How to Track Relevant Human Rights Legislation

tracking human rights legislationAn important aspect of human rights activism is tracking relevant legislation as it moves through Congress. We need to know which bills are up for a vote on the floor or at a committee hearing, and who’s sponsoring, co-sponsoring, or supporting certain bills. We also need to know dates and times as soon as possible so we can speak to our representatives right away. The hard part about all this is getting the timing right, and knowing when things happen. Most people use the press or follow certain committees, but there’s actually a better way. Below are a few possible solutions you can use to track relevant human rights legislation:


What makes Trakbill (which is based in St. Louis) a great choice for tracking legislation is that the software comes with real-time notifications. So, if a vote is scheduled for an important bill, then you can choose to learn about it via text message, email, or push notification. The software also comes with a calendar feature, so you can put hearings on the calendar and plan what needs to be done to prepare for the hearing.

The only downside is that Trakbill’s free version only allows you to track five bills at a time, which seems small. The company told us that they are increasing the limit to 10 within the next few, which is a little bit better. The paid options aren’t bad, as $99/month (or $599 for the year) will allow you to track 50 bills at a time. The pricing and the number of bills allotted are both more reasonable for most human rights organizations.


Online advocacy software Votility is a very good solution for tracking both local and federal legislation, but is a solution that’s better for bigger organizations because of the pricing. A small chapter like our St. Louis Amnesty chapter wouldn’t be able to afford the $250/month to track relevant human rights legislation, and we certainly couldn’t afford the $350/month for the capabilities to increase member retention and acquire new members.

However, they do have a free version for individuals, which would be a good choice for activists who want to work on their own or if a small organization wants to dedicate one person to tracking legislation and planning necessary actions. This might be one that I’ll sign up for and try for a little while to see how it works. It doesn’t seem like their free version has a limit to the number of bills you can track.

GovTrack is the only one of the three legislation-tracking tools that automatically starts on the federal level showing the big issues almost in real-time. This is a good tool to start with if you aren’t sure which bills you need to be watching, or if you want to watch everything on the federal level. They also have a browse bills by subject section, and although there isn’t a human rights section, their list of subjects is comprehensive enough to find something related to the specific human rights issues that you work on.

The downside to GovTrack is that it doesn’t seem to be as robust as the first two, where you can receive text message notifications or to use a built-in calendar. It also doesn’t seem like you can track a specific bill in one state, but can only either track the state or track a specific federal bill. However, it does seem there isn’t a limit to the number of bills or things you can track. You can also track by committee, by specific lawmaker, or by voting records, which is also a feature that TrakBill allows once you have an account (free or paid).

Overall, I’d recommend picking one or two tools to use to track relevant human rights legislation. It would put your organization in a position to do a little more lobbying, with more specific information on what your members could do to advocate for the issue.

President Obama’s Leadership on International Human Rights (Part 4)

human rights issuesToday’s post in our ongoing series covering the Obama administration and their leadership on international human rights specifically looks at civil society, open government and Internet freedoms. It can be argued that the Obama administration has shown more leadership for these specific rights abroad than at home, since Edward Snowden isn’t going to get any support for his work for an open government and that were unsure of what steps will be taken regarding the NSA’s spying of Americans. But, below is an overview of what’s been done so far. It will be interesting to see what can be accomplished in the final two years of the Obama presidency.

Supporting and Defending Civil Society

Stand with Civil Society Agenda

In late September, President Obama initiated an intensive, multilateral effort to support and defend civil society from increasing restrictions and enable civil society organizations (CSOs) to contribute to the economic, social, and political development of their countries.  Working through existing institutions and initiatives including the United Nations, the Open Government Partnership, the Community of Democracies, and Making All Voices Count: A Grand Challenge for Development, the United States will collaborate with other governments, civil society, the philanthropy community, the private sector, and multilateral organizations to: (1) promote laws, policies, and practices that foster a supportive environment for civil society in accordance with international norms; (2) coordinate multilateral, diplomatic pressure to roll back restrictions being imposed on civil society; and (3) identify new and innovative ways of providing technical, financial, and logistical support to civil society.

Real Help in Real Time for Threatened CSOs

The United States is partnering with 18 other governments and foundations through the Lifeline: Embattled CSOs Assistance Fund to offer emergency financial assistance when civic groups are threatened.  Since its founding in 2011, Lifeline has assisted 255 civil society organizations in 69 countries to increase their safety.

Investing in the Next Generation of Leaders

In 2013 alone, the United States invested $500 million to strengthen the work of CSOs across development sectors, with a particular focus on developing the next generation of civil society leaders.  Through the President’s Young African Leaders Initiative and recently-launched Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, the United States is enhancing the capacity, leadership skills, and connections between young leaders committed to building strong democratic institutions and working with government to address common challenges.

Open Government Partnership

The United States is a founding member of the Open Government Partnership  (OGP), a global effort to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, harness new technologies, and transform the way governments serve and engage with their citizens.  In just over 24 months, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) has grown from eight to over 60 countries, which have embraced the key principles of open government – promoting transparency, fighting corruption, and energizing civic engagement through new technologies and approaches to strengthen the democratic foundations of our own countries.  The United States has worked both domestically and internationally to ensure global support for Open Government principles.  We have made important progress to improve the ability of citizens to obtain access to government records, released government data that fuels entrepreneurship and innovation, and increased government spending transparency.

