New human rights training centre to teach digital tactics

Groundbreaking training centre for protesters, developed in response to the use of social networks in the Arab spring, opens in Florence

An international human rights training centre, teaching digital skills to activists and protesters, has opened in the Italian city of Florence.

Based in a converted prison, the RFK International House of Human Rights was developed in response to the way social networks such as Twitter and Facebook were used during the Arab spring.

It aims to help equip activists with tools allowing them to “promote democracy, human rights and justice” through technology.

The first students – expected to arrive in 2013 – will come from countries such as Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Mexico, Pakistan and Burma and will take part in workshops, events and meetings.

They will learn practical skills such as pixelating faces in videos, using anonymising software and preventing website blocks.

The centre has been set up by the European branch of the Robert F Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, which was created in the 1960s to honour the memory of the assassinated senator and civil rights activist.

His daughter Kerry Kennedy, who opened the centre, said it would “bring together human rights defenders who are changing our world with digital experts who are shaping the way change happens in the 21st Century.”

“Together they have the tools to help realise Robert Kennedy’s dream of a more just and peaceful world,” she added.

The institute, which has no affiliations and is entirely neutral, is thought to be the world’s first such training centre. It occupies three floors, has 12 apartments, a fully equipped kitchen and common room, staff offices and a library in addition to training rooms.

A range of international campaigners will be invited to attend on scholarship, their identities kept hidden. Groups such as Witness, Human Rights Watch and Tactical Technology Collective (TTC) will be teaching students.

While tools such as Twitter have enabled people to share and discuss human rights issues faster and more expansively than ever, they can also lead to the promotion of misguided reporting. The RFK International House hopes to help activists use social and digital tools to communicate clearly and create more vocal human rights activism.