It’s been more than seventy years since, following the atrocities of World War II, the nations of the world adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Since then, multiple human rights treaties and conventions have been drafted, and most countries have ratified one or more of them—including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and treaties focused on torture, race- and sex-based discrimination, and the rights of children. Human rights organizations have proliferated at the domestic and global levels, and international institutions dedicated to the monitoring and enforcement of human rights, including commissions, special rapporteurs, and courts, are well established.
In recent decades, global civil society and transnational advocacy groups have achieved breakthroughs on human rights through creative organizing and social movement-building, especially when working with partners on the ground. But unless they adapt to and embrace fast-evolving technological tools, they risk being outplayed by the governments and corporations they seek to confront.
Sushma Raman, executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard Kennedy School, outlined these challenges and opportunities during a recent seminar, part of the series, “Towards Life 3.0: Ethics and Technology in the 21st Century.” Titled “Technology, Tyranny, Transnational Advocacy,” Raman’s seminar explored what she called the promise and the perils of technology for human rights organizations.