Books Become Databases: ICJ and HURIDOCS Launch Resources on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Publications, legislation and jurisprudence on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) have become available and well-accessible in two landmark databases on the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) website.

With technical support from HURIDOCS, ICJ makes available in an innovative way all jurisprudence and doctrine on SOGI from the UN human rights system in one database, and SOGI-related national legislation from 24 countries in another. Student researchers from the International Human Rights Programme at the University of Toronto supported the latter database.

Beyond the book: Make information findable

The databases are an outstanding example of what is possible thanks to technology: Whereas the UN compilation was previously available as a book, it is now accessible through many more means, especially a powerful faceted search that enables users to quickly filter information by UN body, region, keywords and type of document.

Exploring data this way, each user can easily find all relevant information. With a book or PDF the task would take longer and lead to less results. The database is thus a tool that gives researchers and advocates what they need – for better analysis and more effective advocacy. It is the definite tool to find all reports and jurisprudence from the UN human rights system related to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.

The database on national legislation covers 24 countries that adopt better practices – the ICJ is hesitant to refer to good practices due to existing shortcomings – which can serve as exemplary for activists advocating for improvements in their own countries. It is a unique collection, and through keywords such as “Marriage” or “Military Service” allows quickly finding what is relevant for a given context.

Leveraging existing technology – benefitting from farsightedness

From a technical perspective we were excited to work together with the ICJ on this project, leveraging our previous cooperation on their website. The databases integrate seamlessly and use the exact same technology that also powers their celebrated advanced search. We also built on our experiences working jointly on the SOGI Casebook.

We think that websites of human rights organisations should be built to support their ongoing efforts, so that no custom development is needed for every new idea that comes up.

Having the technology already in place, we had time to focus on what truly excites us: documentation. The materials in the databases are available in well-accessible formats and the keywords that make them findable are all carefully created by hand, using a coherent system and human rights understanding that computers (to date) cannot handle.

We are excited that this documentation work – which is at the heart of what we have been doing for more than 30 years – is such a strong complement to the technology, and that they jointly create useful resources for human rights activists and researchers. We are convinced they will be useful, and hope that more of these databases will be created – and that they will be able to talk to each other. All that with the overall aim of making sure information is quickly and widely available, ready to be leveraged for action.

What the ICJ says

What a great resource! We will be able to use these databases so much with our members and in our work.

Just wanted to congratulate you on the database. It looks terrific and it’s the kind of thing that we should be doing a lot more of.

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