Moments saillants du CI 2011


Le 30e Conseil international (CI) d’Amnesty International a pris fin le 19 août 2011. Voici certains de ses moments saillants.

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Technology for Human Rights

Thursday’s plenary session “Tech for Human Rights” provided delegates with a broad overview of how technology can be used to help human rights defenders speak out, to monitor human rights violations, and to mobilize the public. Three panellists who joined via Skype (Ramy Raoof from Egypt, Emin Milli from Azerbaijan, and Rakesh Rajani from Tanzania) talked about their experiences and made suggestions how Amnesty International could do more about using technology to strengthen its work.

The recent developments in North Africa and the Middle East have shown the impact communication tools such as blogs and social networks can have on mobilizing people to stand up for human rights. A well-known example is “A Tunisian Girl”, a blog by Lina Ben Mhenni, which has been a very important information source for Tunisian citizens working for human rights and democracy in their country. People in countries that restrict freedom of expression in the public “offline” space have realized that the online space offers them much more freedom to share information and opinions. Technology is developing rapidly and it’s cheap and widely available. It has become very easy to share information instantly across the globe. Mobile devices have become more and more powerful, so that people now have amazing communication and information tools at their fingertips, wherever they go. However, authoritarian regimes are keen on controlling the online space: you have probably heard of the “Great Firewall” used by the Chinese government to censor and control the internet in China. Our struggle for freedom of expression will increasingly be fought online. A recent example: A new Saudi terrorism law was leaked and Amnesty reported on it, and as a result Amnesty’s website was blocked in Saudi Arabia.

For NGOs, social media such as Facebook and Twitter offer new opportunities to connect with members, supporters and the public. Information about human rights abuses and calls for actions to end such abuses can be shared easily. But: Using social media for human rights activism should not lead to ‘feel-good clicktivism’. It should not replace offline ‘real-world’ activism, but complement and support it. Of course, the value of being able to rally supporters around a cause should not be dismissed. But real advocacy and impact-oriented activism must follow. As blogger Kevin Asuncion puts it: “Face to face, not Facebook to Facebook.”

The potential that new technologies offer to monitor human rights violations has not been fully explored yet, but there are exciting projects that show what is already possible. The Satellite Sentinel Project aims at using satellite imagery combined with field reports to provide early warnings about humanitarian catastrophes that are about to happen. Eyes on Darfur was a similar project by Amnesty International USA, part of the section’s work on Science for Human Rights. During the plenary session, video clips were shown that explored new ideas how we could get real-time information about human rights violations in order to prevent a situation from turning into a humanitarian catastrophe such as a genocide. For example, in countries where internet access is restricted by the government, satellite communications could be used to achieve stable and secure connections. People could be equipped with apps on their mobile phones that form an early warning system. With a press of a button people could signal when they see atrocities happen, and these alerts would automatically be geotagged (location information is added), so that a “heat map” can be created to show how unrest or attacks in a certain region spread. The maps could be supplemented by videos to provide evidence. Some of the things presented in the plenary might have struck delegates as “futuristic”. However, considering how fast technology is advancing, we can expect many things presented yesterday to be mainstreamed and play a very important role for our human rights work very soon.

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“The future ain’t what it used to be”

Technology and human rights, or human rights and technology?

The Amnesty ICM 2011 technology and human rights session opened with an inspirational introduction by Yutaka Ogita, an Amnesty International Japan activist since the 1970s. A handful of others stood up who have also been Amnesty members since the 70s, an impressively long time to be part of one of the original social networks.

However, Amnesty’s history is composed of approximately 40 years of offline activism, and so far, around 10 years of dedicated online work. The offline actions, far from being threatened by contemporary social media, are more relevant than ever for the countries that are most in need of human rights. Technology itself isn’t necessarily the challenge here, but it is essential to consider how human rights work may evolve in the future.

Owen Valentine Pringle, Director of Digital Communications at Amnesty International chaired this session’s panel, and opened by stating that “the idea of participation is beyond that which we have ever known.” Although in the global North, we might consider this to mean the many forms of social media in terms of Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and now Google +, these mediums can in fact be limited in their scope in the global South.

In some countries in the global South, Owen described how technology, arguably like democracy, does not necessarily have to be perfect (whatever perfect may be taken to mean, democracy not being an easily transferable template), but it is indeed a necessity.

Necessity too, comes in different forms, and for technology to have the most impact, it must be as relevant and accessible to as many people as possible, whether they care to call themselves activists or not.

