Technology for human rights: Microsoft and UN Human Rights Office announce ground-breaking partnership

Microsoft and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have announced a landmark five-year partnership which will see the tech company provide a grant of USD $5 million as well as in kind support for the vital work of the UN Human Rights Office.

A key area of the partnership will be the use of technology to better predict, analyse and respond to growing critical and complex human rights situations across the world, building on a long-standing relationship between the UN Human Rights Office and Microsoft, based on two shared ideas.

The first of these ideas is a commitment to ensuring that technology plays a positive role in helping the promotion and protection of human rights. The second is a recognition of the need for the private sector to play a bigger part in helping to advance the cause of human rights globally.

“As a global company that sees the problems of the world, we believe that we have a responsibility to help to solve them,” said Brad Smith, President of Microsoft. “We have an untapped opportunity to use the power of technology to collect data, analyse that data, and equip the United Nations to advance human rights around the world.”

One example of this is Rights View – an information dashboard that Microsoft is helping to develop and deploy that will allow UN Human Rights staff to collect and analyze large quantities of internal and external data on specific countries and types of rights violations in real time.

The system will help to collect and analyse data, helping to ensure that early warnings of critical issues can take place, along with data to help guide responses and actions. The Rights View tool, powered by the Microsoft cloud  and big data analysis, is just one example of how technology can be a force for good.

For more information, please visit Microsoft’s UN Human Rights site.

Technology for human rights

With over 1,000 staff worldwide, the UN Human Rights Office will be able to use technology to overcome physical barriers to access, collating evidence – and using analysis technology to validate the authenticity of it – from around the world, using data captured on, for example, smartphones, from people on the ground.

Ahmed Motala, who leads one of the investigative teams at the U.N. Human Rights Office believes that “It’s about putting this jigsaw puzzle together.”

Motala recently supported the Office’s investigation on Sri Lanka where, for over a quarter of a century, the island in the Indian Ocean was embroiled in bitter and bloody civil war which left as many as 100,000 people dead.

Technology was vital in helping Motala and his colleagues put together the pieces of what actually happened. “We are able to find leads on what may be happening,” he says. With a smartphone, anyone can be a human rights defender. “Often people in very remote places have mobile phones that have a good camera and the possibility of uploading.”

Business and human rights

Microsoft will also work with the UN Human Rights Office to raise awareness of the role that companies can and should play in driving respect for human rights and to promote more responsible business conduct across the world.

Microsoft will work closely with the Office to help promote broader adoption and implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The UN Guiding Principles provide a global standard for preventing and addressing the risk of adverse impacts on human rights linked to business activity.

Microsoft will also provide support for human rights advocacy and outreach campaigns through concrete support for the work of the UN Human Rights Office in key areas like freedom of expression, data protection, privacy, and inclusion.

This includes direct support for the development and promotion of corporate principles for tackling LGBTI discrimination in the workplace, in line with international human rights standards.

“This could be a truly ground-breaking agreement,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. “We live in a rapidly evolving age, where technology can either be used to solve human rights problems or misused to erode human rights. Similarly, companies can infringe people’s rights, or they can be a major progressive force.”

“The private sector has an essential role to play in advancing human rights, and this partnership with Microsoft demonstrates how we can join forces in a constructive way,” Zeid said. “I hope this is just the beginning of something much bigger: that it helps stimulate a broad movement by the private sector to stand up for human rights. Increased support from major companies in the technology sector and other fields can clearly make a critical difference.”

For more information, please visit Microsoft’s UN Human Rights site. Click here to read about Microsoft’s approach to human rights, and here to read about Microsoft’s Technology and Human Rights Center.