Posts Tagged ‘stories’

Positive communication is the (only) way forward for effective human rights work!

May 30, 2019

For a human rights movement dedicated to exposing abuses, positive communication does not come naturally. But to make the case for human rights, we need to promise a brighter future” says Thomas Coombes – head of brand and deputy director of communications at Amnesty International – in a piece in Open Global Rights of 19 February 2019. I have perhaps also contributed to the gloom with many posts about the decline of the international guman rights regime [with some more constructive posts e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/26/barbara-von-ow-freytag-argues-well-for-a-new-communication-based-approach/ ]. I think rightly Thomas argues: “to break this cycle and sell hope to the media, we need two things: challenging ideas and surprising stories“. Please read the full (short) piece:

For a human rights movement dedicated to exposing abuses, positive communication does not come naturally. We in the human rights community are driven by a desire to make known the suffering and injustice we see in the world, yet what people need from us is not information about what is going wrong, but hope and a means of making it better.

To make the case for human rights, we need to promise a brighter future. At Amnesty International we have a saying: better to light a candle than curse the darkness. But in the human rights movement, we spend a lot more time cursing the darkness. We want to expose terrible suffering so that people are shocked into action. But when we only show the abuses, people start to believe that we live in a world of crisis with no alternative. They accept that reality, give up, or turn to people who preach division, fear and a false sense of safety.

While the human rights movement will always have to expose abuses, we also need to give people a chance to unite behind a cause, challenge governments to live by their values and build support for our way of seeing the world. Hope-based communication is simply a smart strategy for shifting public opinion not by saying what is popular, but by making popular what needs to be said.

Hope-Based Communication is about illustrating what we want to see, not just what other people are doing. Because the human mind adapts easily to bad news, every dose of shock that we administer to the global conscience inoculates people. Without a tangible, believable alternative vision of how things should be, we risk reinforcing current rights abuses as a regrettable but inevitable reality.

Constant stories of crisis create an alarming picture of the world in our minds. When news is all about negative, sensational and exceptional events, it skews our view of other people, cultivates distrust and blinds us to important but unsurprising developments, as Rob Wijnberg, has argued in his manifesto for constructive news outlet The Correspondent. To break this cycle and sell hope to the media, we need two things: challenging ideas and surprising stories.

The environmental movement has already made that first step from dire warnings to big ideas that convince people that another world is possible. For example, in This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein writes about how promises of a bright green future offered a way forward: “What this part of the world has clearly shown is that there is no more potent weapon in the battle against fossil fuels than the creation of real alternatives.

The human rights movement must now do the same thing, and new research offers us a way to completely reframe the way we talk about human rights. For example, Amnesty International Australia now says “Bring them here” of refugees, rather than asking the government to stop treating them like criminals. Anat Shenker-Osorio’s linguistic analysis of how advocates in Australia, the UK and USA make the case for human rights shows that we talk about human rights as an object that is given to individuals, rather than a tool for people to improve their communities and live together. It encourages us to be more specific about power relations and use the language of journeys instead of war.

We want to take society on a journey to a better place, but when we lean heavily on the language of conflict: we fight, recruit, mobilise, resist, defend, protect and counter. We build coalitions. We wage campaigns. We seek to win battles. We ask people to take sides. This language is divisive—it won’t power a constructive, unifying movement. Instead, we need to talk about building, growing and sticking together.

Research from the Common Cause Foundation shows that altruism is as great a motivator to good causes as self-interest, if not more. Successful movements are propelled forward by enthusiasm and passion. While Donald Trump united his base with the simple red baseball cap, ordinary people demanding women’s rights queued for hours to buy “Together for Yes” buttons in Ireland and thronged the streets wearing green scarves in Argentina.

More and more research points to the fact that fear and pessimism triggers conservative and suspicious views, while, hope and optimism tend to more liberal views. Joyful, inspiring content like Planned Parenthood’s Unstoppable campaign serves not just to inspire, it creates political momentum. Anger mobilizes, hope organizes.

New approaches to stories about people seeking refuge highlight not what they flee but what they create in their new home, how the act of welcome transforms the host, or the power of friendships that face adversity and politics.

