Guest blog by The Hague Hacks:

Looking back at The Hague Hacks 2017

On December 8th, The Hague Peace Projects and ImpactCity jointly organized the first edition of The Hague Hacks. The all-day conference brought together the worlds of peace, justice, and technology. The Hague Peace Projects looks back on the exciting event in their guest contribution below.

On December 8th, the first edition of The Hague Hacks took place: a conference on peace, justice and technology, hosted by The Hague Peace Projects and ImpactCity. Approximately 120 people from a very wide variety of backgrounds came together at The Grey Space in The Hague. NGO professionals, tech startups, academics, lawyers, government employees, and others were present. In one day full of pitches, stories, workshops and discussion, they focused on the meaning of new and emerging technologies for activists and organizations working in the field of peace and justice.

The morning began with an introduction seminar on “New technologies and Human Rights: A threat or an opportunity?” Before delving into all exciting opportunities new technologies might bring, this seminar was meant to reflect on whether the nature of new technologies is indeed as benevolent as many people seem to suggest. Several speakers noted the downsides of new technologies and the potential of abuse by governments and corporations with bad intentions towards their populations and users.

Darth Vader

Kaustubh Srikanth of Greenhost and Hisham Almiraat of Justice and Peace spoke of the dangers of large powers collecting vast volumes of personal data. Brian Gharibaan even went as far as to say that he has the feeling that we are moving towards a dystopian future, because of the immense control that a very limited group of people is able to generate.

Hisham presented some optimism by stating that we live in a transnational civil society, where activists can connect and assist each other like never before. Hack the Planet’s Tim van Deursen also took a more optimistic stance. He stated that he doesn’t believe in Darth Vader-type people who are secretly planning all sorts of evil behind the scenes. Everyone agreed however that we should not be so naive as to think that nothing can go wrong.

Pitches and stories

This session was followed by an inspirational hour consisting of a series of pitches and stories that highlighted the way in which various art, tech and peace organizations are using technology in their work. It was particularly interesting to hear from Netherlands Ministry of Defense’s Timo Schless about the White Flag prototype. This prototype is using blockchain technology to develop an application attempting to make communication easier and verifiable within conflict areas.

On the other side of the spectrum, Yousif Fasher, from Darfur in Sudan, shared his challenges of working as a human rights activist in a country that is under severe repression and control, while there is very little access to basic technologies, like the internet.

Tech activism

One of the afternoon workshops was hosted by ‘tech activist’ Mohammad Al Khateeb, a Palestinian Syrian who was very active during the Syrian revolution that started in 2011. First, Mohammad told us about his background. As a child he sat all day in front of the computer typing away. By the time he was thirteen years old, he was addicted to all sorts of computer programs.

But the popular uprising, triggered by the other Arab Spring episodes in neighboring countries, changed his life completely. He joined the movement, which was full of young ambitious people who were fed up with the corruption and oppression of the Syrian regime. Immediately, Mohammad’s knowledge of technology came in handy.

As an activist, he saw it as his main role to bring information and amateur news reports on the demonstrations and actions against the Assad regime to the outside world. He recorded surprise demonstrations at secret locations and sent these videos out. The goal was to make sure the big news outlets like BBC and CNN were receiving the latest updates of the ongoing revolution, so it would gain international attention and support.

No easy task

However this was not easy and often very dangerous. Not only was access to the internet often cut off or restricted, but also the secret services were very actively tracking down and arresting activists or anyone they thought was behind the demonstrations. Many of those activists disappeared without a trace.

A YouTube channel of his recordings still exists. In it, he talks of Syrians who got killed and others who were arrested. It is hard for him to keep watching it repeatedly. He remembers his contributions and how he equipped other activists with a platform for communication.

After a few years, the peaceful demonstrations turned into bloody attacks by the regime on the civilian population and even into an international war. Mohammad could not stay and decided to move to Europe. This was no easy task. He took fifty days to cross the Sahara in order to take a boat in Libya.

The advantage of opportunity

Today he wishes to find better, more effective tools to communicate to a larger audience. “Technology offers that today,” he tells the audience. “People need to be aware that they have the power when they work together. Also when using new technologies, we must not forget that we should work together and that technology is there to improve our lives. In any development of new technology, we have to make sure that it takes into account human rights so that its potential for abuse is avoided from the onset.”

Now Al Khateeb studies in The Netherlands. The right to talk, act, and take advantage of opportunities is incredibly valuable to him. Seven years ago, he was unable to do what he can do now. Today, he is happy that he can use technology to spread knowledge, provide solutions and take action on daily topics that spark awareness in areas of conflict.

Generally speaking, many of the individuals he interacts with are curious and have a desire to stay updated on events in Syria. By using online facilities, Mohammad pushes interested people to be agents of change. By developing new tech applications, he wants to help those activists who are currently trying to speak out on human abuses in situations of oppression and conflict.

The Hague Hacks turned out to be a great inspiration. It brought about great energy, sparked new interests, and generated valuable new ideas about applying tech solutions to humanitarian challenges. Keep following The Hague Hacks online and on Facebook for new editions and updates on its work on peace, justice, and technology.