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NHC Hosts Side Event “Human Rights Communication 2.0” at OSCE HDIM

30 September 2019

Effectively communicating and gaining public support for the defence of human rights is essential for the sustainability of the human rights movement. Increasingly this is recognized as a crucial component of civil society human rights work. This was the topic of discussion during the side event Human Rights Communication 2.0. Hosted by the NHC, the event took place on 19 September at the annual OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting. During the event panellists and participants reviewed recent initiatives in this field.

Panellists discussing the importance of human rights defenders communicating their work to the public. From left to right: Katarzyna Batko, David Mark, Harry Hummel, Antanina Maslyka

Harry Hummel, NHC Senior Policy Advisor, opened the discussion by describing the increasingly difficult context for human rights defenders. “Their [human rights defenders] stigmatization, marginalization and framing as crime facilitators take roots in society,” said Hummel. “Against this backdrop, it is necessary to find new strategies for communicating to the public the work performed by human rights defenders,” he continued.

David Mark, Human Rights Adviser/ Capacity Building Coordinator at ODIHR, agreed with Hummel adding, “It is therefore necessary to develop a set of tools and mechanisms that will enable human rights defenders to enhance their communication skills.” Mark went on to describe ODHIR’s work in this area. This included running workshops on data visualization, mobile journalism, and storytelling; developing a platform— Freedom Lab — with digital tools human rights defenders can use in their work; and exploring the relevance of games in teaching best practices for human rights defenders.

Making our actions known and visible to the local community allowed us to receive its support in a situation when the government launched an attack on the organization.” – Katarzyna Batko

Katarzyna Batko, Board Member and Program Director of Watchdog Poland shared experiences from her country, Poland. Her organisation, devoted to monitoring government actions, has had to operate amidst government actions to control the judiciary and the media. “We realized that our visibility to the public is important for our sustainability and allows us to be on equal footing with the government,” she said. Batko further elaborated, “Making our actions known and visible to the local community allowed us to receive its support in a situation when the government launched an attack on the organization.”

Her organisation’s improvement and investment in human rights communications, in particular on social media, resulted in an increase in donations, the raising of their public profile, and positively impacted their results. Mark explained that effective communications depends on, “really knowing the local context, choosing the right social media, defining groups that might follow the NGO’s profile online, and providing content relevant for these groups.”

The NHC works on this topic with civil society partners throughout the OSCE region, in particular where civil society is under increasing pressure from the government. The aim of such work is to improve partner organisation’s communication skills, and enhance  outreach activities towards their societies in order to win public support.