Posts Tagged ‘Global Rights’

New book: The vitality of human rights in turbulent times

September 14, 2021

“If attention is directed towards the dynamism of social movements and human rights activism around the world, a different set of views of the cathedral emerges says Gráinne de Búrca on 9 September 2021 about her book “Reframing Human Rights in a Turbulent Era“.

Cover for 

Reframing Human Rights in a Turbulent Era

In the book, she examines a number of human rights campaigns around the world and their degree of success as well as their limitations. “I argue that even in a very turbulent and difficult era when human rights are under challenge from all sides, human rights approaches not only retain vitality and urgency for activists, but have also delivered substantive results over time. I suggest that if attention is directed away from a predominant focus on a handful of prominent Global North NGOs, and towards the dynamism of social movements and human rights activism around the world, a fuller set of views of the cathedral—of the landscape of human rights—emerges. The book advances an experimentalist theory of the effectiveness of human rights law and advocacy which is interactive (involving the engagement of social movements, civil society actors with international norms, networks and institutions), iterative (entailing ongoing action) and long-term (pursuing of social and fundamental changes that are rarely rapidly achieved).

Yet there is little reason for complacency or sanguinity. These are highly challenging times for human rights, and for human rights defenders, activists and advocates everywhere. The tide of illiberalism continues to surge around the world, and liberal democracy is in an increasingly unhealthy state. Climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated existing inequalities, corporate power continues to grow and to elude governmental control, while powerful new alliances of religious and political actors have been moving not only to repress the rights of disfavored communities and constituencies, but also to try to reshape understandings of human rights in highly conservative, exclusionary and illiberal directions. Repression of civil society, and of freedom of assembly, expression and protest continues apace, with the number of killings of environmental and other activists growing each year.

At the same time, long-standing critiques of human rights from the progressive left have become popular and mainstream, with influential books in recent years deriding the weaknesses, failures and dysfunctions of human rights, and their complicity with colonialism and neoliberalism. Many of these critiques have been powerful and important, and several have prompted reflection and proposals for reform on the part of human rights practitioners and scholars

But several of the most prominent critiques go beyond a call for rethinking or reform. They argue that the age of human rights is over, that its endtimes are here, that human rights law and the human rights movement are ill-suited to address the injustices of our times, that the failure of human rights approaches to seek or bring about structural change or economic justice highlights their deeply neoliberal character or companionship, and that human rights advocates should perhaps no longer seek to preserve human rights, but should make way instead for more radical movements.

In my book, I argue that some of the more damning critiques are exaggerated and partial. Like the proverbial view of the cathedral, several of the sharpest criticisms focus only or mainly on one particular dimension of the human rights system, and tend to caricature and reduce a complex, plural and vibrant set of movements to a single, monolithic and dysfunctional one. At the same time that the most pessimistic of the critics are writing obituaries for human rights, multiple constituencies around the world are mobilizing and using the language and tools of human rights in pursuit of social, environment, economic and other forms of justice. From #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, Climate Justice and Indigenous movements to reproductive rights marches in Poland, Argentina, and Ireland, to protest movements in Belarus, Myanmar, Nigeria and Chile, the appeal of human rights at least for those seeking justice (even if not for academic critics) seems as potent as ever.

None of this is to suggest that human rights advocates should not constantly scrutinize and reevaluate their premises, institutions and strategies. On the contrary, hard-hitting critiques of human rights for failing to tackle structural injustices and economic inequality have helped to galvanize change and a reorientation of priorities and approaches on the part of various relevant actors and institutions. Human rights activists and movements should exercise vigilance to ensure that they serve and are led by the interests of those whose rights are at stake, that they do not obstruct other progressive movements and tactics, and that their approaches are fit for the daunting and profoundly transformative challenges of these pandemic times, including accelerated climate change, digitalization, ever-increasing inequality and illiberalism. With attention to these risks and dangers, the diverse and heterogeneous array of actors that make up the international human rights community have an indispensable role to play, in a turbulent era, within the broader framework of progressive social, economic, environmental and cultural movements.

https://www.openglobalrights.org/grainne-de-burca/

Lebanon: human rights defenders use graffiti to express hope

January 24, 2020

The blue graffiti reads: “Oh, my wonderful country.” Photo by Nohad Elhajj.

Since the 17th of October 2019, Lebanon has been in the grips of widespread public protests against the social, economic, and political conditions of the country. The protesters are holding the government accountable for degrading living conditions and demanding serious and drastic changes. ….. But something, equally alive, captivates the place: graffiti. Building walls, stone barriers, wooden panels, even the asphalt ground are all covered with graffiti. With their diverse slogans, creative motifs, and direct, uncensored political and social messages, the graffiti artists collectively illustrate the people’s discourse demanding a full-fledged social and political reform.

