Defence of Human Rights

Two weeks ago, I was a participant at a panel (Communicating Human Rights through Technology) at the HURIDOCS Conference in Geneva. To be fair, I had a glimpse in a completely new area I know little about, Human Rights. It was incidently the opportunity to discover that an article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (full text on WikiSource) includes a rather unknown article. Ask anyone in the street, they will tell you about "the right to life", "No one shall be subjected to torture", "Everyone has the right to a nationality", or "Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty". And of course the famous "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression".

But did you know that

  • Article 27 states: (1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
  • And 29: (1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.

I did not know myself. Thinking of Wikipedia, I thought we were linked to Human Rights mostly due to these "right to education" and "freedom of speech" things. But we actually go far beyond. I also appreciate that the Declaration is not only about Rights, but also about Duties.

Anyway, I consequently discovered Huridocs, an organization developing and providing technological tools to help organizations promoting Human Rights. And I wanted to point out to three "tools".

First tool, Using video in advocacy. Sitting on the panel was Sam Gregory, program director of WITNESS. Witness uses online technologies and videos for advocacy. Pretty impressing presentation and free resource available on the witness website (the book is "Video for Change: A Guide for Advocacy and Activism", it may be purchased or is available for download online in several languages). It reminds me of 2007 when Jimmy made a video calling for donations. It was a pretty decent video overall (but for the twisting hands and the weird scary eyes at the beginning of the video), but compared to some of the (very disturbing) videos I saw at Huridocs, there is no doubt a more professional approach when making videos could do wonders.

Second tool I discovered is Hushahidi, a plateform that crowdsource crisis information. The speaker was Patrick Meier, but the topic was also presented a few hours later at LIFT (which was just taking place one level below HURIDOCS). I would not be surprised that this becomes a hot topic in the next few months all over Europe. Ushahidi is a free and open source project with developers hailing from Kenya, Ghana, South Africa, Malawi, Netherlands and the USA working on it. The platform allows anyone to submit crisis information through text messaging using a mobile phone, email or web form.
The information is then displayed on a map, along with category information. There is an overview of plotted incident over time, plus official reporting. Have a look here. There is still much to improve, but that's clearly a very interesting tool to follow.

The last tool which raised my thoughts is Hurisearch. It is a multi-lingual (77 languages) web search engine developed by HURIDOCS to provide faster and more precise access to human rights information. HuriSearch provides access to over 4,500 human rights websites, with a total of over 3,6 million pages. Okay, great concept.
But then I asked an Huridocs person to show me the tool. Gives very good results, and mostly, no ambiant noise as one may find on Google. However, when I asked him who was updating the "search volume" (eg, adding a new website, removing a new website), the answer was "me". In short, that's a one person (or one small group of person) updating the search volume. I would not be surprised (though I did not check to be fair) that the volume mostly include rather mainstream websites, non controversial and probably not in too many languages websites (for practical reasons). Would not it be great if the search volume was in the hand of the community using the website (rather than in the hands of the organization providing the tool) ?

Right now, the main "users" of the search tool appear to be the members of Huridocs. It could be conceivable to change the system so that members of Huridocs can propose new websites or drive removal of websites, or of individual pages for that matter (such as a blog page, or a press release). Users could also vote (approve or disapprove) websites, with an impact on the search (websites appear higher or lower in the search result) or no impact (visual stars simply show readers' appreciation of the content).

When I mentionned the idea to Huridocs, the answer was not quite clear. But the more I think about it, the more it seems to me that such a tool could interest private groups (such as associations, communities of practice, clubs). Just provide a search&community platform and let the community decide what the search volume should be.

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