Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Training Human Rights Defenders in the DRC

A Guest Beneblog by Vijaya Tripathi, Vijaya.T at Benetech.org

In my job as outreach coordinator for Martus, Benetech’s free and open source information management technology, I teach human rights workers in many countries how to secure their data.

I have just completed two 2-day trainings of human rights NGOs in the Democratic Republic of Congo. During my visit, I also had an opportunity to meet staff members at the United Nations Mission of the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC).

The Benetech Human Rights Program was invited to conduct these trainings by the International Center for Transitional Justice which assists countries pursuing accountability for mass atrocities or human rights abuses.

Martus is a secure software application designed to gather, organize and back up human rights information. It allows human rights defenders to create a searchable and encrypted database of sensitive information from witnesses and victims - and back this data up remotely to their choice of publicly available servers.
Three people looking over the shoulder of someone seated at a PC Caption: Human rights workers receive Martus training in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The first Congolese Martus training took place in Kinshasa, the state capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which is located on the bank of the Congo River in central Africa. The second Congolese Martus training took place in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province located on the shore of Lake Kivu.

The trainings offered an important opportunity to bring Martus to the exact groups we built the tool for - human rights defenders who are collecting sensitive documentation and need help securing and backing up that information quickly and effectively.

I was honored to work with these Congolese activists, several of whom have been on the frontline of human rights monitoring and advocacy in the DRC for many years. They drew on examples from their own experiences to inform the training process, sharing anecdotes about information organization, management, security, and in some cases, information loss due to theft and destruction.

Despite the difficulties of resource constraints and shifting security conditions, I am optimistic about the long-term possibility of Martus users in the DRC due to the enthusiasm and experience of the human rights defenders that I worked with. I hope to have an opportunity to return to Kinshasa and Goma and continue to support the dedicated men and women that I had the opportunity to train.

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