SJAC’s Database Software: A free resource for human rights activists
Atrocities across the world are being documented by civilians and eyewitnesses at an unprecedented scale. Since the first protests erupted in Syria in 2011, Syrian victims, eye-witnesses, and even perpetrators themselves have captured and disseminated millions of videos and images of violations using their mobile devices and social media platforms. The ability to capture and publicize such massive amounts of potential evidence has profound implications for the human rights sphere, presenting new opportunities, and also risks, in the documentation of war crimes. In its efforts to preserve and utilize digital data to advance justice efforts for Syrians, the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC) has pioneered the use of new technologies in the field of human rights. Its relational database software “Bayanat” has now been made open-source for free download by researchers, activists, and organizations to use. SJAC’s goal is to provide human rights documenters all over the world with open-source software that will allow them to safely and securely preserve and analyze evidence of human rights violations.
What is Bayanat?
In 2014, SJAC developed its own original relational database software designed to download, label, process, and analyze large data sets of digital evidence. Since its founding in 2012, SJAC has preserved over 1.8 million pieces of data, such as videos uploaded to Youtube and their accompanying metadata. Using this software, SJAC’s team of dedicated data analysts have analyzed and labeled more than 350,000 videos. Events, actors, and labels can be clustered to facilitate analysis, and to identify evidence for specific incidences, types of violations, and other investigations. In several instances, SJAC has utilized its database to find relevant data in response to requests made by national prosecutors in Europe. SJAC also shares its data with the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM), a United Nations mechanism mandated to assist with the investigation and prosecution of persons allegedly responsible for the most serious crimes in Syria.
“There are millions of pieces of documentation that were collected during the Syrian conflict, it is almost impossible to find what you are looking for if you are a prosecutor. This work is organizing and cataloging this data in a way that makes it accessible to anyone who wants to reach specific info.” – says SJAC’s Senior Data Analyst.
2020 Open Source Update and Launch
In 2020, SJAC released Bayanat on Github, making the source-code for the database software freely available to the public. After six years of development and internal utilization, the software was released following a major update. Non-profit organizations interested in technical support should reach out to SJAC at [email protected]
Rewritten in Python with the Flask framework, Bayanat offers:
- Clear and consistent user interface with a focus on performance and efficiency;
- User management and permissions system that allows multiple levels of access;
- Detailed revision history for each item in the database, with snapshots for each edit;
- Activity monitoring tool to track all logins and changes in the database;
- Powerful custom search and filtering tool that allows user to build simple and complex search queries; and
- Simple data management app to facilitate processing large datasets.