The pen is still mightier than the sword, but so is e-mail and it’s faster. That’s the message many activists are sending these days as they turn to the Internet to tackle old socio-political problems.
Amnesty International, the world’s largest human rights organization, today kicks off an Internet-based campaign against what it calls “the pervasive problem” of torture.
“The quicker we can mobilize around the world and the quicker those people can respond, the more likely it is that we will be able to save people from torture or get it stopped if it’s already happened,” says Bill Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA.
Acting FAST for Human Rights
Capitalizing on the speed and efficiency of the Internet, the Fast Action Stops Torture (FAST) network is a rapid response campaign designed to put thousands of activists in direct touch with torturers, would-be torturers and their superiors through electronic messages. When Amnesty International receives information someone is under threat, the organization will alert FAST members immediately by e-mail or cell phone about the imminent danger, and within hours, thousands of e-mails can be sent to the would-be perpetrator.
“If torture is going to take place, it is most likely to take place within the first 48 hours of incarceration or arrest,” says Schulz. “It is a practice that needs to be stopped quickly if it’s to be stopped.”
An update to the group’s successful Urgent Action Network, which worked similarly using mostly letters and faxes, the FAST network is just one element in a larger year-long campaign to stop torture — a global problem detailed in a report Amnesty International is releasing today. Based on research conducted worldwide from 1997 through mid-2000, “Torture Worldwide: An Affront to Human Dignity” found torture to be a major human rights issue in more than 150 of the 197 countries and territories studied.
Technology, the report indicated, can be a double-edged sword when it comes to torture, providing both a means of inflicting it and the possibilities for combating it. “Electroshock devices have been developed to restrain, control or punish,” the report says. “At the same time communications technology means that anti-torture campaigners can organize in new ways.”
Solidarity on the Net
Tom Hansen, director of the Chicago-based Mexico Solidarity Network, understands this first-hand. Hansen, who was once arrested by Mexican authorities for working on human rights efforts in the country while on a tourist visa, has been mobilizing people through the Internet for two years now, trying to affect human rights changes in Latin America.
“I’m an organizer who comes out of the 1970s before we even had computers,” says Hansen. “What used to take three people a week to do now one person can do in a matter of a couple of hours.”
Activities such as organizing programs or events and distributing education materials and action alerts are quicker and more far-reaching with Internet tools such as the World Wide Web and e-mail.