As the ways in which we use technology continue to develop, so too do the implications for human rights professionals. Technological and digital innovation is increasingly used by organisations to support human rights and in recent years we have seen the emergence of numerous new career paths in the sector. Human rights defenders also need to be aware of the threats posed to human rights by technology and how to deal with them; unmanned drones and the changing face of modern conflict present grave challenges for human rights across the globe and human rights organisations need to have the knowledge and skills to be able to respond to the complex ways in which technology and human rights interact.
What Does Technological and Digital Innovation Mean for Human Rights?
The rapid expansion of technology has meant that the ways in which we communicate and disseminate information are shifting towards digital platforms. Data published by Pew Research in 2016 revealed that the ‘digital divide’ – the difference in the use and availability of technology between developed and less developed countries – is narrowing, with ‘smartphone ownership rates in emerging and developing nations rising at an extraordinary rate’. This trend highlights new ways for human rights professionals to communicate with a wide audience and to reach millions of people around the world. A host of new opportunities have opened up for tech experts to work in the human rights sector in roles such as app developers and digital communications officers.
These technological advances mean that the human rights worker’s toolkit is expanding in parallel to the expansion of technology. Technology is proving to be particularly important as a means of monitoring and documenting violations of human rights and international laws, and several human rights organisations have embraced technology as a tool for collating evidence and data. WITNESS uses technology to allow citizens across the globe to capture and preserve footage of human rights violations and its ‘media lab’ works to source and verify eyewitness footage uploaded to its platform, serving to empower individual citizens while documenting violations in a way that ensures evidential integrity. eyeWitness similarly uses mobile technology to allow citizens to report human rights violations and submit supporting evidence via a mobile app. The information is then verified and analysed in order to help bring individuals to justice and to strengthen accountability for human rights violations and atrocities. eyeWitness’ technology has been used by TRIAL International to strengthen prosecutions for atrocity crimes brought before the courts in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
It is important for those tasked with investigating international crimes and human rights violations to keep up with technological developments as the nature of evidence gathering changes. Collection and analysis of satellite imagery, for example, can be a powerful documentation tool. A recent example is Human Rights Watch’s use of satellite imagery to document the extent of the destruction of Rohingya villages in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
In addition to providing new ways to document evidence, technology can play an important role in supporting economic and social development. The Asian Development Bank has noted that information technology has the ability to transcend geographical boundaries, economies and sectors to support international development initiatives. Berkley Law School at the University of California has even launched a ‘Technology and Human Rights Program’ and created the first ever university-based Human Rights Investigations Lab in collaboration with Amnesty International, where information is analyses and verified for use by international organisations and news agencies and lawyers. As part of the same project, Berkley is also supporting the International Criminal Court in The Hague to build its capacity in the fields of software, security, analytics and open source intelligence, strengthening the court’s ability to respond to grave human rights violations.
Tech careers in the human rights sector cover a wide range of disciplines, including mass communication, app development and programme development that focuses on how technological innovation can increase the scope and impact of human rights programming.
Human Rights and Technology Opportunities
Opportunities to work at the intersection of human rights and technology are on the increase as organisations continue to develop new ways to harness technology and use innovation to support and protect human rights. The impact of technology on human rights is huge – using online learning to expand the reach of educational programmes, using technology to capture and document human rights violations, and using blockchain technology to increase transparency in supply chains are just a few examples of how technology can be used to support human rights efforts.
Below is an overview of some organisations working on human rights and technology. You can find out more about the organisations, including details of vacancies, via the links below.
- Witness provides training in video production and filming, as well as advocacy strategies, to people who are affected by critical human rights situations so that evidence can be gathered and documented. Vacancies, and other opportunities to get involved can be found
- Privacy International is a London-based organisation, working globally on privacy rights, including privacy protections including surveillance safeguards in law and technology. Their projects focus on issues such as data protection laws and challenging the use of government hacking. Click here for their recruitment page.
- The Digital Freedom Fund is based in The Netherlands which supports strategic litigation to advance digital rights in Europe. Opportunities for human rights professionals with expertise in law and technology are advertised here and speculative applications are also accepted.
- The eyeWitness project has developed an app that can be used to document and verify footage of human rights violations. Vacancies, as well as pro bono opportunities, are advertised
- HURIDOCS is a Geneva-based NGO, specialising in using technology to organise and present data about human rights violations. HURIDOCS works with human rights defenders to help them use and develop technology to support front-line human rights work. You can contact them here to find out more about their projects and current opportunities.
As well as organisations that specialise in human rights and technology, other organisations that work on broader human rights issues are increasingly working to incorporate technology and innovation into their programmes. Organisations such as Human Rights Watch, Global Witness and Amnesty International are building technology-driven approaches into their programmes and developing novel approaches to human rights work. Universities are keeping up with these changes by incorporating technology into human rights degree courses, with some universities offering specific modules in human rights and technology. The Central European University offers a course in Human Rights and Emerging Technologies, which can be taken as part of a degree programme when specialising in political science or gender studies, and which aims to apply new technologies and scientific advances to the human rights context.
With technological advances, human rights professionals are able to access more ways to respond to human rights violations and have access to global digital platforms for advocacy and education. It is essential for those already working in the sector, as well as aspiring human rights workers, to expand their skill sets in order to harness these new opportunities.