Studying Human Rights Through Statistics: A Colloquium with Valentina Rozo-Ángel

February 10, 2023

The “CLAIS Spring ‘23 Colloquium Series” continued last week with a talk by Fox International Fellow Valentina Rozo-Ángel. More than two dozen students and faculty members gathered in Rosenkranz Hall on Wednesday, Feb 8, for the colloquium, titled “Unveiling Patterns of Violence in Truth Commissions through Statistics.”

Following a brief round of introductions, Rozo-Ángel began her talk by explaining the history and purpose of “Truth Commissions.” As she explained, these commissions are meant to protect people’s “right to truth” by completing fact-finding missions about instances of serious human rights violations. Generally, the commissions are non-judicial bodies that are assigned specific periods of interest (what period they need to study), mandates (how long the commission will have the authority to study), and reasons (e.g. military dictatorship, civil war).

Being able to understand how truth commissions function is especially important in Latin America and the Caribbean, where 15 countries have had at least one such commission. Although these commissions can use secondary sources and gather their own testimonies, their constant challenge is dealing with the problem of missing information. Luckily, Rozo-Ángel explained, statistics can fill in gaps in data and make sure that “everybody counts.”

Statistics always involve some degree of uncertainty, but they can also seriously affect commissions’ findings. Rozo-Ángel highlighted the example of Peru, where a commission’s use of statistics meant the difference between 24,000 and 72,000 recorded deaths in a study of political violence in the country. 

After Rozo-Ángel’s presentation, attendees posed questions to her on a variety of topics including discrepancies between databases, political implications of truth commissions’ findings, and the representation of marginalized groups in statistical analyses.

Don’t forget to come out to future CLAIS Colloquia, and keep up with other events on CLAIS’ website and Twitter page!

By Charlie Mayock-Bradley, Student Program Assistant