"Human rights work in Colombia merits special protection: it's legitimate, it's legal and we can't continue to be persecuted just for defending and strengthening democracy" - Gabriel Gonzalez
When words like these, from visionary human rights defenders like Gabriel Gonzalez, are said to decision makers in Washington, the cause of human rights can advance. But this meeting of the minds almost didn't happen. Only several days before he was scheduled to accept an award for his activism and testify before Congress about human rights in Colombia, Mr. Gonzalez had not been approved to enter the United States.
You may wonder what happened. What major player with big-time clout and influence stepped in to slash through the red tape and ensure that the congressional human rights commission would be able to hear what Gabriel Gonzalez had to say? You did. In 72 hours, 3,700 of you, Human Rights First Facebook fans and email subscribers, signed our petition and, by the end of the week, his visa was approved.
Throughout our history, Human Rights First has had many successes in helping human rights defenders to be heard. There remain challenges to overcome, and much red tape to get through, but with the emergence of online organizing and activism, a powerful new tool can be brought to bear. The speed and agility with which large numbers of people can now express their support (or outrage) is changing the face of human rights advocacy around the world.
If I have to put my finger on it, the change is a dramatic drop in the cost of bringing human rights issues out into the open. Not very long ago, getting attention for an issue involved letter writing campaigns, personal meetings and press conferences. All of that was and is still effective, but it takes time to organize, and efforts only occasionally break through the noise. As you have proven, today we can put out a call to action and see results in a single week.
As our online community continues to grow, Facebook and Twitter will become increasingly effective tools to reach the people who will stand up for human rights and mobilize them when they are needed. The ability to instantly make issues public has changed the face of human rights advocacy, and as we all realize the full potential of our new tools, great progress can be expected. Thanks to all of the HRF supporters who stood up for human rights in Colombia. Lets grow our ranks for the struggles ahead.
Sharon Kelly is the Director of Communications at Human Rights First.