Sunday, September 25, 2005

Helping protect human rights information is one of our critical goals at Benetech. Information is the core of human rights work, and suppressing of such information is one of the ways perpetrators of abuses get away with their crimes.

We created our Martus software to help protect human rights information. However, the confidential nature of field human rights work often makes it difficult for us to share our successes, lest we add to the risks grassroots activists already take on as part of their daily tasks.

One of our biggest areas of work is in Colombia, a place where violence and human rights abuses are not a thing of the past. One of our strong partners in the country is a group named EQUITAS, the Colombian Interdisciplinary Team for Forensic Work and Psychosocial Services. They concentrate on recovering the remains of the many people disappeared during Colombia's complex and violent internal conflicts. EQUITAS is under particular pressure just now because of its involvement in an excavation of remains on a ranch near San Onofre, a particularly sensitive site that may hold the remains of hundreds of disappeared people from the region, and has already yielded dozens of bodies.

One of the EQUITAS staff was assaulted last month multiple times. In one incident, her taxi was hijacked in Medellin and her computer was demanded. She and her taxi driver were taken to a remote location where her computer, cell phone and other property was stolen, but thankfully, she and the taxi driver were released unharmed. EQUITAS has been among our most innovative Martus adopters. Many of EQUITAS' documents were secured by our Martus software using our "key-sharing" technique, see the Martus manual, section 2g. Whoever stole EQUITAS' computer got nothing but encrypted bits for the data stored in Martus, and EQUITAS has already recovered their materials from the server to their new computer.

Human rights group are all about information. Stealing computers is an increasingly common method of trying to suppress human rights activities. Martus plays a small but important role in safeguarding that information. We appreciate the permission of EQUITAS to mention their experience with our software, and hope that if you know people who are interested in their critical work, you'll connect them with me so that I can put them in touch with EQUITAS.

And, I am sure that a new Mac will shortly be again processing that lifeblood of human rights work, information about abuses and the stories of the people and families who are suffering because of them.

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