On 23 January 2020 Nohad Elhajj – a development practitioner and independent researcher – wrote an interesting piece on this aspect in Global Rights, with rich illustrations:

….. reflecting on the present status of human rights and the human rights movement is of utmost need. More importantly, we need to consider questions about the future of those rights and this movement. In his 2019 article, Thomas Coombes offers a new way to address the future of Human Rights with “hope-based communication” [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/30/positive-communication-is-the-only-way-forward-for-effective-human-rights-work/]….

Graffiti is defined as “a form of visual communication, usually illegal, involving the unauthorized marking of public space by an individual or group”. The definition by itself poses a duality; would unauthorized marking of public space become positive communication? Would it possibly shift perspectives? Maybe not all, but some graffiti certainly does convey political messages. The question here is not about authority per se but the disruption of this authority. The act itself is intrinsically disruptive and political whether graffiti is acceptable or not. Starting from this understanding, graffiti, as a visual act, then can be leveraged as a participatory and accessible medium to shift public perspectives on human rights issues. Yet, the human rights movement does not only need to shift the public opinion but also to shift the current governance structures, which is beyond the impact of graffiti. The graffiti in Riyad El Soloh Square is a good illustration of this.

Graffiti is not new to the Lebanese society, but revolution graffiti is particular and powerful because of its relevance, the messages it conveys, and the places it occupies to convey these messages. The graffiti artists practiced their right to freedom of expression, of peaceful assembly and association, while communicating, directly and clearly, human rights demands from women rights, LGBTQ rights, economic and social rights to civil and political rights. (Shown in Pictures below).

……
The Lebanese graffiti artists have pushed and merged both boundaries of political participation and art. The graffiti imposes itself on the observer and on the spaces it occupies with wit and audacity. It overwhelms the observer with emotions of anger, despair, longing and revolt but also with hope. Much of this street art offers a thought-provoking mosaic of entangled messages and images. The graffiti above shows a white pigeon (a recurring image) combined with a strong slogan about workers’ rights; this combination conveys that those rights, and other demands, will be achieved in the future.

Similar to that, the graffiti at the beginning of this article offers another perplexing combination. The whole piece can be read as: “Oh my wonderful country, sectarianism burned us”. As much as it articulates a cry of despair with hurt and agony, it also retains the image of a wonderful country before civil war and a political system that has crippled it for the past 45 years. The generation who lived the war is still lamenting it and the following generations were still living in the resulting divisions and sectarianism—up until the 17th of October 2019. Akin to the protests, the graffiti captured a future hope of a country that will regain its glory after necessary social and political change.

The artists’ urge to mark every visible surface around Riad El Soloh square with spray paint and brushes placed them right in the middle of an already contested political and social scene, and it placed the rights discourse in the middle and around this scene. This graffiti proved to be a strong visual expression of all the protesters’ demands and a way to engage the public with it, both inside and outside Lebanon. Through their paint, these graffiti artists created a distinctive, unprecedented, and positive narrative about human rights in Lebanon: a narrative that more and more organizations and activists are now hanging onto.

https://www.openglobalrights.org/graffiti-creates-positive-human-rights-narratives-in-lebanon/

 

Russian human rights defenders try technology and gaming innovations

September 13, 2019

Tatiana Tolsteneva has written in Global Rights of 12 September, 2019 a very interesting piece about wether technology and gaming innovations can bring new life to Russian NGOs and appeal to younger audiences. Tatiana Tolsteneva has 10 years of managing experience in the Russian non-profit sector, with a focus on human rights defenders initiatives. She has a Master’s degree in Law from Lobachevsky State University of Nizhni Novgorod (UNN) and is finalizing her Master’s Degree in Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the London School of Economics. It is long read but contains some fascinating insights:

While there is significant debate over foreign funding issues and closing civic space in Russia, a key problem of the Russian non-profit sector is its “catch-up” form of development. Due to limited resources, this sector develops much more slowly than media or information technologies, for example. In Team 29, an informal association of lawyers and journalists, we are trying to change this, primarily by introducing new media technologies in the non-profit sector.

Lawyers of Team 29 are known not only for taking up cases considered hopeless in which the state accuses people of crimes against national security, but also for seeking so-called “justice in Russian.” That is, fighting for a sentence below the lower limit established by the Criminal Code or for a pardon by the president. In a country in which acquittals account for only 0.02% of total cases, this is considered a success.

In addition, our journalists have developed a niche media resource covering a wide range of issues regarding the relationships of citizens and the Russian government. The Team advises citizens on what actions to take if subjected to searches or questioning, how to find information in governmental databases, and how to protect one’s private data. Through this work, Team 29 is changing the concept of what a human rights activist in Russia can be, and we seek to explain the complexities of this work. The main problem of human rights defenders in Russia for a long time was separation from “ordinary people”. The positioning, language, and public image of human rights defenders were such that average citizens did not understand what human rights workers were doing and how it related to them. Team 29 was one of the first human rights organizations to adopt modern explanatory journalism techniques to strengthen communication with its target audience. In other words, we started to translate from “legal” to “human” language, and to make our materials more engaging to win the online struggle for reader attention.

