Human-rights training centre opens

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education correspondent

image captionA medieval prison building in Florence has been converted into a training centre

An international human-rights training centre to teach digital skills to activists and protesters has opened in the Italian city of Florence.

The project, based in a converted prison, was inspired by how Twitter and Facebook were used in the Arab Spring.

The first students, who will learn online tactics for human-rights campaigns, are from countries including Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Burma.

It is being described as the world's first such training centre.

The project has been set up by the European arm of the Robert F Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights, established in memory of the assassinated US senator.

His daughter Kerry Kennedy opened the training centre, the RFK International House for Human Rights.

She said the centre would "bring together human rights defenders who are changing our world with digital experts who are shaping the way change happens in the 21st Century".

Mobile technology

The project aims to provide a safe place for training human-rights activists from around the world, allowing them to meet and share digital tactics for their campaigns.

Online technology has been used to challenge censorship, through blogs, social networking and mobile phones. And repressive regimes have also sought to control access to the internet.

The use of mobile technology to organise, publicise and record events in protests during the Arab Spring was seen as an important way of promoting free speech.

The students will be taught by groups such as Witness and Human Rights Watch.

Among the students who will be taking the first courses will be Nighat Dad, from Pakistan, a lawyer who runs the Digital Rights Foundation, which aims to provide "open and equal access" to the internet.

Another student, Yatanar Htun from Burma, has a background in civil-society organisations and promoting the use of information technology in community development.

Also studying in the new centre will be Andrea Arzaba, from Mexico, a blogger on social justice and gender equality campaigns.

The building housing the centre, provided by the city of Florence, has previously served as a convent and a prison.

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