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The Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law and the Foreign Policy Studies Program at the Brookings Institution, with support from Google, organised a two-day workshop, from 6 -7 August 2012, to advance strategic thinking on how to leverage new technologies to strengthen UN human rights monitoring around the world. Bringing together a small group of United Nations Human Rights Council mandate- holders, leading civil society activists, and technologists working at the intersection of tech and human rights, the workshop aims to develop concrete proposals for how technology platforms can be used to amplify the voices of mandate-holders, broaden their engagement with activists and citizens globally, and increase the awareness and impact of UN human rights monitoring mechanisms.

Sanjana Hattotuwa, Special Advisor at the ICT4Peace Foundation, was invited to attend this meeting.

The small workshop was organised with three primary objectives in mind:

  • To identify the major constraints on the effectiveness of special rapporteurs in carrying out their mandates;
  • To explore how new technologies are being used to facilitate human rights monitoring and enhance the impact of human rights organizations;
  • To develop concrete proposals for how new technologies can be harnessed to support the work of the new Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association, as a pilot for supporting the use of technology platforms across other human rights mandate-holders.

Discussions on the first day followed the usual format of a roundtable input, and on the second day, the organisers employed the services of Stanford's Design School to anchor the discussions to some of their methods of thinking about solutions to challenges based on real world use cases, needs and constraints. Participants were all sceptical at first, but at the end of a tiring day, the discussions benefitted hugely from this approach to problem solving.

Stanford's working on a report of the meeting which was conducted under Chatham House Rule. The discussions were not dissimilar to the Foundation's thought leadership on Crisis Information Management - how best to help UN SRs cope with their information overload. None of the SRs are particularly tech savvy but they are acutely aware of the potential of the web, Internet and mobiles to revolutionise the way they are working, and indeed, the operational circumstances. It was a useful, vital interaction. The ball is now in their court, and the ICT4Peace Foundation is well placed to support their work if Stanford and Google also want to move this ahead.