Our commitment to better combat all abuse, harassment, and violence

As we embark on a new year and amid recent news of sexual assault and other abuse by prominent members of our community, we want to reaffirm our position that harassment of any kind will not be tolerated.

As the hosts of RightsCon, we bring people together and take seriously our responsibility to better combat and prevent sexual assault, support survivors, and protect our spaces for people, on and offline.

A year and a half ago, when we began to put together our RightsCon Code of Conduct and our Anti-Harassment Policy, our goal was to create an inclusive space for people to debate, collaborate, and carry out the important work of supporting human rights in the digital age.

In March 2017, we launched these new policies, right before welcoming our community to Brussels for RightsCon 2017. Our hope was that the Code of Conduct and Anti-Harassment Policy would serve to protect our community.

The safety and protection of our staff, RightsCon participants, and the broader community, is of utmost importance. Every person and organization is accountable for their actions, independent of their social capital, decision-making authority, or involvement with Access Now or RightsCon.

We hear the calls of initiatives such as Protect Our Spaces and we are taking action so that our programs, spaces, and events such as RightsCon don’t enable or sustain a culture of fear or fail to prioritize the safety of women and at-risk communities.

It has also come to our attention that we need to thoroughly review our own policies and processes to achieve that goal.

We want to do better, to address our own failures, to improve our policies, and to find more effective, safer ways to offer remedy. We also want to play an active role within our community and help build capacity to collectively address abuse, harassment, and violence.

These are the steps we are currently taking:

  1. Review and improve our anti-harassment policies
  2. Train our staff and help build capacity in our community
  3. Review and ensure our updated Code of Conduct requirements are met by events partners and affiliates
  4. Engage in a process of continuous review and improvement

Below, we share details on each step.

  1. Review and improve our RightsCon Code of Conduct and external Anti-Harassment Policy

We’re conducting a full review to identify any weaknesses and flaws of our policies and processes, including in particular strengthening the way we respond to harassment incidents, changing how we intake reports and information, and improving the steps we can take to support survivors. We invite you to join the review by contacting us with comments or questions at [email protected] (PGP key)

The feedback we have already received, as well as the broader conversations we are having during Protect Our Spaces civil society conference calls, have provided us with invaluable guidance and resources for the review process and the systemic changes that we need to make.

We’ve decided to structure the review process in three phases:

  1.  Review of process. We are starting by looking at components of the process, including A) intake of reports; B) processing of reports and action to respond; C) reassessment/audit of responses to reports.
  2. Mapping remedies. We will then look at the measures we can take to support the survivor; what risks to the survivor are associated with each measure, and how to mitigate them to the extent possible.
  3. Language review. Finally, we will work to ensure that the language we use is culturally sensitive and respects diversity and inclusion, and that the presentation of the policy is accessible, friendly, and clear.

This process is being carried out by a specially created task force of people across the organization, with input from our Diversity Working Group and the management team.

As a part of the process, we are also engaging with community stakeholders and consulting with experts to ensure that our policies and processes are as robust and as informed as possible.

Our goal is to finalize this internal review process by February 2018.

  1. Train our staff and help raise awareness and build capacity in the community

We’re mindful of how crucial it is to keep having conversations with the Access Now team. We are investing in anti-harassment and ally training for our staff, to ensure that the team engaged in the policy and response process can be effective, prepared, and equipped to support victims and witnesses. The training will be concentrated on survivor support, conflict resolution, and transformative justice.

We are also exploring the possibility of bringing code of conduct, anti-harassment, and inclusive space professionals to RightsCon Toronto, as a way to help foster a broader human rights community that treats its own community members with equal dignity, decency, and respect.

We are also looking at how we can collaborate with partners and other event organizers to help promote shared values and the commitment to creating safe and inclusive spaces, whilst respecting the principles of confidentiality that are the foundation of our processes.

  1. Review and ensure our updated Code of Conduct requirements are met by events partners and affiliates

We are also engaging with all potential RightsCon Toronto partners and affiliates to review their commitment and ability to maintain safe and protected spaces.

After initial reviews of ASL19, whose former co-director has been charged with sexual assault, we let the leadership of ASL19 know that we are not satisfied that our current Code of Conduct can be met by the Iran Cyber Dialogue and have accordingly suspended their affiliation with RightsCon for now. We will re-engage with ASL19 once our code has been updated and they have thoroughly reviewed their own practices and policies, and we, and the RightsCon community, feel confident that any reports of misconduct have been investigated and there has been an appropriate response.

  1. Engage the community in a process of continued review and improvement

The issue of harassment implicates all of us and is especially important in the work we do to protect at-risk populations and individuals globally. Ours is not the only community taking a hard look at the ways that abuse, harassment, and violence are perpetuated, but as human rights defenders, we have even greater responsibility to hold ourselves to high standards in preventing harassment and assault, rooting out offenses, supporting victims, and creating a safer environment for everyone.

This is a process of continued learning and improvement. We don’t have all the answers and solutions, which makes it all the more critical that we as a community continue to collaborate with one another and experts in the space.

Starting with this post, we will publish a series of blog posts to share information about our review process, to help support and encourage the community working on these issues, such as other conference organizers.

We hope you will contribute to this effort, sharing any feedback, thoughts, or concerns you may have about our review process, our RightsCon Code of Conduct, or our external Anti-Harassment policy. To share these with us, you can email [email protected] (PGP key). The recipients of emails sent to this address are the Anti-Harassment Officer (Nina Komakhidze) and the General Counsel (Peter Micek).