how you came up with this idea, what resources this project required, what risks needed to be assessed for those human rights organization supplying you with data for the map, and what the impact has been.

And regarding your request to learn more about methods for developing these tools, I hope you'll take a look at Tactical Tech's guide for using Maps for Advocacy, and all the other great guides that I hope will be added to this dialogue! 

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Re: Mapping violations and military assistance

Re Kristin's questions: We came up with this idea because the evidence we had didn't seem to back up the US government's claim that its military assistance wasn't going to units that abuse human rights. We were looking for a way to test that assertion. The Colombian human rights organizations publish fairly detailed information about extrajudicial executions - which were on the rise, and are also a very measurable kind of violation. In that respect, the risks for human rights groups on the ground were no greater than the risks they already faced. It was more difficult to obtain information on which units received assistance, and their geographic jurisdiction. We used FOIA for the former, and Colombian military web sites and press accounts for the latter.

The resources we needed involved some training and consulting help from geographers with skills in geo-mapping, and a lot of time! In terms of the impact: the report overall made waves in the State Department. We were told that the Colombia desk officer spent months addressing material in our report. But I can't say how much of that was from the maps, and how much from the rest of the documentation and conclusions. It also stimulated the release of further information about military units supported by the US (even as it led to some State officers refusing to meet with us for a period). But I think the potential for impact is much greater, especially in grassroots education and curriculum development. THAT will require more resources to develop - including technical resources to translate data and analysis into maps, online tools and Spanish-language material.

 John Lindsay-Poland, Fellowship of Reconciliation


Re: How do I use Google mapping tools?

There are many differences between Google Maps and Google Earth of course, but one important one is that with Google Maps you can embed these into a web page that contains lots of ancillary information about your topic of interest. With Google Earth you are using the stand-alone tool to look at your info, which can be linked with web pages, but you might end up using two different tools when one is enough. Some of this line is disappearing of course as a Google Earth applet can now be embedded in your web page. See  for more info. Also, Google Earth is obviously much more visibly alluring and attractive, which is of course important for advocacy work. Google Maps is a bit simpler, but also loads much faster as Google Earth is really only accessible in high bandwidth areas.

Note that both Google Earth and Google Maps use the same data format, Keyhole Markup Language (KML), so people creating data can create one set of data that works on both interfaces. A simple way to create KML is to use the Google Docs spreadsheet mapper ( to enter your information and latitude and longitude to create a KML. If you don't want to use the Google Docs system, use one of the standalone Excel KML makers,  such as or .

One common problem people have is that they might know the area they want to map, but don't know the latitude and longitude because they cannot use GPS for various reasons (costs, risk, etc). Generally, the biggest challenge of my group in mapping human rights violations in Burma, Darfur, Ethiopia, and elsewhere is converting place names to latitude and longitude. One problem is that how place names are communicated might not match how they are spelled in databases, thus we use "fuzzy" matching to help with this.  Various tools can help with this:

1) The AAAS fuzzy matchers for Burma, Darfur, Ethiopia, and Pakistan, at:

2) Wider area fuzzy matcher from the EU at:

3) Another wide area fuzzy matcher from the US Dept of Defense:

So, the above gives people a way to learn latitude and longitude for locations of interest and then map those locations on Google Earth or Google Maps. 

Lars Bromley, AAAS-SHRP

Geo-mapping for environmental action

I would like to share how geo-mapping can also be used for environmental advocacy. 

Greenpeace Lebanon Toxic MappingThe Lebanese Greenpeace office mapped environmental violations along
the country’s coast in order to educate the general public about the
problem of toxic industrial waste. The group traveled to a new site
each week in an inflatable boat, testing coastline water and
highlighting the most egregious environmental problems at each site.
The group used Geographical Information System (GIS) software to
produce a map showing their testing results. The public could follow
the progress of the boat through media coverage, on the group’s web
site or even in person.

The boat’s weekly progress generated a great
deal of interest and even suspense: What would they find, people
wondered, at the next site?

The map itself was a graphic illustration
of the extent of environmental problems on the coast. Public awareness
and mobilization was successful in ensuring the passage of Law #44, a
code on the environment which included free access to information. 

This kind of visual mapping is a powerful motivating force for the public to see and understand critical information.

I'm interested to learn how such information in other countries and circumstances have been helpful in tranforming laws or other civil society action. 

