Human Rights 2.0?

Firstly, check out Patrick Meier’s blog, iRevolution.

It’s rare that I unhesitatingly recommend a blog for its gripping content and this is one. Patrick’s extremely prolific and this is not the only place he blogs which makes it hard to keep up with his writing, but his significant experience and lateral thinking are evident in any of the posts.

Patrick’s post on Human Rights 2.0 is just one of the posts that caught my eye because Patrick deals with in theory what I am involved in practice – securing fundamental rights of peoples and communities at risk through technology. Patrick showcases an Amnesty International project – Eyes on Darfur – that I first saw at the UN OCHA +5 Symposium last year.

Eyes on Darfur

Patrick’s post with information on AI’s future plans and also the demonstrable difference Eyes on Darfur has already made in Sudan are hugely compelling examples of how technology can meaningfully help strengthen human security.

Human Rights 2.0

On the other hand, I’m a bit sceptical about the term “Human Rights 2.0”. It suggests to me some significant and irreversible progress made globally in human rights protection, when the more egregious cases of HR violations – beginning with the US and extending to governments such as we find in Sri Lanka today – take place with near total impunity and under the radar of the global media. This is not to undermine the importance of initiatives such as Eyes on Darfur, but the Human Rights 2.0 monicker suggests an evolution that frankly is a disconnect from the realities on the ground in many countries around the world. Though technologies such as Web 2.0 can positively transform the manner in which human rights advocacy and monitoring is thought of and actually takes place (InfoShare’s own system is one example) all the technology really does is to strengthen a wider and deeper awareness and appreciation of civil liberties often brushed aside for military and political expediency. In this sense, technology can be a vital witness to the visceral reality of human rights violations (though as I have written before, it may not always be impartial).

So whether it be in helping record incidents or locating them on a map, new technologies give activists new ways to hold those who violate human rights accountable for their actions. However, it is vital to recognise that these new technologies are also available to repressive governments, dictators and paramilitary groups. For example, the purveyors of commercial satellite imagery that AI uses do not (and cannot) necessarily discern between violators and protectors.

Finally, suggesting that we all “upgrade to Human Rights 2.0” is to me confusing, since Human Rights cannot be measured or thought of in the same way as web and Internet technologies. Perhaps the term requires a more precise definition that I encourage Patrick to provide. What would Human Rights 1.0 for example be in contradistinction to Human Rights 2.0? And what are the markers that one has upgraded to Human Rights 2.0? And say for example that initiatives similar to Eyes on Darfur are able to prevent wide-scale massacres, but are powerless to prevent the arbitrary violence against citizens by repressive governments or the continued violation of language rights (with significant implications on the larger human rights context). Would that still be Human Rights 2.0?

None of the presentations I make to human rights and media freedom activists use terms like Web 2.0, UNICODE, AES encryption, over the wire and on disk security, asynchronous access, RSS or GIS – features of human rights advocacy and monitoring solutions I’ve helped develop. For me, buzzwords du jour are less important than the meaningful empowerment of those whose lives are on the line when it comes to HR protection and who don’t have time to become experts in ICT. That’s our job. We all get a high when we see HR activists use our technology – they simply trust the system to deliver results they could not have otherwise achieved, in a manner and media of their own choosing and design. The underlying technology is, for them, invisible and unimportant.

What matters is not Human Rights 2.0, but about being as much of a pain in the arse as possible to those who violate human rights, by recording for posterity and with as much detail as possible, crimes against humanity and human decency.

7 thoughts on “Human Rights 2.0?

  1. Hi Sanjana,

    Many thanks for sharing your thoughts. Your post inspired me to write a follow up:

    Human Rights 2.0: What’s in a name?

    I don’t think I understood your question regarding whether I would still use the term Human Rights 2.0 to describe failed efforts at human rights protection that use ICTs:

    “Would that still be Human Rights 2.0?”

    The term Human Rights 2.0 no more implies innate success than the term “Human Rights” does. Human Rights 2.0 is not an indicator of success.

    The human rights community has always used one form of technology or other when monitoring and documenting violations. The use of satellite imagery is just another tool that can help us be a thorn in the side of those who violate human rights. That’s the first step, i.e., lobbying and advocacy leveraged by innovative technologies. The second step is to provide those at risk with ICTs that can help them protect themselves from human rights abuses. One might call this 2-pronged strategy Human Rights 2.0.

    Any case, that which I call 2.0 by any other name would be just as efficacious.

    Asante sana,

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