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Human rights crisis, a window of opportunity for change

There is a crisis in communicating and convincing people that human rights matter. While this view is universally agreed among the human rights community, it represents a window of opportunity for change, according to the FRA Director, Michael O’Flaherty, when opening a seminar of leading experts on communicating human rights.

To grasp this opportunity we need to frame messages in ways that are more readily understood by the general population. We also need to speak to the general public about their human rights’ needs. To do this we should learn from what we already know, borrowing from other well established modes of effective communication, such as humanising and visualising stories. We should also further embrace the digital revolution to understand better how people nowadays engage with each other. We also need to seek allies when reaching out rather than simply use them as tools to help spread our messages.

The seminar looked at various ways of being more effective in communicating through practical hands-on examples of best practices in communicating fundamental rights as well as wide-ranging discussions. Ideas included reaching out to new human rights messengers - vloggers, youth groups etc. – recognising that our institutions are not always best placed to spread the message. There was also a call to generate a bigger human rights constituency rather than focus on agents of change such as decision makers. This requires thinking about the messages and testing which ones work better. However, it was also said that it is important to be aware that no message says the same to everyone, as different messages can trigger different emotions among different people.

Participants welcomed the opportunity to get together with like-minded people who are grappling with the same issues to exchange ideas and learn from each other.

Many participants expressed interest in building on the seminar and creating a community of practitioners to further share experiences. They also welcomed the idea of creating communicating human rights checklist to further enhance the effectiveness of their communications.

The meeting took place in Vienna from 23 to 24 January. It brought together leading European human rights communicators to discuss how best to promote and communicate human rights messages.

The event was organised by FRA, supported by the European Network of Equality Bodies (Equinet), the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI), the Council of Europe and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The seminar drew on recommendations from earlier expert meetings on communicating human rights, shared space of religion and human rights and on arts and human rights convened by FRA.