Human Rights Affairs: Social Media & Human Rights for International Organizations


On 15 April 2014, the RFK Training Institute inaugurated “Human Rights Affairs” with a discussion on the impact of social media on the protection of human rights, how international organization are utilizing this relatively new technology, and the possible danger connected to activists. Maria Isabel Rivero, the Press Director of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, discussed how the IACHR uses social media to engage with citizens that the Commission would have never been able to reach without this “extension of the social sphere”. The IACHR realized through their social media outreach that their social media pages are the greatest source of information since people visit their Facebook, Twitter, etc. pages rather than the website. As the case with the IACHR, Maya Derouaz, the Social Media Manager of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights’ Regional Office for the Pacific, explained that social media allowed the OHCHR to have a presence in areas that there is no field presence. Derouaz maintained that people will be interested in human rights if they are given the opportunity to engage, and social media provides an opportunity for a conversation.

In addition, Santiago A. Canton, the Director of RFK Partners for Human Rights, asserted that one of the greatest advances in human rights was the visibility provided through social media, but issues such as the influx of comments and the risks for human rights defenders come attached. Ali Ravi, a Senior Consultant for Digital Strategy, Security, and Capacity, further discussed the possible risks for human rights defenders due to their involvement on  social media. While social media carries many advantages, Ravi asserted that information of internet activity is “aggregated for us, against us” and can implicate individuals and their communities. There is a need for human rights defenders to safeguard their information. To help protect human rights defenders, Ravi recommended using tools that increase social media security, such as Me & My Shadow. It only requires simple actions to protect oneself on social media.

The first Human Rights Affairs ended with a question from Twitter: “How can we engage press to social media activism?” Maria Isabel Rivero, who formerly worked as journalist, claimed that there are two reasons stories are not covered―lack of information or a company decision not to run a story. If lack of knowledge is the case, then, the best strategy is to reach out to journalists who cover that specific topic and inform them of the situation.