Human Rights through the Wikimedia projects

Democracy Index 2019. The darker green, the more democratic; the darker red, the less democratic.Weifeng Yang, CC BY-SA 4.0.

On December 10, 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the first International Day for Human Rights. But what does human rights mean for the Wikimedia projects? We asked a Wikimedian from the MENA region to give their perspective. 

Since discovering Wikimedia and its projects, I have written about various subjects and areas, ranging from entertainment to serious historical topics, in different languages, and in collaboration with numerous partners and volunteers. For years, I have considered the encyclopedia as a repository of information related to specific thematics, mostly reflecting the idea we inherit from our view of the classical encyclopedias, as books with unlimited knowledge about science, geography, politics, and several “scholarly” matters.

However, Wikimedia projects are much more than that!

As you probably know, one of the specificities of our projects is that they are editable, interactive, and community driven. Content is not decided by a central entity, and it is the wisdom of the crowds that shape it and deliver to us every day the great updated articles, pictures, and news that enlighten the word. In fact, we are driving a powerful tool, and most importantly, without any censorship. The only rules that are applied are the notability of the subject, as well as the reliability of the sources used to support the articles.

Coming from a country where human rights are still at the emancipation stage, and having witnessed several abuses in my local context, I understood that I could combine my “political activism” for human rights with the Wikimedian volunteering that I was already involved in. As one of the most viewed websites on the Internet, and with its entries coming among the first results of a Google search, Wikimedia projects seem to be a perfect place for promoting human rights. The Wikimedian community itself, with its values of free knowledge sharing and friendly space policy, is a community promoting human rights ideals, among which lies the right of access to information, that is the mere cause of this encyclopedia.

All human rights advocates, caring about raising awareness on various subjects and issues, can use Wikimedia platforms to act. Several ideas can be implemented to reach that end. I have worked with many of them and can suggest as example:

  • Write articles, edit Wikidata entries, upload pictures, and organize edit-a-thons about the basics of human rights in different languages, and for several communities. If we want to disseminate the culture of human rights through the world, we have to make sure that the information exists online. We are the ones creating and producing this information, and the Wikimedia projects are the place to educate people about concepts such as: Consent, Freedom of speech, Equality, Democracy, or even the concept of right. This might seem obvious in a country such as Sweden, where these concepts are taught at an early age at school, but in many authoritarian countries, regimes prevent citizens from knowing their rights, and these concepts can be ignored by more people than we think.
  • Advocate for the human rights situations related to specific countries in the world, by for example documenting abuses, or writing about political prisoners. In fact, in countries where freedoms are limited, journalists cannot provide a full and neutral picture of what is happening, as they might lack reliable sources, and furthermore would risk their liberty, and even their life. Although Wikimedians are not journalists, they remain in many cases the main knowledge producers about different areas and situations. I have myself learned so much about the human rights situation in many countries through Wikipedia. This is the reason why I decided to give back by sharing information about my local context as well. First, this makes political prisoners and their struggle more known in the world (which can help setting up campaigns and freeing them later), and second, it shares the human rights situation of the region in a neutral way, without taking into consideration political compromises, or economical considerations, that many media outlets unfortunately might have as a limitation.

As a conclusion, the Wikimedia projects provide unlimited opportunities and potential to write about almost any subject coming into mind. As pillars of our modern democratic society, human rights have an obvious and important place in this framework, and deserve to be promoted at the highest level. By defining basic concepts for all, or by digging deeper into specific advanced notions, or also by writing on human rights activists and prisoners, we do all participate in shaping a better and fairer world, where there is more awareness about our rights, and access to information is guaranteed for all, no matter where they live.

Wikimedian from the MENA Region