Internet Freedom

With over 120 million in Internet freedom grants since 2008, the United States has made Internet freedom a central program and foreign policy priority.  Programs focus on supporting the development of technology tools to assist activists in highly repressive environments; advocacy programs; training and rapid response to keep activists from harm or advocate for them if in danger; and applied research to help develop strategic responses to Internet repression.  The United States helped to organize the Freedom Online Coalition, a cross-regional group of 21 governments that collaborate on Internet freedom. The U.S. and the Freedom Online Coalition worked to pass, by unanimous consensus, a landmark 2012 resolution in the U.N. Human Rights Council affirming that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online.  The United States has also continued to support a free and open Internet and the multi-stakeholder approach to Internet governance, where all interested parties — industry, civil society, technical and academic experts, and governments — participate on an equal footing.

Related Links:

Obama on Human Rights Part 1 – Advancing LGBT Rights

Obama on Human Rights Part 2 – Promoting Gender Equality and Empowering Women

Obama on Human Rights Part 3 – National Security and Human Rights

Free China Screening Next Tuesday

Free China screeningAmnesty International isn’t the only group out there working on human rights, or on issues related to human rights. Although we don’t have many big plans coming up in the next few months, others are putting on some great events. One of those awesome events is happening next Tuesday, and it’s a movie screening! Please attend if you can.

Free China: The Courage to Believe

A special screening on June 25, 7 p.m., at Plaza Frontenac Cinema will feature an awarding-winning documentary “Free China: The Courage to Believe“.

With more than one hundred thousand protests occurring each year inside China, unrest among Chinese people is building with the breaking of each political scandal. As China’s prisoners of conscience are subjected to forced labor and even organ harvesting, this timely documentary exposes profound issues such as genocide and unfair trade practices with the West. The film also highlights how new Internet technologies are helping bring freedom to more than 1.3 billion people living in China and other repressive regimes throughout the world.

This film is co-produced by awarding-winning director Michael Perlman and NTDTV. It highlights human rights abuses from organ harvesting prisoners of conscience to the making of Homer Simpson slippers inside slave labor camps and how internet technologies is bringing greater freedoms to 1.3 billion people inside China.

In the past year, this film has been screened in more than 400 private venues across the world, including Amnesty International chapters at Yale University, University of California, Berkeley, etc. Recently, it has also garnered support from Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and blind dissident Chen Guangcheng who co-authored an open letter entitled “One Year for Human Rights in China”.  This open letter was published on the front page of Huffington Post on June 4th.

If you can attend, please do so!

Is Internet Access a Human Right? [Infographic]

Many of us in the United States and other industrialized nations may have begun to take Internet access for granted. However, there are still many places around the world where online access is limited, but that women don’t have as much access as men. Which begs the question: is Internet access a human right, or should it be considered one? Considering the power the web has in empowering women and men, it’s worthwhile to think about how technology has impacted human rights and what it can do to realize human rights across the globe. Below is an infographic from that illusrates the discrepancies between genders around the world, and what the Internet can do for women and their families.

internet access human right

3 Petition Apps for Human Rights Activists

human rights appsThere are hundreds of thousands of apps available. The old advertising slogan, “there’s an app for that” is more true than many realize. A person or a group realizes and defines a need, and voila! An app is created!

So, it should come as no surprise that there are petition apps available, n fact, three of them – that human rights activists can use to build awareness and to take action on various issues. All are from the iTunes Store and are described on App Appeal. (There were none found for either BlackBerry or Android.) The three are Change.orgiPetitions and All are free, although two do offer more specialized services for a small subscription fee.

The first of these,, calls itself an online petition tool. It says that petitions created can be promoted online and shared through social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. There is also a “petition widget” that users can place on any website or weblog, which allows that user to promote the petition and draw attention to it. In the words of the website, “the petition becomes a tool to raise awareness of the issue and encourage those responsible to make a change for the better.”

Next is iPetitions, the “Free Online Petition Builder.” Its users can create petitions from scratch or take a look at sample existing one. Almost all of the same features as are also found here as well.

The last is, with which users can create and circulate a petition on Twitter. Tweeting or Retweeting it has the same effect as signing. To set it up, users link to Twitter, and a home page appears. A petition can be started or a Hot List can be viewed of popular ones. To create a petition and begin circulating it, begin by entering the Twitter name of the person or organization the user wants to bring attention to, as well as what activity they’d like from the subject.

Once tweeted, the petition is live. will notify the user if the petitioned subject responds in any way. The website says this is one of the most interesting aspects of the app. While many responses are simple, some are very thought provoking responses from public figures. Some responses appear to be just re-tweets, as there’s no way of knowing if the message was actually read or the person just saw an “RT” and did that. The site gives an example of a US Senator who responded to a petition about oil companies by promising to vote in favor of closing their tax loopholes.

So, to whom would one recommend this application?

Anyone who wants to make a change, uses Twitter (or wants to begin), wishes to start a petition, and believes that perhaps a different method of making that social change happen might work better (or would be great to work with in conjunction) various current activism methods.

Apps for mobile devices have proven that they can do many things. Bringing about social change wouldn’t seem to out of reach!