Event Summary: ‘Crowdsourcing Freedom’


This is a summary of an event with human rights activist David Keyes chaired by The Henry Jackson Society deputy drector Davis Lewin, on 13 April 2015; it reflects the views expressed by the speaker and not those of the HJS or its staff.

For a transcript of this event, click here

For a podcast of this event, click here

On Monday 13 April 2015, executive director of Advancing Human Rights, David Keyes, spoke to an audience at the Henry Jackson Society about his new online human rights platform Movements.org.

By way of background, Keyes posited that the only way to evaluate a state’s promise on human rights in the international arena is to observe the manner in which it treat dissidents at home; and that free societies have a moral duty to remind unfree and oppressive states of their internal shortcomings.

Keyes explained how former United States President Ronald Reagan’s repeated raising of the imprisonment of dissident Natan Sharansky with former Soviet Minister Mikhail Gorbachev led to his eventual release. Keyes also relayed a personal example of how after he publicised a conversation in which the Foreign Minister of Iran denied knowledge of the political prisoner Majid Tavakoli, there was a public outcry that resulted in his temporary release.

Keyes also argued that on-the-ground political activists behind the Arab Spring sensed the opportunity to for political transformation while western policy experts were extolling the stability of the region because they understood better than foreigners the disparity between internal freedom and external stability.

Throughout his talk, Keyes reiterated the importance of creating linkages between western liberal democracies and political activists living under totalitarian regimes. While western politicians can, for example, publicly criticise totalitarian regimes or rename landmarks after oppressed foreign dissidents, citizens of Western states often ask: ‘What can I do?’

Modelled on crowdsourcing initiatives, Movements.org is an online platform which allows activists from unfree states to post their needs and connect directly with individuals around the globe who have the skills to help. By bringing together directly those that need help with those who can provide it Movements.org provides the impetus and strategic opportunity to effect real human rights change.

Individuals create an online profile listing the work and skills they either require or can offer and users can then filter requests and offers efficiently by, for example, region or content. Due to cyber security constraints and the decision to maximise reach, Movements.org cannot guarantee full anonymity and is intended primarily for open activists. See screenshot below.

Recent success stories include gaining media attention on the Syrian city of al-Hassakah after it was attacked by Islamic State and 190 Christians and Assyrians were taken hostage. Hadeel Kouky, a refugee from al-Hassakah now living in the United States, requested media attention through Movements.org and the next day she was interviewed by Fox News. In addition, a peace activist from Yemen whose life was under threat escaped the country following a post on Movements.org. He connected with policy-makers and journalists who championed his case.

Screenshot of movements.org


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