In an excellent video demonstrating what could be expected if the Amnesty ICM 2011 travelled in a  time machine forward to 2015, as Yogi Berra has stated, and Owen quoted, “the future ain’t what it used to be.” In the video, there featured a futuristic news piece talking about Burma suffering an uprising under the hands of the junta. In 2015, the time travelling machine reported that the junta would cut the internet access to Burmese citizens as a result of an uprising, but they could access the internet through suitcases distributed throughout Burma, using up excess bandwidth. However, even this technology of internet in suitcases is not as useful as technology that maybe we often take for granted in the global North.

Technology is limited in human rights work if the latest computer or the most advanced smartphone cannot be used for empowerment, impact, and active participation, and if others in our community do not have access to the same technologies as others, using them will not always mobilise as many people as is necessary.

Salil Shetty, Secretary General, discussed the importance of the immediacy of mobile phones and FM radio, which facilitate the ability for urgency when communicating with individuals and communities, giving case studies of Nepal and parts of Africa. Amnesty has distributed many FM radios to individuals in Burma, as this is the most effective way of communicating news to many communities. The campaign was launched two days after Aung San Suu Kyi’s release in November 2010. The impact that the use of FM radio can have on human rights action is huge, very quickly mobilising communities, and not requiring a privacy policy like social media – listening to radio can be anonymous.

Emin Milli, a guest speaker who talked via Skype from Azerbaijan elaborated on this, suggested that rather, it is the human part of technology that we must concentrate on, as opposed to the inverse. How you expose injustices and get attention is what is most essential.

On the other hand, Rakesh Rajani, talking via Skype from Tanzania, suggested that offline media will always have restrictions whereas online media will not. However, even though there will always be a place for your view online, what is the difference online between rights and responsibilities? Do the same responsibilities apply in both the on and offline worlds?

We were also privileged to have the insight of Ramy Raoof from Egypt on Skype, and what all speakers agreed on is that the most important kind of action is offline activism and impact, and finally, that online movements cannot exist without some kind of offline participation. When thinking about how to best utilise technology for human rights work, we should not necessarily strive to use the latest and most advanced, but what is most relevant to the people who want to fight for their rights, and being creative whilst doing so.

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La technologie, une formidable opportunité pour la militance.

La session de ce cinquième jour s’est penchée sur une thématique de plus en plus d’actualité. A l’heure où les nouvelles technologies connaissent un développement vertigineux, il aurait été fort regrettable de ne pas voir la réflexion sur « technologie et des droits humains » figurer à l’ordre du jour de conseil international. Après un demi-siècle de travail en matière des droits humains, le moment est plus que jamais arrivé pour Amnesty International de travailler avec les nouveaux outils que lui offre le développement technologique.

Au cours de la session, les interventions ont relevé la possibilité d’actions communes à travers l’utilisation de plus en plus croissante et convergente des nouvelles technologies. Sauf le retard qu’accuse le continent africain en la matière (25 millions d’utilisateurs par rapport à 201 million en Amérique du Nord selon les statistiques de Toutfacebook), on peut dire que dans un futur proche, toute la technologie sera entre les mains de ceux qui voudront s’en servir. S’il est difficile de prédire l’avenir de la technologie, il reste néanmoins possible d’imaginer l’avenir d’Amnesty International avec la technologie.

De prime abord, Widney Brown du  Secrétariat international a précisé que la technologie se veut un outil neutre qui peut servir aussi bien les bonnes causes que les pires. De même, il est important de s’interroger sur l’opportunité des nouvelles technologies pour Amnesty International. Comme l’affirme Shalil, ce qui s’est passé au Moyen-Orient et en Afrique du Nord a renforcé la conviction que les nouvelles technologies peuvent servir la cause des droits humains. On peut donc considérer la technologie comme une formidable opportunité. Mais il est important de ne pas ignorer les menaces que pourrait constituer pour Amnesty International, avertit-il.

Dans le domaine des droits humains, la technologie a déjà permis de réaliser beaucoup de choses extraordinaires. Certains pensent d’ailleurs qu’Amnesty International est le premier réseau social au monde. Pour ce qui est de l’utilisation des réseaux sociaux tels que Facebook, rien qu’à penser aux nombre d’utilisateur de ce réseau (environs 700 millions d’utilisateurs dans le monde, selon les chiffres de Toutfacebook), on réalise les énormes possibilités qu’ils offrent. C’est ainsi que l’on peut compter plus d’une centaine de page Facebook d’Amnesty International.

