Blockchain may not be a panacea to the all the world’s problems but there are many areas where it shows potential. Perhaps one of the most important is human rights. According to a 2014 report by Freedom House, only 40 percent of the world live in “free” countries. These are the nations that supposedly respect basic human rights. But a lot has changed since 2014, and not for the better.
A Snapshot of Human Rights Around the World
We often take basic human rights, such as freedom of speech or movement, for granted. Many of us forget that in some countries, simply speaking your mind can land you in jail–or even get you killed. While much of the world remains under the thumb of corrupt and oppressive governments, blockchain technology could provide at least the start of a solution.
The universal declaration of human rights from the United Nations covers a score of fundamental rights that all people deserve. Yet far too many citizens around the world do not receive them. Among the list of 30 articles are the rights to equality, freedom from slavery, discrimination or torture, and freedom of opinion and information.
An Amnesty report published this year revealed that many supposedly “free” countries are failing to comply with basic human rights. The humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is one of the worst in the country’s history. The ongoing state of war in Yemen shatters all basic human rights to food and shelter. Turkey’s continued clampdown on journalists and political activists and Russia’s curtailing of freedom of speech are all in direct conflict with the human rights agreement.
We often associate human rights violations with developing countries and oppressive regimes. But the US, EU, and Australia all earned a place among the worst human rights violators on Amnesty’s list.
The EU and Australia were called out for their “callous” treatment of refugees, and Trump’s controversial travel ban borderline violates the human right to freedom of movement while discriminating on religious grounds.
Blockchain and Human Rights
With blockchain technology, we could track human rights issues more easily. This could bring transparency and accountability to both developing and developed countries. Very often, though, speaking about blockchain involves hypothetical use cases for some faraway date in the future. Yet there are many practical use cases of blockchain and human rights right now. Let’s look at a few examples.
The Right to Adequate Living Standard
From Zimbabwe to Venezuela, Yemen to Syria, people all around the world are unable to access their right to an adequate living standard. This means having food to eat, water to drink and not being forced to live in a conflict zone or in fear of persecution.
In countries where hyperinflation is wiping out people’s life savings, blockchain and human rights are starting to team up. Cryptocurrency is beginning to make a dent in the deepening humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.
With a national currency devaluing by 95 percent from one day to the next, more and more Venezuelans are turning to cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Dash as a solution. In fact, there are now over 900 merchants that accept payment in Dash across the country. The founder of Dash Venezuela told Coin Central:
“Venezuelans have been using cryptocurrency for years now to protect their capital from inflation. But now with Dash, it has opened a new window as a means of payment. It is an easy way to receive something that is stronger than the Bolivar and is within the law.”
Cryptocurrency further allows for micro trade and microlending. Since you can assign a value to the most minute quantity, the size of trade that is economically viable becomes smaller. Blockchain and human rights make a more compelling case as people around the world can finally access the banking system, start their own business, and buy and sell smaller amounts.
The Right to Participate in Government and Free Elections
Another of the UN’s articles is the right to participate in government and free elections. Yet this is willfully denied to many people. Electoral fraud is common around the world. Even in countries like the United States, self-proclaimed as ‘the land of the free’, significant aspersions were cast over the 2016 presidential elections.
The Kenyan elections of 2017 thrust bloodshed, controversy, and chaos front and center. There was a widespread sentiment that the election was rigged, and many Kenyans were unable to take part due to voter intimidation.
So loud was the clamor of voices crying out against the election that it led to a second one. But that was boycotted by the main opponent and the incumbent won by a surreal landslide with 98 percent of the vote.
But rigged elections and voter fraud aren’t by any means limited to Africa. They’re widespread around the world and even common in private companies and public corporations. Blockchain and human rights projects in this area are showing positive results.
People can vote from the privacy of their own homes, free from intimidation. And all votes are tamper-proof on the immutable ledger, akin to anonymous voting in a ballot box.
There are still some issues to be ironed out when it comes to blockchain voting. Verifying voter identity and making sure the same people don’t vote twice, for example. But countries like Estonia are already proving that it is possible. In fact, all Estonians have their own ID cards they can use to vote on the blockchain securely and quickly.
Blockchain and Human rights: This image should a sign for a polling station.
Blockchain voting could secure free elections
The Right to Freedom of Opinion and Information
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, in December of 2017, a record high number of journalists were imprisoned around the world. The largest concentrations being in China, Turkey, and Egypt. Freedom of opinion and information is a luxury to many in these parts of the world. If a government doesn’t like a certain website, they can shut it down or monitor it. Wikipedia, for example, is censored or banned in many countries, including Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, Turkey, and even France.
The very fact that blockchain provides us with a decentralized technology that is global and uncensored means that no one centralized entity or government can shut it down.
Privacy-focused messaging app Mainframe, and mesh networking startups Open Garden and RightMesh are working to provide censorship-resistant platforms to ensure continued, unbroken connectivity. Blockchain and human rights show endless possibilities when it comes to freedom of information.
More and more blockchain and human rights use cases will develop over time. Of the 30 articles on the UN’s human rights list, blockchain technology has the potential to help with many.
With its correct use in identity management, we may be able to eradicate illicit slavery and human trafficking. And the ownership of land deeds recorded on a transparent ledger could put an end to the illegal seizure of land.
There are certainly many human rights problems to tackle. And it will be interesting to see how many cases blockchain technology is instrumental in.