One of the questions I most often get asked is: ‘What can I do?’ If you agree that actual liberals are the only palatable future in authoritarian societies and also recognise that they are a beleaguered minority, is there anything you can meaningfully do to help?
Western governments are generally too busy doing business with authoritarian governments to focus on actual human rights abuses. Meanwhile many groups at home which claim to care about human rights around the world are too busy attacking the world’s only democracies or defending extremists to have much time left for the real fight.
But I have recently been introduced to an initiative which stands a good chance of providing an answer to that difficult readers' question. ‘Advancing Human Rights’ is an organisation which does the heavy lifting on human rights around the world, supporting dissidents in authoritarian regimes. It doesn’t yet have the profile of an Amnesty or Human Rights Watch, but as plenty of recent stories have shown, those organisations long ago landed on the wrong side.
Besides, today there shouldn’t be any need to rely on a single organisation or collection of organisations. It should be up to people to make a difference. To this end ‘Advancing Human Rights’ has decided not to collect power to itself but to spread around the opportunity to do good as widely as possible. Their latest initiative aims to bring the resources of the internet – which have so often been malign for real human rights – to advance real human rights. As they say: ‘Technology, when used wisely, can shatter barriers between activists and the outside world. In the struggle for human rights, everyone has a role to play.’
To this end, Advancing Human Rights have developed a crowdsourcing initiative called Movements.org. I’ll let them explain:
Movements is a crowdsourcing human rights platform. Movements allows activists from unfree states to post their needs and connect directly with individuals around the globe who have the skills to help. Every day, Iranian activists connect with journalists, North Korean defectors get help from technology experts, Syrian refugees receive legal advice from lawyers, and much more.
Movements has received financial support from Google and has attracted tens of thousands of dissidents from closed societies. In February 2015, U.S. senators including Marco Rubio and Mark Kirk posted on Movements to hear directly from activists undermining the Iranian regime and other dictatorships. The families of political prisoners wrote directly to these powerful policy-makers to keep their names in the news.
If you go to their website you will get the idea straight away. The old model of alerting the world to human rights abuses was to float a message in a bottle, hope someone good picked it up and keep your fingers crossed that someone else could bring the message to the attention of another person who cared. The Movements.org initiative cuts through all of this. So if a dissident needs a journalist who can highlight their case they can get directly in contact with a journalist. If they need a lawyer, or a politician to take up their case they can get in touch with them direct. And anybody with any relevant skills can contribute. For instance if someone has language skills then they can contribute those to help translate for people who otherwise may never have connected with each other.
Movements.org already has 333,000 followers on Twitter and has begun to be noticed by mainstream media. I highlight it here not just because it is an admirable and innovative idea, but because I know a lot of readers and others will be interested to know that there is something tangible and meaningful they can do to support those people who most deserve support.