Human Rights Team/Human Rights and Wikimedia

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"What’s a Human Right? It’s your daughter having the same opportunities as your son. It’s you loving whoever you want without fear. It’s you having access to a lawyer when you need to. It’s your right to be treated equally regardless of ability."

- European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights

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What are Human Rights?

Human rights [or fundamental rights] are a means to recognize and protect the dignity of all human beings. They are inherent to every human being, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion or other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more. Importantly, human rights are not just something we claim, but also something we do: they are the choices our leaders and lawmakers make, the responsibilities we have to one another, the tools we use to to challenge injustice and inequality. Human rights are enshrined in national laws around the world and International Human Rights Law, and are constantly being maintained and expanded by countless human rights defenders and advocates across regions and disciplines.

Human Rights Education and Monitoring Resources

To find out more about human rights and how they function, take a look at the following:

To find out how your country does at upholding human rights, take a look at the following:

Why do human rights matter for the Wikimedia Movement?

The Wikimedia Movement aims to advance our world by promoting equal access to knowledge that fully represents human diversity. As a community that deeply cares about free, accessible, and equitable knowledge, we have an intrinsic connection with human rights!

The Wikimedia Movement’s vision of a world in which every human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge both enables and relies upon human rights. Wikimedia projects boost freedom of expression by providing a platform to share and seek a vast variety of knowledge. Better conditions for people to speak freely and access information in turn help promote other rights, including the rights to education, artistic expression, economic advancement, and civic and political participation. In this sense, Wikimedia projects can have significant influence on the advancement of a variety of human rights as well!

At the same time, the projects can only thrive in an environment where everybody can voice their opinion, engage in discussion and use the platforms freely. For this to happen, contributors’ fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression and the right to peaceful online assembly need to be respected. Keep in mind that human rights rights are connected to and dependent on each other: when someone’s basic freedoms are denied in other places, it likely also affects whether they are allowed to speak and assemble freely and safely. For example, if women are denied access to education, they might be stripped from the means to express themselves meaningfully; if your justice system is corrupt and you could be arrested arbitrarily, you will think twice about openly criticizing a judge’s decision; if your right to privacy is breached by surveillance, your channels of expression will likely be limited. Therefore, our projects rely on an environment where our contributors and readers can exercise the full range of their human rights. For this reason, the Wikimedia Foundation’s Human Rights Policy establishes our commitment to protect and respect the full range of human rights across all of our projects and to advocate for policies and technologies that enable our global Movement to thrive.

Furthermore, as part of the 2030 Movement Strategy recommendation on safety and inclusion, the Movement strives to establish standards for an inclusive, welcoming, safe, and harassment-free environment. This includes supporting those threatened because of their involvement with Wikimedia projects and improving community safety from a human rights perspective.

Wikimedians under threat

As freedom of expression online is under constant attack, Wikimedians continue to be a thorn in the side of those who seek to control information for their advantage. Consequently, our community faces a variety of threats because of their participation in our Movement.

Who threatens Wikimedians?

Volunteers can be threatened and harmed by a variety of different actors. Individuals, groups or other entities who intend to threaten and harm are called threat actors or malicious actors. Threat actors can be acting on their own behalf or be associated with governments, extremist groups or organized crime. Threat actors can be external to the Movement, infiltrate the Movement or be internal (be fellow Wikimedians).

Why are Wikimedians targeted?

Wikimedians might be targeted:

  • for editing a controversial topic area
  • for personal traits revealed (being part of an ethnic minority, LGBTQ+ group,...)
  • for criticizing influential people or groups
  • for deleting a promotional article or reverting vandalism
  • by simply participating in the open knowledge Movement
  • for deterrence purposes or as part of a broader political situation
  • BLPs and harmful content: non-Wikimedians might also be targeted, for example if information that might endanger them is shared over Wikimedia platforms

What are common threats and which human rights are affected?

Since our community is global and diverse, the threats Wikimedians might face depend on their individual circumstance and context. For instance, contributing to or using Wikimedia projects can be much more risky for those living in authoritarian regimes than for those living in countries where freedom of expression is respected. Some of the more serious threats to Wikimedians include the sharing of personal information online (‘doxxing’), surveillance, and online and offline harassment and persecution. The table below draws from the WMF’s Human Rights Impact Assessment to put some of these threats into the language of International Human Rights Law. Different harms obstruct the exercise of different rights and freedoms, and violate different articles of Human Rights Treaties.

Human Right How is it affected?
Dignity (Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 1) Harassment and persecution, whether online or offline, infringe on the right to be treated with dignity – though the degree of harm depends both on the type and scale of harassment.
Right to life, liberty and security of person (UDHR 3) Action against targeted individuals can impact their right to security of person and affect their physical and psychological well-being.
Right to non-discrimination (UDHR 2) Harassment and persecution are often targeting vulnerable and historically disadvantaged groups, including women, racial and ethnic minorities, political dissidents, and Human Rights Defenders.
Right to privacy (UDHR 12) Certain forms of harassment, including doxing, are designed to share private information about people without their consent. Illegitimate surveillance infringes directly on the right to privacy – whether online or offline.
Freedom of Expression & Access to Information (UDHR 19)

Freedom of Assembly (UDHR 20)

Right to Participation in Cultural Life (UDHR 27)

Right to take part in government (UDHR 21)

If Wikimedians feel unsafe engaging in the projects, the right to free expression and access to information, assembly and to participate in cultural life may be infringed. Contributors might self-censor and choose not to add truthful information or steer away from certain topics or events out of fear of reprisal.
Freedom from unlawful attacks on one’s honor and reputation (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Article 17) Threats can be designed to harm someone’s reputation or defame in pursuit of other goals.

To see how Wikimedians have been targeted in the past, take a look at the following news stories:

For a more detailed account on how Wikimedia projects, platforms, and activities might cause human rights harms to Wikimedia volunteers, Foundation employees, readers, and others affected directly or indirectly by free knowledge projects, read the WMF’s Human Rights Impact Assessment.

Human Rights Team background

Over the last years, our Movement has grown and information from Wikimedia projects is being broadcasted and amplified by other internet platforms. Unfortunately, this growth has been accompanied by an increase in emergencies and threats towards our volunteers. Responding to this development and implementing recommendations of the Human Rights Impact Assessment, the Wikimedia Foundation recruited staff with human rights expertise. In 2021, a Human Rights Lead was hired to build a team and program dedicated to upholding and defending the safety of our Movement’s volunteers – the Human Rights Team. We are a passionate and experienced team committed to minimize and mitigate the risks community members face and to defend them from direct threats to the best of our abilities.