The positioning, language, and public image of human rights defenders were such that average citizens did not understand what human rights workers were doing and how it related to them. 

In 2015, we joined our legal skills with explanatory journalism technologies in order to develop what are now called “legal handouts”. These are texts providing legal advice, in plain language, mostly on how to deal with unexpected clashes with Russian law enforcement. For example, the handouts explain a person’s rights and how citizens can protect themselves from mistakes often related to lack of knowledge. Each handout has had an average of 100,000 views, and work on these handouts resulted in the subsequent creation of Team 29’s online mini-media resource. Its average monthly attendance amounts to at least 50,000 unique visitors.

The problem in these developments was that the major audience of Team 29’s media projects was people between 25-44 years old, while it is the Y generation—people younger than 25—that has been a driving force of socio-political processes in Russia. For example, this younger age category of Russian citizens has been the one most actively involved in the public mass protests of recent years.

We made it a goal to reach out to that audience with mobile games, which have a huge audience in that demographic and can be played offline. In fact, pro-social games—games with grounded social impact—are an advanced tool in media and non-profit fields abroad. But until now, there have been no such games in Russia.

To develop this new game in Russia, we had to decide what software could be developed with limited resources. We chose “text quests” since they are the least expensive for production and easy in their mechanics. Text quests are a type of game in which interaction with the player is through textual information. The plot of the quest is not rigidly fixed and can change depending on the actions of the player. An important aspect of a text quest is story-telling; we tried to make the plot of our quest fascinating for the player, based on real events, and causing empathy for the main character.

Gebnya is a mobile text quest game that tells users how to communicate with the police and security services in Russia.

The result is Gebnya, a mobile text quest game that tells users how to communicate with the police and security services in Russia, and how to protect oneself, one’s family, and one’s information. The Android version of the app was released on October 6, 2017, and the iOS version on April 18, 2018. At present, the game has been downloaded more than 70,000 times, and the majority of its audience (57%) are people younger than 24. However, less than 15% of users are women.

We also have found that mobile apps can be a part of an alternative business model for human rights NGOs. We have received $1,020 through in-game payments, with most of this revenue (87%) being micro-payments ($1 or 100 rubles).

In the first version of the game, through the in-game payments, it was possible to take part in the crowdfunding of the development of new scenarios. In later versions, we added the ability to pay for the game without ads, as well as for additional gaming options, a standard business model for so-called free-to-play mobile games.

We believe that it can be more important to experiment with something new than to continue with traditional methods that may not be working. 

Once we established the demand for this type of game, we decided to expand it. First, we held a hackathon called “More Games Needed”, which helped non-profit projects of St.-Petersburg to create game software products of their own. A project dedicated to preventing domestic violence called Where Can Couplehood Lead won the hackathon and received mentorship from our experts. We expect the game to release in October 2019. We also intend to release another project together with the educational project Teplitsa (Greenhouse) – Technologies for Social Good.

Second, since Gebnya has currently attracted very few women, we decided to develop a game on problems important for women in Russia and the post-Soviet space. The game dedicated specifically to women’s issues is now under development, and its beta version should be released in November 2019. We decided to focus on three of the many problems faced by women in Russia: cyberbullying, stalking, and intimate partner violence. The game’s plot is designed to help recognize these phenomena, help build personal boundaries, and to get acquainted with legal and psychological defense tools and relevant professional assistance centers.

Team 29 plans to continue this pro-social game development as a project separate from our journalistic and legal work, and we are currently working on additional games with a number of other Russian NGOs.

While developing Gebnya in 2017, we were in fact rather skeptical about the project’s prospects, but we decided to pursue it anyway. We believe that it can be more important to experiment with something new than to continue with traditional methods that may not be working. After all, the non-profit sector cannot survive without innovations.

https://www.openglobalrights.org/technology-and-gaming-innovations-bring-new-life-to-russian-ngos/

See also other posts on communication: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/communication/

‘God Loves Uganda’ shows that anti-gay campaign is western-inspired

March 22, 2014

One of the most striking aspects of the controversy surrounding the Ugandan anti-gay bill is that the Ugandan government – and quite a few media – stress the ‘african’ aspect of resisting ‘western values”. The film “God Loves Uganda” (2013) should put that argument to rest. The documentary is a powerful exploration of the evangelical campaign to change African culture with values imported from America’s Christian Right. The film follows American and Ugandan religious leaders fighting “sexual immorality” and missionaries trying to convince Ugandans to follow Biblical law.

For those based in Washington there is a showing and debate on 8 April organized by Global Rights. Others will have to find it on the internet or rent it. It is worth it!

http://www.globalrights.org/events/uganda.html.