Digital Human Rights Tracking Tools and Databases: Pioneering Discussions at the Expert Roundtable

22 September 2023

The two-day Expert Roundtable on Digital Human Rights Tracking Tools and Databases (DHRTTDs) – a collaborative effort between our Geneva Human Rights Platform (GHRP) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) – attracted key stakeholders from the human rights and technological sectors to exchange around the evolution and sustainability of digital human rights tracking initiatives.

During two days – 14 and 15 September 2023 – more than 30 DHRTTD developers and users representing different permanent missions, national ministries, international and regional organizations, national human rights institutions, civil society organizations and academia delved into the transformation digital tools bring to the human rights landscape.

‘This Expert Roundtable fostered an environment for robust dialogue, collaboration, and strategic thinking. The shared objective was evident: a commitment to advancing human rights monitoring, implementation, and follow-up using innovative digital tools. The discussions and outcomes will shape the trajectory of DHRTTDs on both national and international scales, ensuring they remain effective and indispensable in the pursuit of human rights’ explains Felix Kirchmeier, Executive Director of the Geneva Human Rights Platform.

Addressing Challenges and Opportunities around Accessibility, Sustainability and Interoperability

Participants discussed the many challenges and opportunities surrounding DHRTTDs’ accessibility, sustainability, and interoperability.

Accessibility took centre stage as participants addressed open and limited access to DHRTTDs, web accessibility for persons with disabilities, and the need for tools available in various global languages. These sub-themes align with the universal principles of human rights, emphasizing the critical role of inclusive participation for accurate data collection and human rights implementation. The essence of inclusivity was further underscored by specific strategies ensuring DHRTTDs cater to the needs of persons with disabilities, as well as the importance of linguistic diversity in these tools.

Sustainability discussions highlighted the long-term viability of these digital tools. Attendees debated coordination in data collection, solutions to staff turnover, techniques to boost user adoption, and the establishment of strong partnerships for consistent support. Investment, funding opportunities, and the integration of technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning were also at the forefront of the conversation, considering both the opportunities and ethical considerations they bring.

Interoperability, another key theme, showcased the importance of synergy among various DHRTTDs. Through cooperation initiatives, automated interactions, knowledge-sharing platforms, and a potential roadmap for 2024, participants explored ways to maximize the potential of digital tools for comprehensive data collection and a less fragmented human rights tracking approach.

Expert meeting programme

Key Takeaways

The discussion’s valuable insights and main conclusions will contribute to next year’s GHRP activities as well as to the final report of its one-year study on DHRTTDs:

  1. Prioritizing Web Accessibility: As digital platforms become primary sources of information dissemination, ensuring web accessibility emerges as a paramount concern, with the need to ensure that these tools are designed to be inclusive for everyone, especially for persons with disabilities. Incorporating technologies like screen readers, captions, easy navigation, and compatibility with assistive devices ensures that all individuals can engage with these tools effectively.
  2. Synergizing Platforms for Greater Impact: The collaboration and integration of different DHRTTDs present unparalleled opportunities. By fostering synergy between various platforms, stakeholders can harness the collective power of multiple tools, offering more comprehensive solutions, amplifying reach, and generating new avenues for effective human rights monitoring.
  3. Harnessing AI Responsibly: While AI is an indispensable component of contemporary digital landscapes and offers immense promise in enhancing data analysis and reporting, its adoption is not without challenges. The use of AI in the human rights domain necessitates strict ethical guidelines, rigorous bias-check mechanisms, and comprehensive transparency protocols to ensure that its deployment promotes, rather than compromises, human rights.
  4. State-Led Empowerment of National Mechanisms for Implementation, Reporting, and Follow-up (NMIRFs): To realize DHRTTDs’ full potential, states must take proactive steps. This entails fortifying NMIRFs and nurturing a culture of collaboration among various national stakeholders. By reinforcing NMIRFs and encouraging inter-agency cooperation, states can facilitate more efficient tracking, reporting, and implementation of human rights recommendations.

‘Incorporating these takeaways into future strategic planning will ensure that the human rights community remains agile, informed, and equipped to address the evolving challenges and opportunities of the digital age. We extend our heartfelt thanks to the German Federal Foreign Office for its invaluable support of our initiative on DHRTTDs. The common interest among participants to meet again in 2024, together with the identified takeaways for the future, will serve as guiding beacons, steering our collective efforts towards a more inclusive, effective, and responsive human rights ecosystem’ says Dr Domenico Zipoli, GHRP Project Coordinator.

‘Considering the increasing demand for information flow between various stakeholders and UN and regional human rights mechanisms, we firmly believe that the digitalization of processes related to reporting, monitoring and implementing human rights obligations may become an inevitable step that all, including States, National Human Rights Institutions, and civil society organizations, should contemplate and embrace. In our contemporary world, the use of relevant digital tools has proved to be effective in implementing the human rights agenda as well as in contributing to applying human rights principles such as accountability and participation’ adds Mahamane Cisse Gouro, Director of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division at OHCHR.

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