‘How tools on the internet have been used to protect human rights defenders’

by Ole Christiansen

Introduction

The tech industry is often showcased as a human rights issue. Big tech companies have been accused of knowingly benefitting from human rights abuses in, for example, the Democratic Republic of Congo (Skelton, 2020). There are however times where the opportunities that tech provides, have been used to protect human rights defenders by creating tools to support them. This article will go over three examples of how that has been done. 

The Uncensored Library – Reporters without borders
https://uncensoredlibrary.com/

In many countries, the internet is being heavily regulated by oppressive leaders to censor what information is available to their citizens. Young people grow up only being able to access governmental disinformation. Reporters Without Borders have found a loophole in the internet censorship and can make information available to these citizens. While other media is blocked or controlled, the world’s most popular game, Minecraft, is still accessible. The Uncensored Library exists only in Minecraft and stands up for the right to information (Reporters Without Borders, 2020).

The Uncensored Library was released in March of 2020 and contains banned reporting from Mexico, Russia, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. Each country has its own wing of the virtual library (Reporters Without Borders, 2020). 


The right to information has been removed from citizens in many parts of the world. Without the ability to reach uncensored, people will grow up blindly believing in governmental disinformation. It gives journalists a platform to publish their work and make their voices heard despite being banned. It’s important to have press freedom to give readers a chance to inform themselves about the actual political situation in their country (Reporters Without Borders, 2020). 

WITNESS

WITNESS org is a platform that helps people use video and technology to protect and defend human rights. WITNESS supplies people with resources and training in how to use technology to document human rights violations. By documenting human rights violations through videos, WITNESS helps activists and citizens to expose the truth. Founded in 1992, Witness is now active in 135 countries, partnering with 570 human rights groups (WITNESS, n.d.).


WITNESS Regional Programs have team members in Brazil, Malaysia, Mexico, The Netherlands, Senegal, Turkey, and the United States. By collaborating with grassroots activists, journalists, lawyers, NGOs, and media makers they’re creating a local impact (WITNESS, n.d.).  

In the sub-Saharan region of Africa, WITNESS is supporting groups using video evidence to prosecute war crimes, election monitoring, combating gender-based violence and discrimination against LGBTQ communities, and documenting abuse by extractive industries (WITNESS, n.d.).

Their team in Asia and the pacific focuses on combating religious fundamentalism and ethnic cleansing along with supporting post-war rebuilding through training and distribution of resources (WITNESS, n.d.). 

In Latin America and the Caribbean WITNESS has regional teams supporting local activists fight against extractive industries, police violence, and for indigenous rights (WITNESS, n.d.). 

In the Middle East and North Africa, there was an online, interconnected revolution that heavily utilized mobile filming, during the Arab Spring protests of 2011. By training activists on filming, advocacy, and security, WITNESS helps to build on the existing network (WITNESS, n.d.).

WITNESS is also active in the United States. With a Brooklyn-based team, they work nationwide focusing on issues of police accountability, immigrant rights, indigenous rights, and LGBTQ rights (WITNESS, n.d.). 


By documenting human right violations and archiving them in a network, it makes the impact bigger. Instead of being a single voice, WITNESS helps people get their stories out. Everyone now has a camera in their pocket, but it can be dangerous for some people to record. WITNESS helps them record safely and helps them get heard (WITNESS, n.d.).

GlobalVoices.org
https://globalvoices.org/

Global Voices describes themselves as “an international, multilingual, primarily volunteer community of writers, translators, academics, and human rights activists.” (Global Voices, n.d.). They leverage the power of the internet to build understanding across borders. They do this through four steps: Report, Translate, Defend and Empower (Global Voices, n.d.). 

Global Voices has a multilingual newsroom that reports on those voices that are rarely heard or seen in mainstream media (Global Voices, n.d.). To make the stories more available, Global Voices has a team of volunteers translating their content (Global Voices, n.d.). The team is called Lingua and they do translations into dozens of languages (Global Voices, n.d.). To defend human rights activists, their Advox team “advocates for free speech online, paying special attention to legal, technical and physical threats to people using the internet to speak out in the public interest.” (Global Voices – Advox, n.d.). 

Along with the aforementioned, Global Voices empowers people by providing them with training and mentorship on how to tell their own stories using participatory media tools (Global Voices, n.d.). They do this through their Rising Voices program (Rising Voices, n.d.). Their mission is to “help bring new voices from new communities and speaking endangered or indigenous languages to the global conversation by providing training, resources, microgrant funding, and mentoring to local underrepresented communities that want to tell their own digital story using participatory media tools.” (Rising Voices, n.d.). 

By being global and multilingual, Global Voices gives people a place to speak up and be heard worldwide. Stories that would not be heard otherwise can now be heard by anyone willing to listen, even if they do not speak the same language. 

Conclusion

The internet has provided human rights defenders with a new way to connect. By using the internet, they can connect with people around the world. It also allows them to communicate with more people, and by doing that it puts more pressure on legislators to make a change. Oppressive governments may try to put limits on the internet and regulate it to fit their narrative, but because of the size of the web, there will always be opportunities for loopholes. The internet also provides an easier way to distribute tools and teaching globally, instead of being limited by locality and travel. Human rights defenders have been able to create large networks spanning across the entire globe, because of the availability and size of the internet. While big tech companies might create problems in terms of human rights, there is also another side to the story.

Reporters Without Borders, 2020. The Uncensored Library. [Online]
Available at: https://uncensoredlibrary.com/

Rising Voices, n.d. About. [Online]
Available at: https://rising.globalvoices.org/about/

Skelton, S. K., 2020. Major tech companies respond to lawsuit over mining deaths. [Online]
Available at: https://www.computerweekly.com/news/252490351/Major-tech-companies-respond-to-lawsuit-over-mining-deaths

WITNESS, n.d. Witness – About. [Online]
Available at: https://www.witness.org/about/

WITNESS, n.d. WITNESS – Regional Programs. [Online]
Available at: https://www.witness.org/our-work/regional-programs/

Published by Impala Global

Our goal is to ensure that the global health and human rights implications of technology are considered to ensure an inclusive future.

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