Comme on peut s’en rendre compte, il existe de nombreuses possibilités mais également d’importantes questions lorsqu’on envisage le travail d’Amnesty International avec la technologie. Par exemple, il faudra chercher les voies et moyens pour rester dans le « One Amnesty » même à travers les réseaux sociaux. Pour Ramy Raoof, l’un des trois intervenants par Skype a cette session, les nouvelles technologies ont donné plus de liberté d’action aux militants des Droits humains, mais l’un des défis pour la « militance online » est de pouvoir s’accompagner d’un travail « off line ».

De nombreuses autres questions restent sous-jacente auxquelles il faut essayer de trouver des réponses. Cette session que Shalil considère d’ailleurs comme la plus importante, a lancé les bases d’une réflexion sur l’innovation pour l’ensemble des domaines de travail  d’Amnesty International. Car en définitive, pour le Secrétaire général d’Amnesty International, aborder le thème de « technologie et droits humains » c’est parler de la façon dont les droits humains vont se développer dans les années à venir a travers le monde.

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Tools for change

Owen Valentine Pringle is Amnesty International’s Director of Digital Communications at the International Secretariat. Owen lead the Tech for human rights plenary session today.

At Amnesty International’s recently held Global Digital Skillshare in London the fifty delegates in attendance applied their technological expertise to a series of real-world scenarios experienced by rights-holders. The brief was as follows: how could technology be utilized to address the problems facing the individuals in question. Now, of course I’m biased, but in over three years since joining Amnesty, I’ve never seen a group come alive with ideas  in the way it did during this session. However, this wasn’t just a workshop as part of the Skillshare, it was intended to be the very beginning of a process in which we would like to build continual innovation into how we work. Our aim was to take one of these ideas and develop it into something tangible, something that would benefit those living through the real situation we had presented as a hypothetical.

In terms of ground rules, firstly, we felt it was imperative to focus on the brief, making sure we were trying to solve the right problem. Secondly, we wanted to think big, but start small. Could we produce a prototype in one part of the world with the aim of improving and replicating the model as we deployed it elsewhere? Third, it was more important to strive for constant evolution than to go for instant perfection. Great, as they say, is the enemy of good. A process of learning quickly and building on ideas would mean fewer delays to getting something out there. Fourth, we accepted that ideas can and do come from everywhere, not just those wearing a professional hat, so how could we encourage ideas from a variety of sources? Lastly, we needed to embrace failure, albeit with we ll-manage d risks , with a view to improving the tools created.

A panel of experts from AccessNow , Dell , Greenpeace  and IDEO  interrogated the ideas presented and helped us to identify which of them had the most potential in terms of necessity, viability and scalability, but the project we chose to take to the next stage was selected by the Skillshare delegates themselves. Of the three scenarios presented, problem 3 – a blogger is under threat of unlawful detention for criticizing the government – was chosen as a pilot. So, where do we go from here?

Well this is where it gets exciting. Today, we’re thrilled to announce the launch of an open innovation challenge to develop technology-based solutions for rights-holders under our Security with Human Rights  campaign. In the coming months, we will tap into the wisdom of researchers, campaigners, communicators, technologists, our supporters and, of course, rights-holders for whom these solutions are to be developed, in order to create a blueprint for the design and build of dedicated digital tools to support their human rights work.

Over the past fortnight, a team at IDEO has been working with the Security with Human Rights team at the International Secretariat to fine-tune the brief presented at the Skillshare. Once finalised, Amnesty International will present the challenge via OpenIDEO, IDEO’s dedicated open innovation platform, which currently has 18,000 members in 170 countries. But this isn’t a closed shop, this is open to everyone, everywhere. And if there’s one thing I’d like from the ICM, it’s for the delegates who attended to think about how their Section or Structure, and members can take part in this process.

Of course, the idea is not just to launch one product or service, we’d like to do this in every area of our work where technology can make a difference. As Amnesty International moves closer to the ground, it’s worth remembering that technology also has to do so as well, whilst drawing upon the global influence we are privileged to have at our disposal. With the help of those we work for and with, we can initiate the design and build of digital services for self-sustaining communities, whether this means through the development of technology for rights-holders or the development of digital platforms and tools for the movement.

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Networks for action: using technology to achieve human rights victories

Many voices converged at this morning’s plenary session, each person weighing in on how we can use technology to promote human rights. Ramy Raoof , Rakesh Rajani, and Emin Milli used their experiences to provide guidance as Amnesty International works to grow its use of technology. Owen Valentine Pringle, Widney Brown, and Salil Shetty discussed Amnesty International’s existing social media work and presented three challenges:

  • How do we become One Amnesty in the digital space?
  • How do we use technology to promote Amnesty International’s research, campaigning, and fundraising?
  • How do we restrain the corporations and governments who are trying to use technology to repress human rights?