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

Geo-mapping to report and record acts of violence

We've heard some really great examples from participants of this dialogue of how they have used geo-mapping to share critical information:

I wanted to share an example that came from Kenya.  Ushahidi had developed an open source platform that allows anyone to submit crisis information through text messaging using mobile phones, email or web form.  'Ushahidi' means 'testimony' in Swahili.  The tool was used in January 2008 (and until now) to monitor and track the post-election violence in Kenya.  Kenyan bloggers and others reported acts of violence in their communities and thus created a real-time online map of the violence throughout Kenya

When I first heard of Ushahidi, like everyone else I thought it was really interesting.  But it wasn't until I heard Patrick Meier talk about the project at a human rights conference a few months ago, that I started to understand the important ways to use this crowd-sourced crisis-map.  A conference particpant asked Patrick about concerns regarding the legitimacy of the data that is collected via crowd-sourcing.  How can anyone verify that the data being collected from all over the country by so many different methods is reliable?  What I took from Patrick's response was that the Kenyan post-election violence map reflects a collection of citizen reports, incidents.  These incidents are documented and visualized in a map to see trends and assess risks - and the reports are collected so that journalists can investigate the reports afterwards.  In essence - this is a powerful tool for journalists that are working to document and report the violence. 

This tool developed by Ushahidi is now being used (pilot projects) in other countries and communities such as South Africa and the Democractic Republic of Congo.

I hope we hear from Ushahidi about their tool and the ways in which this tool can be used by practitioners - and also about the impact of such geo-mapping (crisis-mapping) projects.

In addition to supplying leads and information to journalists to report acts of violence, how else can 'crisis-mapping' be used by human rights activists? 

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

--- Using geo-mapping to promote transparency

How have you used geo-mapping to uncover patterns, trends, and evidence of human rights abuse?  Have you used this data for advocacy / activism?  How did you collect your data?  What are the risks involved?  What about privacy and security issues for those events and other data being mapped?

Under this theme, share your examples, the challenges you have faced
and the lessons you learned.  We want to hear your stories.  Any
resources or tools to share?  Yes, add those, too! 

I think my other post on

I think my other post on satellite imagery as evidence answers some of this. In general, yes!

Example: Mapping LGB rights in Europe (by ILGA-Europe)

I came across this interesting example of using geo-mapping to visualize information for the purpose of promoting transparency when a representative of ILGA contacted New Tactics to find out more about this dialogue.  ILGA-Europe (the European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) is an umbrella organization for 222 organizations throughout Europe.  ILGA is a voice for the rights of those who face discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

In the summer of 2009, ILGA published the 'Rainbow Europe Map', a geo-map that reflects the legal situation for lesbian, gay and bisexual people. 

"The ‘Rainbow Europe’ map reflects legal advanced such as protection from discrimination, recognition of LGB families and parenting rights, inclusion of sexual orientation in hate speech/crime legislation. The map also highlights the ‘darker’ corners of ‘Rainbow Europe’ where there is still criminalisation of consenting same-sex acts, unequal age of consent and there Pride events have been banned during last 10 years." (from the ILGA website)

After collecting, mapping and analyzing this data, ILGA summarized the findings by listing positive advancements in the protection of the rights of LGB families and also the 'spots of discrimination and inequality.  They also offer much more detailed information in their country-by-country reports. Here is what they found:

Summary of the mapped legal situation for lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Europe:


  • 2 countries’ constitutions refers to sexual orientation in their anti-discrimination provisions
  • 13 countries and 1 territory bans sexual orientation discrimination in employment
  • 25 countries and 5 territories ban sexual orientation discrimination in employment, access to good and services
  • 15 countries refer to sexual orientation in hate speech/crime legislation
  • 5 countries allow same-sex partners to marry
  • 13 countries and 2 territories allow same-sex partners to register their partnerships
  • 13 countries recognise cohabitation of same-sex partners
  • 9 countries entitle same-sex partners to apply for joint adoption
  • 11 countries allow that same-sex partners can adopt each other biological child of child(ren)
  • 10 countries provide fertility treatment for lesbian couples

spots of discrimination and inequality:

  • 2 countries and 3 territories still have unequal age of consent for all sexual acts
  • 1 territory still criminalises consenting sexual acts between adult men
  • 8 countries banned LGBT public events during the last 10 years


The Rainbow Map is displayed in two images: Side A and Side B and they are happy to send high-resolution images to any organization that wants to use this map for advocacy and to promote transparency in their own countries regarding the rights of GLBT individuals.

Any other examples out there of geo-mapping projects that are meant to promote more transparency around human rights issues?

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

The use of the ILGA-Europe LGB Rainbow map

The map has been a real success since ILGA-Europe launched it in July 2009. It has been widely used by media, high level decision makers as the LGBT Intergroup in the European Parliament to student and researchers. Moreover feedback from ILGA-Europe members has been very possitive, and many members has printed the map in their publications.