The stories we tell become our reality, so we need stories of humanity and compassion, reinforcing the idea that human rights are about people standing up for each other

How do we talk about hope and opportunity when human rights defenders are under attack and we need to defend ourselves, to fight back? How can we be positive when it is our duty to document despair?

Human rights defenders have “long been on the front line”, as Kathryn Sikkink argues in Dejusticia’s Playbook for Human Rights Actors. She warns that the frame of crisis and peril inadvertently harms perceptions of the movement’s effectiveness and legitimacy.

The most urgent challenge is to rebrand what it means to do human rights. The space that we most need to create for civil society is a conscious space apart from today’s struggles in which we allow ourselves to envisage bold possibilities of a better world. Human rights should take pride in being the “slow change” movement, that brings about generational attitudinal and societal progress, offering the path out of the darkest times.


Check out this virtual guide for how you can make a shift towards hope based communications in your human rights work.


There is still a place for anger and sadness, if we balance them with a sense of how we make things better. For no matter how dark the story, there is always some glimmer of hope. And it is our job to kindle that flame. The darker the crisis, the more people exhausted by fear and anger will turn to extreme options. So, we have to give people what every human needs: hope. After all, you light a candle when it gets dark. Hope, like a candle, shines brightest in the dark.

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“10 December – 10 Defenders” Profiles of Human Rights Defenders against Torture

December 1, 2015

OMCT-LOGOTo portray the work of human rights defenders working on the ground to prevent torture, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) shares profiles of 10 persons between 1 and 10 December, International Human Rights Day.

These stories, such as those of Yavuz in Turkey, Olga in Russia, and Justin in DRC are hosted on OMCT’s website and social media, including the new LinkedIn page, as well as on Facebook and Twitter accounts, starting today. People are encouraged to like and share the posts. I will also highlight some of them in future posts.

For last year’s campaign see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/11/26/omct-launches-again-its-10-days-campaign-for-and-with-human-rights-defenders/

 

Source: OMCT showcases 10 torture activists ahead of Dec. 10 UN Human Rights Day, launching its 30th anniversary celebration / November 1, 2015 / Links / Human rights defenders / OMCT

2014 heralds the age of images in human rights work

December 28, 2013

To illustrate the increased use of video and images in the human rights world, just scroll down and get a feel of the amount and variety through some examples, mostly from the end of this year:

Human Rights Watch produced an end-of-year 2013 overview.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is announces the latest issue of its weekly video news bulletin (episode number 10).

Amnesty International used a slick production to get attention for the fate of Syrian refugees in Europe (not explaining why other regions are not targeted by the way).

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights used this video to address the world on Human Rights Day 2013;

Inspirational resilience: Celebrating Human Rights Defenders in Eurasia | Freedom House.

On Human Rights Day, US-based Freedom House recognized the work of HRDs in the Eurasia region with a slide show on: Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan.

The International Service for Human Rights in Geneva presents its work with a video.

Human Rights First used YouTube to announce its fundraising live stream for the end of the year.

There are of course many more examples, quite a few referred to in this blog over the years, such as those of the MEA: http://www.martinennalsaward.org/ but  a special mention should be made of

the organisation Witness in the USA which has pioneered the use of video cameras in the hands of human rights defenders.

When the internet some 25 years ago made it possible to send and ‘publish’ almost unlimited amounts texts, the original euphoria in the human rights movement (whose main weapon is after all documentation) was quickly dampened somewhat when it also led to information overkill. Something similar is bound to happen with images which can now be ‘published’ and transmitted as easily as documents (but without the free-text search capacity). On the other hand there will be new possibilities and different ways of getting the human rights ‘stories’ across, especially on mobile devices used increasingly by younger generations.
The True Heroes Foundation – of which I am a founding Board member – wants to follow and use this development in a way that Human Rights Defenders derive maximum benefit from the new information and communication technology. It hopes to do so by making stories and images of HRDs the most eminent entry point for those seeking information on human rights in the near future. Keep following this blog and the website www.trueheroesfilms.org in the coming year for ….I am afraid …yet MORE information!!
With these thoughts, I WISH YOU ALL THE BEST FOR 2014.
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