New Publication Explores the Human Rights Data Revolution

2 April 2024

In an era where digital transformation is reshaping every aspect of our lives, the work of national and international human rights mechanisms has not remained untouched. The integration of digital technologies in human rights monitoring and implementation marks a pivotal shift, heralding what can be aptly described as the Human Rights Data Revolution. This transformation, detailed in this new Geneva Academy Briefing, promises to enhance the effectiveness, inclusivity, and scope of human rights monitoring and implementation worldwide.

Authored by Dr Domenico Zipoli, Research Fellow at the Geneva Academy and Project Coordinator at the Geneva Human Rights Platform (GHRP), this Academy Briefing explores the evolving landscape of digital human rights tracking tools and databases (DHRTTDs). It discusses their growing adoption for monitoring, reporting, and implementing human rights globally, while also pinpointing the challenge of insufficient coordination and knowledge sharing among these tools’ developers and users. Drawing from insights of over 50 experts across multiple sectors gathered during two pivotal roundtables organized by the GHRP in 2022 and 2023, this new publication critically evaluates the impact and future of DHRTTDs. It integrates lessons and challenges from these discussions, along with targeted research and interviews, to guide the human rights community in leveraging digital advancements effectively

It is the outcome of a broader GHRP initiative that aims to contribute to better and more coordinated implementation, reporting and follow-up of international human rights recommendations through the development and use of DHRTTDs.

'This publication is aimed at both human rights practitioners of all levels and members of the tech community who are interested in this field. It underscores the importance of dialogue between these two groups, both of which have significantly contributed to the study', specifies Dr. Zipoli.

Revolutionizing Accountability through Digitalization

Over the past decade, the development of DHRTTDs by national, regional, and international human rights entities has revolutionized the monitoring, implementation, reporting, and follow-up of human rights globally.

One noticeable gap however is the question of how United Nations (UN) and regional human rights mechanisms as well as national human rights actors could use digital technologies in their monitoring and implementation work. The publication explores this question, examining best practices and challenges faced by new and emerging information management tools developed by various human rights stakeholders, including the UN Secretariat, UN agencies, regional human rights mechanisms, national mechanisms for implementation, reporting and follow-up (NMIRFs), national human rights institutions (NHRIs), civil society organizations (CSOs) and academics worldwide.

'Our analysis underscores a significant transformation in the human rights landscape, driven by digital innovation. These tools offer a comprehensive solution for organizing and streamlining information, facilitating the implementation of international human rights standards and recommendations. This revolution not only caters to the operational needs of human rights monitoring bodies but also empowers national human rights systems in coordinating data collection, crucial in the face of growing recommendations from UN treaty bodies, special procedures mandate-holders, the Universal Periodic Review, and regional human rights mechanisms', explains Dr. Zipoli.

The Core of the Data Revolution: Accessibility, Sustainability, and Interoperability

The publication delves into critical aspects that shape the performance of DHRTTDs, focusing on three themes: accessibility, sustainability, and interoperability. These elements are vital in ensuring that digital tools are not only developed but are effectively utilized and continue to serve their purpose over time.

Ensuring Accessibility and Inclusivity

Accessibility stands as a cornerstone in the digital human rights revolution. The briefing emphasizes the importance of making DHRTTDs universally accessible and user-friendly for all individuals, including for persons with disabilities. This involves adopting open, limited, and hybrid access models to balance the need for openness with the protection of sensitive information. Furthermore, web accessibility and language diversity are highlighted as critical for ensuring that DHRTTDs are inclusive and effective for a global audience.

Fostering Sustainability for Long-Term Impact

Sustainability concerns, such as data collection coordination, addressing staff turnover, and securing investment and funding, are pivotal in ensuring the long-term viability of DHRTTDs. The briefing illustrates the need for efficient data collection coordination and the development of robust mechanisms for managing and updating these tools. Ensuring sustainability involves strategic planning and collaboration among various stakeholders, including international organizations, NMIRFs, NHRIs and CSOs.

Enhancing Interoperability for Collaboration

Interoperability is crucial for enhancing synergy and collaboration among different DHRTTDs. By fostering cooperative initiatives among national and international human rights actors as well as automated interactions, such as via application programming interfaces (APIs), the briefing showcases how interoperability can lead to a more cohesive and effective human rights monitoring ecosystem. Knowledge-sharing events and platforms are also shown to play a significant role in disseminating best practices and fostering collaboration among developers and users of these tools.

Charting the Future of the Human Rights Data Revolution

This Briefing presents a comprehensive analysis of the current landscape and the future direction of human rights monitoring and implementation through digital means. By addressing the challenges and opportunities presented by digital technologies, the briefing outlines a path towards a more effective, inclusive, and collaborative human rights ecosystem. As the digital human rights revolution unfolds, it is crucial for all stakeholders to embrace these changes and work together to leverage the power of digitalization in advancing human rights globally. The briefing serves as a call to action, inviting the human rights community to integrate these digital tools and databases into their strategies, ensuring that the revolution not only advances but also transforms the way human rights are protected and promoted around the world.

'The community of human rights experts and human rights software developers is expanding, and our project remains dedicated to bringing these two groups closer together. Later in 2024, the GHRP plans to host specialized expert roundtables on interoperability, and on the capabilities and challenges of AI and machine learning in the context of human rights monitoring and implementation.', stresses Felix Kirchmeier, Executive Director of the Geneva Human Rights Platform.

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Briefing N° 23: The Human Rights Data Revolution

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