Human Rights Activists Hone Digital Skills in 2013 Empowerment Lab

Eleven international human rights activists learned new digital skills and shared experiences in this year's Empowerment Lab in Florence, Italy.

The week-long training program organized by The Robert F. Kennedy Training Institute seeks to empower digital activists who face growing threats of freedom of expression.

Nilantha Ilangamuwa, an exiled journalist from Sri Lanka, wrote about his experience in the “The Sri Lanka Guardian,” an online newspaper he founded.

Nil, as his friends call him, described how he felt when he attended the screening of the documentary “Call me kuchu”, which shows the life-threatening situations that sexual minorities in Uganda experience on a daily basis:

I felt like screaming when I was returning to the place where I was staying, after spending hours watching a documentary on homophobia in Uganda. Uganda is one of the countries in the world, which continuously contributes to nightmares of human in the pages of world’s history.

LGBT activist Frank Mugisha, one of the Lab's participants, appears in the documentary.

Nilantha also shared some of the compelling conversations he had with fellow human rights defenders on issues like social change and censorship in developing nations:

What we are seeing in many countries categorized as “developing nations”, is the common reality of suffering! Institutional collapse! Loss of hope of life while accepting that “social change” is impossible. This is the most common tragedy that we can observer [sic] in our motherlands. In our society, desire to fight against absolute power has been opposed by the culture of silence.

Renowned Italian journalist Luca de Biase wrote a short post for Medium where he expresses how important it is to not take democracy for granted in the western world:

In Florence, at the RKF Training Institute, activists teach us to love our democracy

Luca de Biase also reflected on what he learned from meeting and talking to the international digital activists at the RFK Training Institute:

But as activists learn what can help them in their non-violent fight, we the people living in the “democratic West” are going to learn as much from them. Democracy is not a given, it is a process: and we need to maintain it, we need to care about it. Activists from all over the world help their people. But they also help us.

Digital activism workshops for human rights defenders, held in Florence. Picture taken by the author of this post

Digital activism workshops for human rights defenders, held in Florence. Picture by Andrea Arzaba.

Nilantha finished his blog post with a quote that expresses the way he felt when he left the workshop:

Let us unite, as Gloria Reuben, a well-known Hollywood actress pointed out; to make the world for the people who have no space to raise their voice, whose rights have been buried in the slum of absolute power and injustice. Let us sing our song of rights among the communities where people can come up with fresh ideas to change the society currently controlled by the tyrant. It will wipe out our sorrows, and tears of sadness while generating a hope in hapless souls.

You can read the Lab's official blog posts at


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