A tool from Security Force Monitor


What is WhoWasInCommand.com?

WhoWasInCommand.com is a free, public database of police, military and other security and defence forces. It was created and is run by Security Force Monitor - we are an investigative research project based at the Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School in New York. WhoWasInCommand.com contains detailed data we have created about the organizational structure, command personnel, and geographic footprint of police, military and other security and defence forces. We have created all this data by analyzing public sources. Additionally, we structure and compile allegations made publicly by civil society groups of alleged human rights violations committed by security and defence forces.

We created WhoWasInCommand.com to solve a major problem we had experienced in our own work: there is a huge amount of publicly available data about the security and defence forces of many countries of the world, but it is unstructured and scattered amongst a wide variety of sources. This makes it prohibitively costly for people who do public interest work to understand the security and defence forces of a particular country. You can read more about this problem and why we started Security Force Monitor in this blog we posted in 2017.

To address the problem, we search for this information, analyze it, structure it and publish it here on WhoWasInCommand.com where it can help answer questions like:

  • Who is in charge of the specialized anti-riot police unit?
  • What army unit has jurisdiction over what areas and for how long?
  • Where did this commander previously serve, and where did they go next?
  • When was a particular police unit based in a specific city?
  • What allegations have civil society groups made against a unit or commander?

We have created all the data on WhoWasInCommand.com by scrutinizing thousands of public, online sources including official websites of security forces, reporting from domestic and international media, academic research and civil society reports. You can see the sources we have used for every single piece of data on WhoWasInCommand simply by clicking on it.

Who is behind this and why are you doing it?

We’re Security Force Monitor, an investigative research project based at the Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School in New York. Our work is financed through grants from funders including the Open Society Foundations and the OAK Foundation. Further information about our current and past funders can be found here.

Our aim is to make police, military and other security forces around the world more transparent and accountable. We do this by analyzing and structuring public information on the security forces to show their organizational structure, geographical footprint and operational jurisdiction, their command personnel and their potential connections to alleged human rights violations documented by organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

The opaque nature of most security forces means that investigators face a common challenge of connecting abuses committed by security forces to a specific perpetrator. Access to detailed information on the security forces helps human rights groups to name specific perpetrators when abuses occur. When civil society can make specific allegations a host of accountability mechanisms can be set in motion, including: seeking restrictions on security assistance from external providers, naming and shaming advocacy, and international criminal cases.

All of the data collected we have created is published here on WhoWasInCommand.com. We also work in partnership with human rights groups providing research and analytical expertise to identify connections between documented abuses and wider command structures and individual commanders. You can find some of our work with partners on our blog or Twitter.

WhoWasInCommand.com was engineered by DataMade, a data and web consultancy for civil society.

Where can I get help or find out more?

Our website securityforcemonitor.org contains more information about the work we do, including our other initiatives and investigative data projects, our team and advisors, our sources of funding, and the services we offer.

Our public Research Handbook at help.securityforcemonitor.org contains information about:

  • The countries covered on WhoWasInCommand.com.
  • How we find, select and assess information.
  • The fields, formats and data model we use to store and analyse our data.
  • The data you will find on WhoWasInCommand.com, and how to use the platform.

We develop the software that powers WhoWasInCommand.com in the open on Github. You can look at some of our design documents, use the code, and find out what bugs and issues the software has.