How Technology is Transforming Human Rights Monitoring


NORFOLK, Virginia – The past century of human life is marked with unprecedented technological progress. It has given us tremendous amounts of power with developments in various areas. The recent expansion of satellite imaging technology and social media however has made a huge impact on human rights.

We used to not be so connected as we currently are. However, people today have vast resources available for them to become aware of problems in society and organize to address them. Yet injustices have been perpetuated in the past because they were never able to receive public spotlight.

Non-governmental organizations that specialize in human rights, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW), are now able to monitor human rights scenarios in parts of the world that they never had access to before.

According to a Human Rights Watch Program Director, Iain Levine, “HRW has used satellite imagery to document the massive destruction of civilian infrastructure in Syria, attacks against Moslem communities in Burma, and forced resettlement in Tibet.” HRW researchers are able to use satellite imaging to solidify proof of human rights violations and put an end to them accordingly.

However, considering how difficult it is to maintain human rights geographically, it is also very helpful that technology allows for violations to reach the public spotlight by the people themselves. Human Rights organizations have begun to utilize social media monitoring to discover human rights violations that they would have otherwise been undetected.

Social media has also been instrumental in allowing for the development of global protests—especially in the Middle East since Arab Spring.

Governments such as Turkey, Iran, China and North Korea have realized the revolutionary potential of social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and have blocked them during cases of popular instability. Human Rights organizations, on the other hand, welcome the unprecedented transparency that social media allows. Their embrace of technology has allowed for them to become a substantial force in protecting the fundamental rights of every individual.

Research in science and technology has expanded significantly, as well for non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International.

For instance,  the Science for Human Rights project at Amnesty International is currently combining the advantages of geospatial satellite imagery and human rights monitoring through social media to allow for a comprehensive global human rights picture. The information also allows for them to “gain access to previously inaccessible conflict zones, provide compelling visual evidence and present information in a new and engaging way.”

Although developments in technology have caused concern in human rights with areas including biotechnology, government surveillance and new weapons technologies, organizations that work towards building a world that protects human rights are able to make use of technology as well. It is therefore fairly interesting to see where the race to innovation will take the future of human rights monitoring.

Sources: Amnesty USA, Mother Jones, Human Rights Watch
Photo: Amnesty International


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