Today’s human rights networks are sophisticated and dense, but access to important global conversations is still restricted by geography, language, money, and power. To address these limitations, we created openGlobalRights (oGR) in summer 2013. With support from the Ford Foundation, University of Minnesota, and University of Ottawa, we are creating a multilingual, online space dedicated to debating human rights strategies from all perspectives and disciplines; global South and North; non-governmental and governmental; activist and academic; non-legal and legal.
oGR is hosted online by the London-based digital commons, openDemocracy. Together, we are building the world’s first all-digital, truly global, human rights knowledge hub. We promote and nurture strategic discussions across geographic, linguistic, political, academic, and practitioner divides. Our goal is to broaden and diversify global human rights debates; make those discussions more readily accessible to multiple types of actors; and thus, to increase these debates’ potential influence.
Here’s how we work: Every few months, we launch a new “debate” by commissioning a series of lively commentaries, written in multiple languages, and from various perspectives. We then extend and deepen the debate by commissioning new responses and elaborations. The debates rarely end, as we continue to receive and publish new contributions on past and current themes from authors around the world.
To date, we’ve launched discussions on Emerging Powers and Human Rights; Human Rights: Mass or Elite Movement?; The Responsibility to Protect: Syria and Beyond; Funding and Human Rights; Religion and Human Rights; A New High Commissioner for Human Rights; Debating Economic and Social Rights; The International Criminal Court; Internationalizing Human Rights Organizations, Public Opinion and Human Rights, Evaluation and Human Rights, Economic Inequality & Human Rights and, most recently, the Future of Refugee Protection. In April 2016, we plan to launch a new debate to explore strategies to counter Closing Space for Civil Society in collaboration with the Human Rights Initiative at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
In addition to our ongoing debates, on a separate ‘openPage’ section, we publish articles on a wide variety of strategic human rights issues. Here, our focus is on discussing ways of improving human rights advocacy, practice and scholarship, or of advancing understanding of the human rights dimensions of pressing global issues.
Many of our authors live and work in the global South, and while many are from lesser-known locations and organizations, we also commission pieces from internationally established voices. To identify both new and less-established contributors, we work with freelance commissioning editors in Latin America, Africa, and South Asia. Many of our authors are human rights thought leaders, activists, scholars, and professionals; others are journalists, researchers, students, and commentators.
Our roster of globally prominent authors includes Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch; Khalil Shikaki, Director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, Palestine; Maya Daruwala, director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative; Sakiko Fukuda Parr, professor of international affairs at The New School; Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Beth A. Simmons, professor of international affairs at Harvard University; and Samuel Moyn, professor of law and history at Harvard University.
Our newer voices include Lucia Nader, former executive director of Conectas, the Sao Paulo-based rights group; David García Junco Machado, chief financial officer for Mexico’s National Council for Science and Technology (CONACYT); Amel Fahmy, co-founder of HarassMap and the managing director of Tadwein, a Gender Research Center in Egypt; Jeong-Woo Koo, a sociologist based at South Korea’s Sungkyunkwan University; Dahlia Scheindlin, an international public opinion analyst and strategic consultant based in Tel Aviv, Haris Azhar, coordinator of KontraS, and Zaira Drammis, International Head of Monitoring and Evaluation at the ActionAid International Secretariat.
Many of our authors are not professional writers, and English is often not their native tongue. To help them craft broadly accessible essays, we work extensively with experienced, multi-lingual editors living in Bangladesh, Canada, India, Israel, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa and the US. To ensure that our commentaries have depth and cross-regional comprehensibility, we conduct additional research when necessary, and embed hyperlinks, to open sources, for further reading. To ensure that authors have the time they need to work on their pieces, we pay those living in the global South modest honorariums. To overcome linguistic barriers, we accept submissions in any language, and then translate, edit, and back-translate. And to ensure the broadest possible distribution, we promote our essays through multi-lingual social media channels, and arrange for cross-publication with other websites and e-networks.
From launch on June 17, 2013 through February 2016, our 461 original articles and 536 translations received over 1.9 million page-views from nearly 314,000 unique readers over 454,000 website visits (Figures 1 and 2). Readers commented over 1000 times on 306 of these pieces, and other websites republished our material over 300 times, including on two popular Turkish websites, T24 and Bianet; Foreign Policy, a leading US website for international affairs; Global Voices; and BBC-Persian. In September 2014, the Economist featured our debate on religion and human rights.
Nearly 40 percent our 406 authors were born and reside in the global South, and 45% are women. Over 77% have written for us once, while the rest have written for us two or more times (Figure 3). We have translated our articles into 20 languages, and more than half our total output is in a language other than English.
About 39% of our readers are return visitors, compared to 29% for openDemocracy as a whole. On average, each visit to our website lasts nearly 6 minutes, over three times the average for our host website, openDemocracy.
Our readers click on at least 4 pages per visit, on average, more than double the openDemocracy norm.
Our Facebook pages have nearly 23,000 followers, 98% of which live in the global South. Our pages have been tweeted, shared and “liked” over 190,000 times (Figures 4 and 5).
In February 2014, we added social media channels in Spanish, French and Arabic, and our non-Anglophone Facebook and twitter fan base has grown to 5600.
Our lead editor is James Ron, a professor at the University of Minnesota, former Human Rights Watch consultant, and former Associated Press journalist. Our managing editor is Archana Pandya, an Indo-Canadian researcher whose native English is supplemented by Spanish, French, Hindi and Guajrati. Our collaborating editor is David Petrasek, a former special advisor to the Amnesty International secretary general, now a professor at the University of Ottawa. Our regular consulting and commissioning editors include Osai Ojigho, a Nigerian human rights activist and Coalition Coordinator for the State of the Union Coalition (SOTU) based in Nairobi; Rachel Schmidt, a Canadian writer and editor based in Ottawa, Rohini Mohan, an Indian journalist based in Bangalore; and Lauren Royston, the Director of Research and Advocacy at the Socio-Economic Rights Institute in South Africa.
In recent months we have partnered with the Center for Economic and Social Rights to develop our debate on Economic Inequality and collaborated with the International Network of Women’s Funds (INWF) and the International Human Rights Funders Group (IHRFG) to develop a sub-debate on local resource mobilization for human rights. We have also developed cross-publication parternships with the editors of SUR International Journal on Human Rights as well as Dejusticia’s Amphibious Accounts and Global Rights Blogs to give more visibility to some of the important pieces they have produced.
Notably, in November 2015, openGlobalRights held its first author/practitioner/scholar/donor workshop on Surveys and Human Rights in Mexico City, which was supported by CIDE and the Stassen Chair of International Affairs at the University of Minnesota. Many of the participants in that workshop have published practitioner-focused articles in oGR’s Public Opinion and Human Rights debate and are contributing to a special issue of the scholarly Journal of Human Rights on surveys and human rights (volume 16/ 3, 2017).
We have received $575,000 USD from the Ford Foundation over three years (2013-16); $199,000 USD in in-kind donations from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and Department of Political Science; and roughly $25,000 USD in-kind from the University of Ottawa.
 This excludes authors from the global South who reside in the global North. We define “global South,” for the purposes of this report, as regions other than Western Europe, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the USA.