|Published by NetAction||Issue No. 43||October 13, 1998|
Because there are no borders in cyberspace, human rights abuses may soon become harder to hide. In the 1970s, U.S. television news brought daily reports of the Vietnam War into millions of American homes, giving anti-war activists an information base from which they could mobilize opposition. Some communications scholars and historians believe television is responsible for the size and effectiveness of the anti-Vietnam War movement because it provided millions of people with immediate information about distant events that might otherwise not have touched their lives.
I'd like to think the Internet will eventually have a similar impact on human rights. Governments that violate the human rights of their citizens certainly don't announce it to the world, or invite television news crews in to film it. But when individual citizens with knowledge of human rights abuses can share that knowledge instantly with activists throughout the world, abuses will be harder to hide. And it won't be difficult for an individual activist to do that if he or she is "armed" with a computer, a modem, and software to encrypt messages.
It certainly won't happen over night, and it won't happen at all if repressive governments are determined to deny their citizens access to cyberspace. But even in the most repressive regimes, individuals are more likely to gain access to the Internet than to television or radio broadcasting facilities.
Judging by the proliferation of web sites focused on human rights issues, technology has already given human rights activists a powerful new tool for fighting abuses. Here are a few that I found interesting:
For comprehensive information about human rights advocacy online, see: http://www.derechos.org/human-rights/manual.htm, where Derechos has posted the 2nd Edition of its Concise Guide to Human Rights in the Internet. The site is an updated version of an earlier guide published by the organization.
The guide is also available by email from an autoresponder at: .
Margarita Lacabe of Derechos invites visitors to contact her with
suggestions on other sites to include, as well as suggestions for how to
improve the guide. She can be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org,
and the group's web site is at:
Activists interested in discussing the work of international war crimes tribunals that are addressing abuses in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda might consider subscribing to International Justice Watch (JUSTWATCH-L), a recently created list for the exchange of news and opinions on these tribunals.
See: http://www.bard.edu/hrp/projects/Justwatch.htm for detailed information about the list, which was founded by Andras Riedlmayer and Thomas Keenan. Topics the list addresses include the conflicts which gave rise to the tribunals, the effort to establish an international Criminal Court, international humanitarian law, and other comtemporary armed conflicts and humanitarian emergencies.
In addition to distributing information about human rights abuses, technology can facilitate legal research into human rights violations. For an interesting example, see http://diana.law.yale.edu/diana/db/war10.html, which Barry Goodman created, initially to facilitate legal research on U.S. human rights violations during the Gulf War.
The site, which Goodman describes as "a hyperlinked pathfinder tool for human rights and international law research, was recently added to the Diana site at Yale. There are also links to the site from numerous other university law libraries and research centers.
According to Goodman, researchers have used the site for law review journal research on human rights abuses and the trade in human organs from China, and environmental law related to creation of a permanent criminal court. The site provides quick access to several specialized search sites, including the United Nations treaty data base, the U.S. State Department, and several searchable online law libraries.
For an alphabetical list of addresses for world political leaders, visit: http://www.sneadsferry.com/community/politicians_of_the_world.htm. Compiled by Donald Vermithrax, the site includes contact information for presidents, prime ministers, and provincial governors of 194 counties, and additional contacts will be added over time.
Online activism can be a very personal matter, as demonstrated by Kelly
Holmes. An English major at the University of Texas at Austin, Kelly has
created a web site with links to a variety of online petitions. The site is
In her own words, Kelly explains what motivated her:
"Ever feel like doing something to help people? I sure do. I feel guilty when I think of how much time I spend goofing off on the web, when I could be doing something to help other people and the community as a whole. So, voila: here's my activism page. It's the page I'm most proud of, and if you read any part of my site, read this. And do something. Please."
In addition to her own favorite online petitions, the site includes a link
to the Freedom Train Home Page
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