Microsoft and the UN partner on technology to combat human rights abuses


Microsoft Corp. announced Tuesday that it’s entering into a “landmark” five-year partnership with the United Nations that will see them use advanced new technologies to further the cause of human rights.

The company said it’s donating $5 million in the form of a grant to the U.N. Humans Rights Office. In addition, it will also help to design new technologies that can help the U.N. to predict, analyze and respond to human rights situations around the world. The U.N. says human rights abuses are growing in many parts of the world, even in countries that are considered to be relatively politically stable. But it believes technology can be used to help address some of these issues.

“As a global company that sees the problems of the world, we believe that we have a responsibility to help solve them,” Microsoft President Brad Smith said in a statement. “We have an untapped opportunity to use the power of technology to collect data, analyze that data and equip the United Nations to advance human rights around the world.”

Microsoft and the U.N. have created this video on what they’re trying to achieve:

One of the first technologies to be implemented is something called “Rights View,” which is a dashboard that allows U.N. human rights personnel to aggregate and track country-specific data on human rights abuses from internal and external sources. The cloud-based tool is designed to provide the U.N. with an early warning on critical human rights issues that are fomenting around the world, and also guide its response.

“This tool, powered by cloud computing and big data analysis, is just one example of the potential for technology to be a force for good,” the organizations said in a statement.

The U.N. said Microsoft is providing an “unprecedented level of support from a private-sector organization.” In addition to the grant and new technology, Microsoft will help raise awareness about the role businesses can play in human rights work. Part of this will see it help to develop workplace policies that are focused on data protection, privacy, freedom of expression and inclusion.

“This could be a truly groundbreaking agreement,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said. “We live in a rapidly evolving age, where technology can either be used to solve human rights problems or misused to erode human rights. Similarly, companies can infringe people’s rights, or they can be a major progressive force.”

Image: Andrew d’Entremont/flickr