Why? The map is a very easy way to understand the conteniued struggle for lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Europe. It is clear from the map, that there is not equality in even the most progressive countries in Europe such as The Netherlands, Sweden and others.

Not a single country in Europe (and also for the rest of the world) can claim to tick off all the principles in the important Yogyakarta Principles (a UN level application from 2006 concerning International Human Rights Law in relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, read more about the Principles here).

It is also very clear from the map, that state homophobia is just "next door" - and violations of basic human rights occurs in numorous European countries.

Two big misunderstandings in the LGBT communities in progressive countries are - 1. there is no more to fight for, because we have 100% equality, 2. the countries that have huge problems with LGBT equality is far away from their daily life.

The information needed for this understanding is made accecible in an easy way by the map.

Transgender issues has not been included in this map, but ILGA-Europe is cooperating with Transgender Europe, so a renewed map can be published including all the letters in LGBT. We hope to publish an updated LGBT version in 2010.

Stay tuned for next versions of the map at our website.


Nanna Moe,

Communications Officer
ILGA-Europe - the European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA).
Working for human rights and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people at European level

How easy is geo-mapping?

Being surounded by geo-mapping experts I wonder what you think is needed to start a geo mapping project? Are there specific requirements? Does it make sense for beginners to engage into geo-mapping?

There are many example of interesting projects using existing data sources and mapping for advocacy. One such project is EightMaps ( “Eight Maps” has been mapping people in San Fransisco, who donate for a campaign against a law that supports sex marriage, trying this way to put them on the spot. I am not sure I would go this far due to privacy concerns, but I think it is an interesting example to use maps for advocacy.

Another example is the mapping of protest after the elections in Iran:

Lastly I wonder what you think of these two efforts in terms of transparency and impact?

Christian Kreutz  –

Ease of geo-mapping and data issues

I think this helps highlight that maps can be very political tools.&nbsp; We have assumed in this conversation that their use is "good" but the first example here shows a fine line between being used as a tool of oppression and 'transparency'. &nbsp; I'm not saying this does that per se, but if this were a map of abortion providers' private homes or human rights activists in Iran I imagine there might be some serious protest.&nbsp; Is this their work?&nbsp; Home address?&nbsp; Why do you want to share their location, so we can visit and harass them?
On another side, now that just about anyone can create a 'map' it is becoming harder to know what to trust.&nbsp; Visualization and this new era of mashups is so easy, and can lie quite well, hiding lack of real 'data', obscure where those data came from or misrepresent with candy-colored icons.&nbsp;
People have always placed a great deal of trust in maps as official repositories of information they can trust, but as the definition and access to creating maps changes, this trust in maps needs to change as well.&nbsp; I think the sources of and confidence in data are going to be paramount in these new uses of maps, and the visualization or mapping second.&nbsp; And with the flood of milions of user-created maps of varying quality floating around the web, using them effectively will require more creativity for human rights activists to get noticed and make an impact .

Volunteer action for transparency

Dear Michael,

 thanks for further thoughts on trust around maps. I agree it is tricky as the above example shows. But I think there are also great projects, which aim for transparency, where there was no before. One such project is: Stop Stockouts! Tracking medicine stockouts in Kenya, Malawi, Uganda and Zambia.




Threatened Voices: tracking suppression of online free speech

A new initiative has been launched by Global Voices called 'Threatened Voices.'  This project maps "instances where bloggers and online writers have been threatened, arrested, killed, or disappeared by authorities since 2000 (where our database begins) until today."  It features a world map and an interactive timeline that help visualize the story of threats and arrests against bloggers worldwide, and it is a central platform to gather information from the most dedicated organisations and activists, including Committee to Protect Bloggers, The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, Reporters without Borders, Human Rights Watch, CyberLaw Blog, Amnesty International, Committee to Protect Journalists, Global Voices Advocacy.

The project also collects data from anyone through their website.  Users/contributers can submit information about new arrests, threats and online campaigns supporting oppressed bloggers, as well as help to keep the database current by sending Threatened Voices updates.  Threatened Voices states - All submitted information will be reviewed before publication.

This is an interesting example of working with a number of partners that have already have the data, but maybe not geo-coded yet.  Also a great example of using geo-mapping to promote transparency around freedom of speech. 

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

--- Using geo-mapping to engage communities

How have you used geo-mapping to engage communities?  Can geo-maps be used to mobilize communities to action?

Under this theme, share your examples, the challenges you have faced
and the lessons you learned.  We want to hear your stories.  Any
resources or tools to share?  Yes, add those, too! 


Topic locked