With the exponential growth in technology, the world has seen not only profound change in various industries, but also a fundamental shift in the structure to our global society.
To unwrap this bit of jargon, let’s look at the intersection of human rights and technology. The fundamental nature of human rights is to allow individuals to exercise their autonomy, liberty and free will, insofar as it doesn’t infringe upon the rights and liberties of others. Broadly speaking, governments are supposed to provide the protection under which the citizenry can freely exercise such will.
Historically, sovereignty has been the golden rule that must not be violated, regardless of what actions take place within the confines of a given territory. This has given authoritarian leaders the freedom to rule as they please. But with the advent of Right to Protect, deriving from the Rome Statute, the emerging customary law opens the door for countries to yield their sovereign rights if they fail to uphold and protect basic human rights.
While this is a monumental leap for international law and human rights, it still begs a more practical question: Outside of rhetoric and tough speak, how can we empower individuals living in countries that lack adequate civil societies to bolster state institutions, have a say in the national dialogue, usher in an era of accountability and transparency to the political system(s) and exercise their human rights? The answer seems to reside in technology.
Technology can … empower individuals through networks, information and digital trade.
Take for example Ushahidi, a company that runs an open-source tech platform developed to map outbreaks of violence in Kenya. Here, technology is used as a means of an emergency tool for individuals to report, monitor and evaluate violence in given communities. Such technology is helping facilitate a decline in community violence and abuse toward women.
In countries where access to capital is lacking because of inadequate financial institutions, micro-loans and peer-to-peer money transfers have allowed small business to not only spring up, but also stimulate local economies. To put the potential in perspective, the International Finance Corporation estimates that “up to 84% of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Africa are either un-served or underserved, representing a value gap in credit financing of US$140- to 170-billion.”
In countries where systemic subjugation and deprivation is run-of-the-mill, individuals using the power of social media are showcasing to the world the gross negligence of their government(s) and forcing world leaders to respond.
While civil society, rule of law and regulatory mechanisms surely cannot spring up overnight, the world does not have the luxury to wait and watch its slow evolution. Technology can circumvent traditional processes and empower individuals through networks, information and digital trade. Technology emboldens the notion of human rights, quite literally, with the touch of a hand.
The question is, will governments around the world back the inevitable tide of technology or will they cling to tradition?
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