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Student Wins Award for Human Rights Research

February 14, 2014 – A Georgetown student was recently honored for his research work to improve human rights monitoring in a student competition last month. 

Alex Luta (C’16) won the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Human Rights Coalition’s first annual student poster competition Jan. 27-28.

Chosen from five finalists, the winning research poster earned Luta a year’s membership to the scientific society and a year’s paid subscription to Science magazine.

Monitoring Human Rights

The government major’s research poster, “Applications of Geospatial Technology to Human Rights,” suggests that satellite imagery combined with computer-aided statistical analysis could more effectively monitor potential human rights violations in conflict areas not easily accessible to media and non-governmental organizations.

“When there’s a human rights conflict zone … if reporters and journalists want to get into the area, they can’t [because] either there are safety concerns or the government won’t let them,” Luta explains. “So how can we monitor what’s happening with human rights? You can take images by satellites ...”

Examples of geospatial applications in human rights include the detection and documentation of conflict-related destruction in Somalia; observation of forced relocation in Ethiopia; and the location of mass grave sites in Afghanistan.

Raising Awareness

Luta also co-founded GUSHRO (the Georgetown University Science and Human Rights Organization) on campus to raise awareness of human rights abuses.

The student first got involved with human rights monitoring research after taking Applied Statistical Methods as a freshman, when he worked on a final project applying statistics to political science.

That project, titled “Threats from the Inside: An analysis of Post-Coup Military Expenditure,” was exhibited in last year’s Georgetown Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Among Best Students

Ali Arab, assistant professor in the department of mathematics and statistics in Georgetown College and teacher of Applied Statistical Methods, invited Luta to work on the project last summer based on his previous work.

“Alex took this course in his freshman year,” says Arab, “which is not typical. [Applied statistical methods] is an elective course … and is usually taken by students in their junior or senior year. Alex was among the best students in the class.”

Luta, who credits Arab for steering him toward human rights research, is furthering his involvement in the field.

He's now working on additional research on reporting human rights abuses through geospatial analysis.

“If we do not stand up against human rights abuses, they will continue to occur,” says Luta, who would like to pursue medical school and a career in rheumatology. “I hope that through my research, I can directly contribute to monitoring human rights abuses.”