NetAction Notes #43: Virtual Tools for Human Rights



Edited/Distributed by HURINet - The Human Rights Information Network
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NetAction Notes
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Published by NetAction          Issue No. 43               October 13,
1998
Repost where appropriate. Copyright and subscription info at end of
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Virtual Tools For Human Rights

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: <manual@desaparecidos.org>.

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: <marga@derechos.org>, and the group's
web site is at: <http://www.derechos.org>.

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.domovina.net/Justwatch/index.html> 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.trytel.com/~aberdeen/>.
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.

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Individual Activism Online

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
at:
<http://www.geocities.com/CollegePark/2639/activism.html>.

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
<http://www.freetrain.org/>, which is a cyberspace
clearinghouse for petitions on a wide variety of issues.
Visitors are required to register before going to the list
of petitions.


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