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Q&A with Amnesty International

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This week we had the chance to sit down with Owen Pringle, director of digital communications at Amnesty International, to get his thoughts on OpenIDEO, our Amnesty Challenge and supporting human rights through technology.

For folks who might not know, what is Amnesty International?

Amnesty International is a global movement of over 3 million supporters, members and activists in more than 150 countries and territories who campaign to end grave abuses of human rights. Our vision is for every person to enjoy all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards. The organisation remains independent of any government, political ideology, economic interest or religion and is funded primarily through membership and public donations.

How can digital communications spread the word about unlawful detention?

We use digital communications in a variety of ways, here at Amnesty, from dispatching regular e-mails to our supporters to maintaining dedicated human rights communities, such as AI UK’s Protect The Human. We have over sixty websites globally, mainly geared towards members and supporters, whilst social media has been and continues to be crucial to reaching new audiences, through the use of channels such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube.
We also use technology to monitor human rights situations from afar, such as Science for Human Rights programme, lead by AI USA in association with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which uses satellite mapping to support reports of rights violations taking place in territories such as Darfur, North Korea and the Niger Delta. However, our OpenIDEO challenge represents a sea-change in the way we use technology within Amnesty’s work. Whilst we are focusing on unlawful detention for this challenge, we are treating this as a pilot project in how the use of technology for real-time human rights impact can be embedded into every area of our work.

What excites you about this OpenIDEO challenge?

I remember firing up my first 14.4kHz modem in 1994, at a time when merely overhearing someone utter the words “e-mail” across a room would result in my making a bee-line for them. It was a time when the internet was populated by enthusiastic idealists, like me, who wanted nothing more than to connect people with new ideas.
Now, in 2011, having watched the internet and digital communications completely disrupt every area of our lives from learning to industry to politics and beyond, nothing excites me more than to have a front row seat to the way technology stands to aid and empower the individual to hold those in power to account. And I'm thrilled to know the OpenIDEO community is helping us get there.

What's one thing each of us can do right now to support human rights?

That’s easy, take part in this challenge! Amnesty, through its country-based offices, also offers a number of ways for those who support the work we do to get involved. One of the simplest ways to demonstrate your support is to take a moment to read up and take action on one of the many campaigns or appeals we are running at or any of our other websites, which can also be found at that address.
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