Roma rights, social networks, molotov cocktails

I was very disturbed to read about the recent attacks on Roma camps in Italy . The report says:

"Young Neapolitans who threw Molotov cocktails into a Naples Gypsy camp this week, after a girl was accused of trying to abduct a baby, bragged that they were undertaking "ethnic cleansing". A UN spokeswoman compared the scenes to the forced migration of Gypsies from the Balkans. "We never thought we'd see such images in Italy," said Laura Boldrini."

I'm pretty obsessed with how the web and digital technologies can advance human rights , and whether they can prevent gross violations and genicode, so I started wondering how useful they could be in this situation.

I remember the launch of the Roma Information Project (RIP) back in 2002, a great project using the erider model to support Roma groups in Central & Eastern Europe. But there's also potential for defending Roma rights using social web & mobile technologies through cloud campaigning. Obviously, the communities are going to be using mobiles to coordinate their self-defence. But maybe there's a role for using mobile to report human rights abuses in the way that Fahamu tried with Rural women in KwaZulu Natal. And mobile video can be uploaded to the Witness Hub (a "YouTube for human rights") which allows people to create campaigns around them by adding context and joining discussion groups.

I think the other critical point is the influence of culture on whether human rights are defended or abused. The digital space is a cultural space and racism towards Roma & travellers online will affect what happens in real life. And likewise, a healthy online culture would respond with outrage to the kind of attacks that happened in Italy.

One pioneering project that's trying to create a positive cultural space online is Savvy Chavvy where young Gypsies and Travellers in South East England are being trained in podcasting and video blogging skills ('Chavvy' is a Romany word for a young person). Many of the participants report having been abused on other social networks so the Ning network is just for Gypsies and Travellers and there's a strong debate within it about the presence of 'Gorjas' (non-Travellers). One of the public videos produced by the young people is called 'You've been logged', a story which challenges schools to think about how they deal with bullying, specifically the bullying of young travellers.

As a truly transnational cultural community, the Roma are well placed to leverage the international nature of the net despite all the obvious obstacles of access and tech skills. In fact, the conjunction of the internet (international, low barriers to access, relative freedom) and the transnational experience could make them one of the demographics of innovation. And (given that necessity is the mother of invention) this could first kick-in in the defence of their rights, in the same way as for other diasporic communities. Check out another Savvy Chavvy video called A Better Life In Gravesend where young Slovakian Roma students in Gravesend describe why they fled Slovakia (and the moment where the very young boy says "my house back home - broken windows...")

At the crowdsourcing & transparency training in Prague I met a very tech savvy Roma from romacenter.ro and I really hope the Roma will get it together with digital activism. But what about the rest of us? I don't want to pick on Italy because racism and fascism lurk everywhere, but the stuff that happened there a couple of weeks ago is a clear precursor to some really bad human rights violations. We'll know that there's a human rights culture online when the digital space is plastered with responses to attacks. It was some comfort to read katrinskaya's tweets from South Africa about the first demonstrations against the xenophobic attacks on immigrants there. It's tricky to report a whole demo in 160 character snippets, but she reported a speaker paraphrasing Niemoller ; "First they came for the Zimbabweans, but i did nothing, because I am not Zimbabwean"...