RightsCon 2019 in Tunisia


This month, Future Challenges kicked off a brand new project on Digital Human Rights Work in Uganda. The three-year collaboration with betterplace lab is funded by the BMZ (Federal Ministry for Development Cooperation) with support of the GIZ Uganda (the German Corporation for International Cooperation).

Human Rights stand at the centre of all development cooperation between Uganda and Germany, so adapting to the challenges posed by digitization is as important in this field as ever. While technological advances may mean that state surveillance can encroach upon civil society spaces, digitization can also be harnessed for the benefit of human rights work; for instance by making it more visible and impactful, by making it easier to report human rights violations, or by raising awareness among the population about

Throughout this project, betterplace lab and Future Challenges will share their insights and critically reflect on their work. It’s essential that in the coming months, local and regional stakeholders will be consulted. Existing networks will help to identify local partners for collaboration.

Read more about the project HERE.

RightsCon 2019 in Tunis

This month also saw the annual RightsCon in Tunis, an event that gathers activists and stakeholders from all over the globe to discuss the intersection between human rights and digitalization. From government representatives to tech giants like Google and Facebook, to policy makers from EU and UN, to NGOs and independent activists, more than 2500 participants from 130 countries came together to tackle issues around hate speech and freedom of expression, artificial intelligence, privacy and data security, open government and democracy, access, and much more.

From our Team, Judith Orland and Nora Hauptmann were at the conference, in order to research for and promote the upcoming Digital Human Rights Work project in Uganda. We spoke to Nora about her experience.

Hannah: What was your overall impression of the RightsCon in Tunis?

Nora: It was simply amazing! There was a fantastic spirit of community and innovation. Some participants have been attending regularly for 8 years, but are still very welcoming towards newcomers. In terms of diversity, there was a great balance of age and gender, with most attendees coming from North America.

Overall, RightsCon feels like a movement, Towards freedom of expression, privacy, collaboration, humanity. For me, it doesn’t end with the closing ceremony.

Hannah: What did you learn at the conference that stood out to you in particular?

Nora: I learnt so many things at the conference, but one thing that stood out to me in particular was the tricky balance between hate speech and the right to freedom of expression in certain contexts. For instance, in Uganda, an activist has been imprisoned for the past five months for calling the President “A pair of buttons”, or something like that.

My favorite panel was about the topic of blockchain, and how it is too expensive, not environmentally friendly, and only makes sense in very specific and rare occasions. I liked how candid the panelists and moderator were on the subject, for instance referring to themselves as a “self help group”, and the title of the panel was even: “If you keep suggesting blockchain, I swear to God I will f—ing scream”

Hannah: The next RightsCon is in June 2020 in Costa Rica, if you were organizing it, what would you improve?

Nora: I think the methods behind the workshops need to be more diverse. I believe that a crowd as innovative as the attendees of RightsCon could also be more innovative in their workshop structures. Basically, I’d like to see more than a 5 person Panel debate with a 15 minute question round at the end. In order to facilitate innovative workshops, we need innovative conference venues too, so I would very much like to see the next RightsCon held in a more interesting architectural space.

Also, the audience is full of outstanding people, it was a pity that they were not involved more. And then of course the organizers need to avoid simple blunders like, I believe I attended one panel on Africa that didn’t have a single African speaker on it.

Hannah: What was Tunis like? Did you learn much about developments in Tunisia and beyond?

Nora: Oh the food was great, the weather was great, it was just such an interesting place! Some of the RightsCon participants seemed a little afraid to venture out into the city, but it was absolutely worth doing so. Tunis has a growing innovative digital scene, with more and more startups popping up every day. It’s fascinating to see all of this innovation and energy juxtaposed with ancient architecture and old fashioned markets.