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A Year in Review: Celebrating the impact of our Decentralized Archivist Communities

This Human Rights Day, OpenArchive is highlighting the important work our Decentralized Archivist Communities do to fight for a more just world for at-risk groups. They work to combat electoral violence, threats to the environment, gender-based violence, arbitrary detention, and many other pressing issues.

OpenArchive is fortunate to collaborate with inspiring Decentralized Archivist Communities (DACs) who are actively defending human rights across the world. In 2023, our six DACs from Eastern Europe, MENA, and Latin America, continued their work to document violations and safeguard evidence despite escalating challenges and human rights abuses. This Human Rights Day, we reflect on their work and the co-research conducted with them this year.

Fighting for Justice in the Face of Repression, Oppression, Violence, and War Crimes

Government Violations in Mexico

Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries for journalists and human rights defenders to operate in. One of our key DAC partners, Data Cívica, has had a remarkable year using data and technology to strengthen journalism and civil society in Mexico while fighting electoral violence, gender-based violence, and assisting in the search for missing people and clandestine graves and increasing transparency and accountability in the country.

In partnership with Data Cívica, we have focused our efforts on addressing significant challenges faced by those working to document human rights violations in the country, which include both physical and digital threats. It is important for those working to document and preserve evidentiary media that their media is safe from spyware, hacking, and device confiscation. They also need a secure and reliable internet connection and messaging apps, and a private, secure, yet usable way of storing and analyzing their media. Working with Data Cívica in the Mexican context is an opportunity for OpenArchive to provide support for training, skill development, and integrating secure archiving tools to better protect them and their media as they carry out their important work.

Repression of Dissidents in Cuba

The Cuban government has responded to public criticism with brutal repression and violence in recent years. Dissidents face many threats, such as restrictions on freedom of expression and access to information, which include the blocking of websites and social media sites, travel bans, and physical danger and threats.

Our partner Cubalex conducts monthly monitoring of the state of human rights in Cuba and documents human rights abuses like arbitrary detention and unfair prison sentences, forced exile from Cuba, and harsh and unjust responses to dissent. OpenArchive remains committed to supporting our Cuban counterparts by facilitating training on best archival practices, technical skills, digital security, and expanding organizational capacity through the Save app.

Indigenous People’s Rights Violations in Ecuador

Human rights defenders in Ecuador face increasing rates of political violence and attacks. Our Ecuadorian DAC, the Latin American Association for Alternative Development (ALDEA), aims to collectively design strategies with people, communities, and territories to advance development in human rights, gender equity, and interculturality. Their projects include supporting Indigenous land rights against extraction corporations, advocating for the inclusion of forest people in global negotiations on forests and climate change, and mapping femicide and monitoring gender-based violence amongst others.

We are thrilled to be supporting these human rights defenders as they document and advocate for change amidst clashes with mining operators and government officials.

The Escalating Conflict in Sudan

Sudan's escalating conflict poses extreme challenges for human rights defenders, many of whom have been displaced from the country. Our Sudanese partner, who wishes to remain anonymous, showed incredible resilience this year as they progress their work despite displacement and violence. They continue to promote justice and accountability and promote access to trusted information.

When it comes to archiving, our co-research with this organization identified primary resource gaps as insecure archival practices, technologies and software that don’t prioritize privacy, and a lack of security training and resources. Through Save app trainings and continued collaboration, we are working to address some of these gaps and provide the necessary tools to protect them and their media.

Free Speech Threats in Iraq

In Iraq, human rights defenders face a severe threat to free speech due to proposed digital content regulations that could criminalize investigative journalism and undermine freedom of speech. This threat adds to the existing challenges of internet shutdowns, censorship, and targeting of human rights defenders. This year, the Iraqi Network for Social Media (INSM) reported on the Iraqi government's attempts to repress free expression through an online platform for flagging “indecent” social media content and the re-introduction of draft laws that would curb freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in Iraq. As part of the MENA Alliance for Digital Rights and a collective of human rights and civil society organizations, INSM was, and continues to be, vocal about respect for the digital rights of Palestinians and the need to restore telecoms and internet connectivity in Gaza.

Research OpenArchive conducted with the (INSM) revealed gaps in technical resources, training, outdated devices, and legal protections for documenters. Through a series of community workshops, INSM and OpenArchive have started deploying Save and providing training and support to those working to document and preserve evidence of human rights violations in Iraq.

War Crimes in Ukraine

The realities of working as a human rights documenter in an active war zone are complex and often unique to specific regions and contexts. As we near the two-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, we remain amazed by our partner Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group’s (KHPG) strength. Their “Voices of War” project centers eyewitness accounts and reflections on the war. With headlines such as “We were nothing and nobody. We were a human shield for the Russians” and “Nothing left. Everything was burnt out”, these profiles highlight the human side and toll of the violence.

Through our work, in collaboration with the KHPG, we identified the significant challenges documenters and archivists face in Ukraine, which included complex and imperfect database systems and incomplete information regarding attacks and hostilities. OpenArchive remains committed to supporting our KHPG counterparts and facilitating trainings on best archiving and digital security practices in active war zones to help fill some of the existing gaps identified by those on the ground.

Reflecting on 2023 and Archiving Forward

Through several phases of co-research, OpenArchive learned more about the unique contexts our DACs work in and gained a better understanding of their needs. Using these findings, we customized workshops and trainings and implemented usability enhancements to our Save app to better protect them and their media as they work to document, preserve, and share evidence of human rights abuses. We look forward to continuing this work and expanding our DAC program next year.

As we commemorate Human Rights Day and reflect on our partners’ work throughout this year, our commitment to human rights defenders and eyewitnesses remains firm. By equipping them with tools to navigate the challenges of the digital era, we are doing our small part in advancing justice and accountability around the world.