Maps for FORB Advocacy

Article by Mike Gabriel, Sri Lanka

The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) has been documenting incidents of targeted violence against the country’s Christians since 1991.

A few years ago, NCEASL, explored the digital terrain for possible alternatives to our traditional methods of documentation. The result was, NCEASL’s very own crisis map to record violations of the right to Freedom of Religion or Belief (FORB) of Christians. This was groundbreaking for us.

NCEASL’s map is based on an Ushahidi platform and is hosted on Ushashidi is truly an amazing platform that enables literally anyone to create a customizable crowd map within a matter of minutes.
Our thinking behind mapping incidents of persecution is based on the simple premise that the usefulness of information depends on one’s ability to communicate it effectively. If years of experience in advocacy have taught us anything, it is this: well-timed, concise and well-presented information is the greatest asset in advocacy. Apart from this, we’ve also come to realize that data visualization is crucial to capture and hold the attention of modern audiences.

Three years on, NCEASL’s vision for the map is the same as when it was first launched: To act as a repository of information containing FORB violations of Christians and a tool that aids FORB advocacy in Sri Lanka. There is however something unique about NCEASL’s crisis map. Unlike other crisis maps, our map is not a response to an acute short-term emergency. Rather, it is an attempt to engage a systemic issue in the country.
Data collection for our map is carried out via crowdsourcing. In other words information on the map is based on direct reporting from victims of FORB violations, who themselves call and report incidents of persecution.

When documenting incidents, we follow a simple methodology that categorises incidents according to source; incident type; violence, perpetrator, and Christian denomination. This is then further broken down into sub categories. Overtime we’ve also come to realise the value that crisis maps add to our data by permitting us to geo-tag locations of incidents. This indeed is revolutionary as it breathes life to information.

For advocates in the field of religious freedom, the challenge is to work effectively, linking creative thinking with meaningful action. Crisis mapping has also been used in India to map hate crimes against Christians. The website depicts incidents of violence across the country. Such geographical plotting of incidents has aided human rights agencies to analyze trends of violence and the rising ideology of hate against minorities.
For instance, in India, such data has been used by civil society groups to campaign against the rising impunity amongst non-state actors and the inaction of the present government towards victims of communal violence. The 100 Days Under the New Regime Report: The State of Minorities and 300 Days: Documenting Sangh Hate and Communal Violence under the Modi Regime are reports that have been published within the last 6 months using data from the

Crowdmaps also allow legal professionals to identify vulnerable people groups that need to be focused on with better legal advocacy and assistance. Such processes allow efficient and effective allocation of resources like manpower, education and field training to counter acts of violence against Christians. The Report 2014 released in India those who are most vulnerable to violence and also provides a peek into probable timelines of increased attacks on minorities.

For today's tech savvy culture, Crowdmaps are easy to use, especially to disperse information through various social media platforms. This enables more accountability and ownership among minority groups to understand rising communal trends in the society.

Crisis maps have helped advocates, both in India and Sri Lanka to combine creativity with meaningful action. It is truly amazing how ICT solutions can be used to advance human rights in any given context. It is imperative, therefore, that advocates are eager to track and test tools and technologies that can be harnessed to advance human rights in their settings.  It is not folly to be driven by the idea that greater efficiency and innovation for advocacy could just be a click away!


Join our human rights lawyers community

Email us if you would like to add documents to our legal resource hub