KINGSTON, R.I. – Sept. 13, 2023 – Over the past decade, the introduction of new and advanced digital tools and databases designed to track human rights implementation and abuses has represented an important step forward for those working in the international human rights community. In a move to help bring together human rights actors and encourage collaboration, knowledge exchange and policy discussion, the Geneva Human Rights Platform and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights are holding an expert roundtable Sept. 14 and 15 in Geneva.
Among those who will be attending the “2023 Expert Roundtable on Human Rights Tracking Tools and Databases” is the University of Rhode Island’s Skip Mark, assistant professor of political science. Mark is co-director of the CIRIGHTS data project, the world’s largest human rights dataset.
The Geneva Academy, which oversees the Geneva Human Rights Platform, reached out to Mark following a two-day Human Rights Measurement Workshop hosted at URI in May. The conference brought together scholars and researchers from across the United States to discuss techniques to measure respect for human rights worldwide. Mark was able to share some of the lessons learned from that workshop as well as recommend scholars to participate in the Geneva roundtable.
The roundtable will assemble independent experts as well as experts from academia, government, and nonprofit and non-governmental organizations that represent digital human rights tracking tools, measurement projects and databases. Mark will participate representing the CIRIGHTS project. Among the academics expected to attend are: K. Chad Clay of the University of Georgia, co-founder of the Human Rights Measurement Initiative, and Thalia Kehoe Rowden, its strategy and engagement lead, along with Mark Gibney of the University of North Carolina at Asheville and Baekkwan Park of the University of Missouri–both principal researchers for the Political Terror Scale.
“Scholarly human rights measurement data and academics have traditionally not been in this policy space,” said Mark. “So, I think that the work that the Geneva Human Rights Platform is doing by opening up a space for human rights scholars to bring their expertise and their data to contribute is really transformative.”
This is the second roundtable of its nature held by the Geneva Human Rights Platform. The major themes to be explored are accessibility, sustainability, and interoperability of the tools. Discussion sessions will center on various aspects of these themes including open versus limited access to tools, ensuring continuity, the importance of partnerships, financial support, and funding challenges, and even navigating the roll of artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Mark believes bringing together experts and resources from across the human rights spectrum is important. “We all have our blind spots – as scholars we may sometimes be more focused on what should be done versus what can be done, but by working with those steeped in policy or politics, and those on the ground, together we can focus on what is feasible, to ensure we continue to move the ball forward.”
He notes the importance of different points of view and gaining a fuller understanding of the different environments in which human rights actors operate. “We ask different questions and face different challenges and limitations – but that’s why coming together like this is so important and will, hopefully, enable us to rely on one another.”
Mark looks forward to the opportunities for collaboration that bringing these groups together will provide. “Prior to the GHRP undertaking this, I didn’t even know some of these tools existed, so I think one of the really nice benefits of this project is bringing together all of these different resources into one place.”
He also intends to incorporate some of these new resources and lessons from the meeting into his classes at URI.
“A really important part of the mission to improve human rights is furthering human rights education and educating the general public about what human rights are,” said Mark. “And to improve and promote human rights education, you really need these types of digital human rights tracking tools and databases that provide reliable information about what governments are doing and what they’re obligated to do.”