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Amnesty International Annual Reports, 1961­-2013

Torture Incident Database

Amnesty International Annual Report is an annual report published by Amnesty International (AI) on human rights, and on the organization's work in rights advocacy globally. AI was founded in 1961 and has been issuing its report every year since 1962. Unfortunately this treasure trove of data on human rights violations are locked up in pdf reports and inaccessible to policy makers, academics, campaigners and anyone else who wants to use the data for research or advocacy.

Your challenge is to help classify one subset of the data: incidents that relate to torture practices over time. This data will be used to inform our new global campaign against torture, which launches in May 2014 with a Global Design Challenge on Storytelling with Data.

This will involve: 1. Recommending a system to code and classify the data from the annual reports that will provide AI with information on: a) Countries that torture according to AI data over time b) Methods of torture according to countries and over time c) Torture cases and incidents split between those that take place in civilian custody and those that occur while in detention or hands of military/security forces

  1. Starting to build an open dataset online which we can continue to build off and engage researchers and volunteers in helping to complete. We will use this as a model to start working on classification of other areas of human rights violations until we have published all of the data from our annual reports online in a simple, indexed and searchable dataset.

Ultimately while we are asking you to focus on building a torture incident database, we are long­term interested in breaking the pdf cycle at Amnesty and proving the value of opening up our data so that the organization invests in this more widely at an institutional level. We can’t do it alone!


We have put all of the annual reports from 1961­-2013 in a shared Dropbox folder. For reference, not all our reports are published online but you can access web based versions from 1961­-85 and 2006 onwards.

UC Merced has previously done some work classifying torture incidents from all AI publications (not just the annual reports). This may provide useful insights into methodology on indexing.

Below you can find a taxonomy AI uses in relation to methods of torture.

Tanya O’Carroll from Amnesty International will be available to answer any questions at 1pm ET (unfortunately being based in London I can’t make it in person) Add me on Google + and I’ll be online at that time:

What’s in the reports?

Until 1965, the reports focus mainly on set­up, structure and overview of AI’s work. In 1965, there is the introduction of a section looking at specific countries in which AI conducted research that year which becomes a staple part of the report from that point on. The annual reports do not maintain a consistent format or approach to content covered. Over the years, the country sections tend to get more detailed and the reports cover a larger list of countries. Each report does not cover the exact same list of countries year on year and the list is not exhaustive. This needs to be factored in when creating codes for indexing the data.

For the first 10 years, the Annual Reports focus on prisoners of conscience until 1972 when Amnesty launched its first Campaign for the Abolition of Torture. From then onwards torture and ill treatment is an issue covered in the country­-by-­country reports and regularly there is a separate thematic section devoted to AI’s work on the issue. There have been 3 multi­year campaigns focused on ending torture over the years ­- in 1972, 1984 and 2000 (as well as a campaign to Stop the Torture Trade in 1995). The fourth Campaign to End Torture will be launched in 2014.