What is the good conflict data?

I got an email today from a 2nd year law school student who, unlike many of the folks who email me, did due diligence trying to answer the question prior to writing me.  This is the query.

Professor Moore,

I am a second year law student… and am writing a comment for [a clinic]. I am having a little trouble tracking down certain data and was hoping you could help.

I’m trying to quantify the worst conflicts since 2003 to see whether the International Criminal Court is dealing with the most grave situations within its jurisdiction. The ICC has stated, “A key consideration [in the selection process] is the number of victims of particularly serious crimes”. I’ve decided to gauge the number of victims by finding: persons killed per conflict (ideally civilians killed) and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) per conflict. Other metrics would be great (such as torture / rape victims), but it’s hard to get reliable, cumulative figures for the whole time span I’m looking at.

Do you have any suggestions for credible sources for this sort of data between July 2002 and the present for all the major conflicts around the world??

After going through numerous sites, I’ve settled on these sources:
Persons killed:

UCDP Conflict Database: http://www.ucdp.uu.se/gpdatabase/search.php . Notes: very comprehensive but I’ve found discrepancies from other reliable sources for certain conflicts

US State Dep’t Reports: http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/ . Notes: reports sometimes don’t provide cumulative figures for the year. Can potentially be biased for certain conflicts that the US has an interest in


Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre: http://www.internal-displacement.org/IDMC_IDP-figures_2001-2010.pdf

I apologize for the length of the email. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you,

Because my response might be useful to others (and some might wish to lodge their disagreement or elaboration), I paste it below.

Hi, you have done a good job tracking down sources, though you might consider using either the CIRI database or the Political Terror Scale in lieu of the US State Department Reports if you prefer quantitative scales as those code the reports.

Now, to discrepancies: it is important to understand that all of these data are estimates (and not statistical estimates, in the technical sense of that term, but educated conjectures).  As such, there will be discrepancies.  In the scholarly world where we are accustomed to working with noisy data (consider that GDP, GNP, and so on are estimates, as are all other macroeconomic indicators; and again, few are statistical estimates).  The legal world has a different standard, and the Human Rights Data Analysis Group is at the forefront of that movement.  So the bad news is what you seek does not exist.  The good news, on the other hand, is that you have done good work.

Best of luck.

– Will


About Will H. Moore

I am a political science professor who also contributes to Political Violence @ a Glance and sometimes to Mobilizing Ideas . Twitter: @WilHMoo
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