We can draw inspiration from our own movement’s history. Amnesty International was, in a sense, one of the first social networks. Fifty years ago, it began as an association of letter writers, working together for the release of unjustly imprisoned people. Those early activists used various forms of media, from newspaper editorials to personal letters, to grow their movement, bringing in people from around the world. Within two years of its founding, Amnesty International had seventy groups in seven countries, all working on behalf of Prisoners of Conscience—a testament to the power of communication and building a network.

In the past fifty years, options for communication have drastically increased, fueled by technological advances. How are we employing these methods in the fight for human rights? Rakesh described how mobile phones are democratizing forces in Tanzania, making fast communication available to rapidly increasing number of people. Unlike the radio, which transmits information from one person to many people, mobile phones allow everyone to spread their ideas. Emin explained that, in Azerbaijan, Facebook statuses are becoming more important than newspapers for updates on current events because they allow for freedom of expression.

Despite the magnitude of these growing digital networks, all of the speakers emphasized that online work has little meaning unless it is connected with offline action. With an increasing focus on digital communication, it becomes easier to get bogged down in the technology, allowing our goals to become growing the digital community rather than mobilizing that community to take action.

The ways the Amnesty International movement uses digital communication will differ in every section and structure, based on a host of factors from resources to culture to legal regulations. All of us must innovate about how we can harness the forces of technology to bring about human rights victories, remembering that technology is a means to an end, not necessarily an end in and of itself.

So, dear reader, don’t just read this blog post, using it to feel more informed about Amnesty International or included in the ICM — that does nothing for human rights. Let’s harness this form of digital communication to grow the network of action. Today at the ICM, we writing letters to end torture, extrajudicial executions, and enforced disappearance in the Gambia. Stand with us! Consider not just signing the online petition, but going back to the type of action on which Amnesty International was founded: mail an actual letter to the President of the Gambia (see a sample letter here). With the proliferation of digital media, handwritten letters stick out to policymakers, giving those letters heightened power.

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El miedo lo tienen ellos

En 2009, dos bloggers de Azerbayán fueron enviados a prisión por haber colgado en Youtube un vídeo satírico para denunciar la falta de libertad de expresión en su país. Aquí tienen el arma del delito. Juzguen ustedes mismos su gravedad:

Cuando algo así ocurre, se pone de manifiesto el aparato represor de un régimen que no comprende o comparte que el respeto a los derechos humanos y a las reglas democráticas es lo que otorga legitimidad al sistema político. Pero hay más… Cuando un gobierno reprime la libertad de expresión no hace sino enviar un mensaje de crítica debilidad. Con demasiada frecuencia, defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos de todo el mundo sufren vulneraciones de derechos como la libertad de expresión o de asociación. Las violaciones de estos derechos humanos demuestran que quienes realmente tienen miedo son los gobiernos represores, los que envían a bloggers a prisión, los que no respetan la independencia del poder judicial, los que no garantizan el derecho de acceso a la información, etc.

Los ataques a los defensores de derechos humanos son una prueba irrefutable de nuestro poder y un indicador clave del impacto del movimiento global por los derechos humanos. Si los bloggers de Azerbayán son perseguidos, si los sitios web son censurados en China o si Estados Unidos pone el grito en el cielo con las filtraciones de Wikileaks, es porque los gobiernos de estos países tienen pavor. No se sienten seguros. Temen una tormenta. Temen que la ciudadanía responda exigiendo que los gobernantes rindan cuentas, que garanticen el acceso a la información, y que no violen los derechos humanos dentro y fuera de sus fronteras supuestamente en nombre de la ciudadanía.

Las nuevas tecnologías proporcionan una larga colección de oportunidades y desafíos para la movilization por los derechos humanos. El futuro inmediato de las redes sociales y de las infrastructuras de comunicación es incierto, como lo es prácticamente todo en el campo de las nuevas tecnologías. Pero ya no se trata de una vía adicional más para el trabajo de los activistas. Las tecnologías de la información y la comunicación (TIC) están aquí para quedarse. Tanto la calidad y la precisión de nuestra investigación, como la rapidez y la extensión de nuestro activismo dependen del modo en que seamos capaces de comprender e integrar las TIC en nuestro trabajo. Si queremos seguir dando miedo, este es sin duda uno de los retos fundamentales para el movimiento global por los derechos humanos.


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