Foreign aid workers often face extreme perils as a result of their job. Especially those who choose to monitor civil rights situations in foreign countries, where military dictators, corrupt police and/or wartime conditions pose a constant threat to their well-being. Luckily, Civil Rights Defenders – a Swedish civil rights advocacy group – has a proposed solution to this problem: The Natalia Project.
The project takes its name from Natalia Estemirova, a social worker who was kidnapped and swiftly murdered while investigating human rights violations in Chechnya in 2009. In her honor, Civil Rights Defenders announced a new piece of technology designed to prevent similar crimes in the future. Basically, its a GPS-equipped armband that immediately sends a signal back home and via social media to alert the wearer’s friends and colleagues the moment they go missing.
The group says that had such technology been available at the time, Estemirova’s life could’ve been saved since the authorities could have been made aware of her disappearance immediately after her kidnapping. So far, the group has distributed five armbands and plans to equip 55 civil rights field workers with them over the next year and a half, if the project can find enough funding to produce them en masse.
In a statement, the group released information about the project and what it means:
…the Natalia Project bracelet has the capability to inform of an attack to potentially millions of people within seconds, by using Facebook and Twitter. The bracelet uses a mobile signal as notification of an attack and issues a real-time GPS location of the victim directly to Civil Rights Defenders’ headquarters. Nearby contacts will also be alerted so that they can act instantly, and the alarm is also forwarded to social media followers.
Looking ahead, I have to wonder if this same technology might not be incredibly useful in helping to address kidnapping here at home. In Canada, First Nations communities continue to be plagued by disappearances, particularly involving young women. All too often, these people are never found, or when they are, are shown to have been victims of terrible hate crimes.
What’s more, investigations are often complicated by the prejudicial attitudes authorities have, and an inherent distrust of First Nation communities towards said authorities. As it stands, the federal government is under pressure to launch an investigation into these disappearances because of the nature of it and these complications. But with locators and the ability to know when a person is kidnapped, this problem could begin to be curbed and even eliminated altogether.
In addition, vacationers could also feel more protected when traveling abroad. The problem of kidnapping and ransoms in foreign lands, especially those marred by human trafficking, drugs, poverty, and corruption, are well known. With a GPS/GSM armband, alerts could be given out immediately, saving investigators much time and even helping them to locate the person in question.
As we all know, time is a factor when a person is kidnapped. Anything that helps families, communities and authorities even the odds against traffickers and abusive regimes would be a welcome thing indeed.
To learn more about The Natalia Project, Civil Rights Defenders, or even to donate, click here to visit their website.