Students Staff

26 November 2014

Essex scientists to develop new tool for reporting human rights abuses

Human rights organisation Minority Rights Group International (MRG) has joined forces with University of Essex language processing experts to develop a new tool for accurately recording civilian-reported human rights abuses.

Recent armed conflicts, like the ongoing Iraq crisis, have shown the growing importance of local, informal reporting of human rights violations through social media and other internet applications.

Street scene in Iraq

The Ceasefire Project will be trialled in Iraq where civilian reporting can help provide human rights information

However, without effective monitoring and validating - particularly where formal reporting is restricted due to security risks or where official permission is denied - serious abuses are at risk of going un-redressed.

Now, through an innovative three-year Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) between the University and MRG, experts from Essex’s Language and Computation Research Group will work on MRG’s Ceasefire Project to develop a web-enabled interface capable of sorting, categorising and validating informal civilian reports to produce reliable human rights data. The Ceasefire Project is being piloted in Iraq with additional funding from the European Union.

KTPs support UK businesses wanting to improve their competitiveness, productivity and performance by accessing the knowledge and expertise available within UK universities and colleges.

This new collaboration is led by Professor Massimo Poesio of Essex’s School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering. Working with Dr Udo Kruschwitz and University of Sheffield graduate Dr Ayman Alhelbawy, Professor Poesio will develop an initial system for MRG to use, and provide MRG with the expertise to adapt and enhance the system for new environments, and in line with communication developments, so that it can be applied in different contexts and conflict situations in the future.

Professor Poesio explained the challenges for his team: “Our system will initially focus on processing Arabic which is a significant challenge as, while there are lots of resources available to process English texts, there are not so many for processing Arabic. But the main challenge for this project will be to develop methods for assessing the reliability of the reports about human rights violations that MRG receives, and of their sources.”

“Another aspect that makes this project especially interesting for us is the way social media posts are written. They are typically very short, of a heterogeneous nature, and don’t usually follow the usual conventions of ‘well-formed’ sentences.”

He added: “This is an exciting opportunity for us to demonstrate the practical use and applicability in a realistic setting of the research we have been conducting here at Essex.”

MRG works in more than 60 countries worldwide supporting minority and indigenous people to maintain their rights to land, language, equal opportunities and full participation in public life.

Mark Lattimer, MRG’s Executive Director, said: “We have long-standing experience of supporting human rights monitoring in difficult situations but what we lack is in-house development expertise in information systems. This project will help us acquire that crucial expertise and will enable us to provide highly effective human rights monitoring and reporting, improving lives on the ground and enabling our organisation to grow.”


More information

For further information please contact the University of Essex Communications Office, telephone: 01206 873529 or email:

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships are a government-funded technology transfer initiative that supports partnerships between business and universities, placing graduates on challenging, high profile projects. Further information of KTPs with the University of Essex please email:

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