Human rights advocacy takes many forms, and human rights activists can be found in every corner of the world. Tremendous advancements in technology and communication have allowed activists to form strong international networks and to share emerging information about human rights abuses almost as soon as they happen. These advancements have fundamentally changed the way human rights organizations work, including how they engage in human rights advocacy with broader communities beyond a country’s borders.
Yet the unique role diaspora communities can play in improving human rights around the world has largely been overlooked in the human rights field. It’s time for that to change.
Diaspora: The Migration Policy Institute defines the term “diaspora” as “emigrants and their descendants who live outside the country of their birth or ancestry . . . yet still maintain . . . ties to their countries of origin.”
Members of diaspora communities play an increasingly important global role and can be a bridge between individuals, governments, and international legal and political mechanisms. Diaspora communities are a critical link in changing social institutions and structures to hold governments accountable. Many migrants – refugees and asylum seekers in particular – leave their homes because of human rights abuses. Many were political and human rights activists in their home countries and they bring their experiences with them. In some countries with repressive governments, security concerns mean that diasporans must take the lead in speaking out. From their new home base, they can bring change in their countries of origin.
Members of diaspora communities agree. Chanravy Proeung, a member of the Cambodian diaspora and Co-Director of the Providence Youth Student Movement, said:
“We have the privilege to see those countries from a different perspective. We need to have the people who are the most marginalized and affected by issues at the forefront of creating change not only here in the United States, but having influence in their countries of origin, too.”
For more than 30 years, The Advocates for Human Rights has witnessed the powerful role that diaspora civil society organizations play in documenting human rights abuses, influencing policy, and advocating on behalf of victims of human rights violations in their countries of origin.
As a legal service provider, The Advocates is often the first connection that asylum seekers have to their new community in the United States. Because of this special relationship, diasporans from dozens of countries have requested assistance from The Advocates in documenting human rights violations “back home.” With diaspora communities, The Advocates has conducted groundbreaking work, such as the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission Diaspora Project, ensuring that public hearing testimony and the statements of 1,200 Liberians living outside of Liberia were included in the formal history of the conflict.
The report, Human Rights in Ethiopia: Through the Eyes of the Oromo Diaspora, proved the significance of involving individuals who have left a country in work to hold governments accountable and affect human rights in their home countries. The Advocates has also collaborated with the Indian American Muslim Council on advocacy on issues concerning religious minorities at the both the U.S. Congress and the United Nations, demonstrating that diaspora voices can have an impact on human rights in India.
The Advocates recently completed a two-year project to identify needs and create tools to help tap the underexplored resources of diaspora involvement in human rights. The result is a groundbreaking resource called Paving Pathways for Justice & Accountability: Human Rights Tools for Diaspora Communities.
This manual, available for download at no cost, provides a full menu strategies and resources designed to empower diaspora communities to be more effective advocates for human rights in their countries of origin.
With practical tools and step-by-step guidance shaped by input from multiple diaspora communities, Paving Pathways can be used to help individuals and organizations to:
- monitor and document human rights abuses;
- advocate for change in their country of origin and country of residence, as well as at international and regional human rights mechanisms;
- address impunity and hold governments accountable using national and international law; and
- build their capacity to improve human rights conditions.
While the tools and resources presented in this manual were specifically created for use by diaspora communities, this manual can also benefit and be used by human rights defenders and civil society organizations throughout the world.
The international community needs to do more to recognize the unique contributions that diaspora communities can make to building respect for human rights around the world. Rather than treating diasporans solely as economic sources of remittances, investment, and philanthropy, countries of origin and countries of residence should facilitate engagement in long-term social change. With this new resource, The Advocates is taking an important step in supporting diaspora communities in their efforts to improve human rights around the world.
Download your free copy at: TheAdvocatesForHumanRights.org/pathways
Individual chapters can also be downloaded for free.
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 International Organization for Migration and Migration Policy Institute, Developing a Roadmap for Engaging Diasporas in Development (Washington DC and Geneva: IOM and MPI, 2012), 15. Also available online at http://www.migrationpolicy.org/pubs/thediasporahandbook.pdf.