Learn how to Code – at Harvard!

It has always been my goal to learn how to code. Ideally, I would be able to create my own website with all the functions I need for this blog. This is why I chose to obtain a free online course at HarvardX which is especially designed for lawyers and law students. It gives an introduction to computer science. Eventually, I will get an understanding of all the buzzwords flying around and find out if they sound more important than they actually are 😉

When speaking of computer science, I have observed so far that many politicians are reluctant to such topics because they grew up in times without computers, tablets, or phones. However, many human rights risks stem from the internet such as hate speech or the use of personal data by private companies for advertisement. Human rights risk may as well stem from limited access to the internet or censorship through states. Fake news may influence elections and pose a risk to democracies. We need smart laws and policies in place in order to ensure that human rights are respected in the internet.

The course is composed of ten lectures and associated assignments, covering these topics:

  1. Computational Thinking,
  2. Programming Languages,
  3. Algorithms, Data Structures,
  4. Cryptography,
  5. Cybersecurity,
  6. Internet Technologies, Cloud Computing,
  7. Web Development,
  8. Database Design,
  9. Cybersecurity, continued, and
  10. Challenges at the Intersection of Law and Technology.

I learned so far that computers “communicate” solely in zeros and ones. It is called binary code. For example, 01000111110000 may signify “hi”. Every bit of information is represented in a code, even a picture by pixels. Interesting, right?

If you want to learn more, here is a link to the course on the online learning platform edX: https://www.edx.org/course/cs50-for-lawyers

Photograph: 

  • Refik Anadol, Machine Hallucinations – Nature Dreams Centre Pompidou-Metz, France, 2022
  • Une installation de Refik Anadol et Refik Anadol Studio (RAS)
  • MABU Collection / mabu.eth

How to keep up with Human Rights

What are human rights and how to stay informed? Here are my tips:

1. Let’s start with the basics of human rights protection: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights – Article 1 declares: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” If I might add: “and sisterhood” 😉

2. Follow the daily briefs of Human Rights Watch. You can sign up with your email for free and receive a compilation of current tweets daily with an explanation about the pending human rights issue.

3. Sign up for an online course, for example on Coursera or edX. Access to the course is usually for free. You can also earn a certificate if you pay a certain amount (50$ to 200$). It can be your chance to study at top universities such as Harvard or Stanford! I found some interesting-sounding courses which you might want to check out:

  1. AI & Law, Lund University (Sweden)
  2. Refugees in the 21st century, University of London (UK)
  3. Child Protection: Children’s Rights in Theory and Practice, Harvard University (USA)
Photographed in Warsaw, Poland

4. Watch documentary films – they can give you great insights. Here are my favourite ones, if you haven’t seen them yet:

  • The Cleaners – a report about the traumatic work of content moderators verifying social media
  • Go – freely available on YouTube – it shows how computer programs learn and outsmart human beings
  • Raving Iran – freely available on YouTube – two DJs make music in a country where electronic music is strictly forbidden. On a side note: the documentary’s music is great

5. Amnesty International publishes country reports and informs about human rights issues in specific countries.

Seen in Münster, Germany

How are refugees legally protected?

The 1951 Geneva Convention states in Article IA(2) the definition of a refugee: A person who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion; and is unable or unwilling to avail him or herself of the protection of that country, or to return there, for fear of persecution. 145 State parties ratified the Geneva Convention and it is a milestone of refugee protection. There exist further regional and national laws protecting the rights of refugees. The Convention is the only international document, emphasising also that refugee protection is a global task.

Above all, the principle of non-refoulement (Article 33) stipulates that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. Furthermore, a refugee is entitled to the right to work (Art. 17 to 19), the right to housing (Art. 21) and the right to education (Art. 22), among others. Under no circumstances shall a refugee be punished for illegal entry into the territory of a Contracting state (Art. 31).

The UNHCR is the governing body of the 1951 Geneva Convention and its 1967 Protocol. Read here the UNHCR’s well-designed paper about the 1951 Convention with FAQ.

How to regulate the internet while respecting human rights?

The online world poses many possibilities, but it is also a place where human rights are constantly neglected. One of the unwelcomed attributes of the online world is disinformation. It is a matter of high concern as disinformation manipulates people strategically for ideological, political or commercial motives (see this UN report). At worst, it can result in hate speech and violence. Many states reacted in issuing broad restrictions on online speech. Unfortunately, they have had the opposite effect: Instead of protecting human rights, these restrictions confine fundamental rights such as freedom of opinion and expression.

The UN Special Rapporteur on these rights Irene Khan (she is also the first woman in this position) recommends states to overthink their approaches in limiting disinformation. She also recommends businesses to reconsider their business model declaring: “The large platforms are focused on improving content moderation while ignoring human rights concerns about their business models, lack of transparency and the inadequate due process rights of users”.

One approach to this problem will be presented on 10 May 2022 by the social purpose company Global Partners International. In this event, the tool for human rights defenders “LEXOTA” will be introduced. It analyses existing laws and policies in Sub-Saharan Africa which pose a threat to freedom of opinion and expression in the internet. The event will be held online via Zoom. If you are as excited as I am about their approach, you can register here to learn more!

The photograph was taken in Warsaw, Poland. The slogans are written in Polish. It says the following:

Microsoft: shapes your children

Facebook: chooses what you read

Apple: knows where your girlfriend is

Google: filtrates your thoughts

Amazon: knows which present you get