So, are Human Rights really universal?

A couple of weeks ago, I went to British HCI, a conference on Human Computer Interaction in Lincoln, UK. As part of the event, I attended the hack where we worked on ‘Hacking the Magna Carta’.

What does the Magna Carta mean to us? For me personally, it’s all about human rights, and knowing what rights you have as well as holding governments, companies, and people accountable for them.

As a group of ten people or so, we came up with a number of ideas of what we could do to ‘hack the magna carta’. At around half way through the first day, we had two semi-solid ideas: (1) letting people know about their rights, and (2) making a game to help people engage with and understand the Magna Carta.

Taking my personal stance on the topic into consideration, it made sense for me to join the team developing the rights idea. Marshall, Connie, Seb, and I talked at length about what we could do, and decided that people need to know what their rights are.

We decided to read the UN Declaration of Human Rights and realised that while it is a really important document, it isn’t perfect and actually has a few (fundamental) flaws.

Interesting sidebar: all meeting notes and drafts of the Declaration are actually online!

It started out as just seeing ‘he’ being used a lot, rather then the universal ‘they’ and continued throughout the document…making us think that women, or really anyone that’s not cis-male, wasn’t included in the declaration. This got even worse when looking at the marriage article, which declared marriage was an act between a man and a woman. So we decided we needed to do something about that; inform people of what rights they REALLY have when taking the Declaration of Human Rights word for word.

The afternoon and the next day was spent figuring out how we were going to do this and then actually doing it.

Here’s what we came up with in the end: Whose rights are they anyway?

This is a website that lists all 30 Articles of the Declaration of Human Rights. First, we simplified them to say what we thought most people would take away from the long Article. Then we put the entire existing Article on the site. We also updated the existing declaration to what we thought would be a better way of wording the declaration.

On the right side, you can see little symbols that fade away when the wording of the article does not allow for that group of people to have that specific right. We’ve simplified these down to be cis-men, cis-women, and those identifying in any other way; as well as heterosexual and non-heterosexual identities. We wanted to incorporate as many different identities as possible but decided to keep it in this simplified form, because making a long list of identities would still exclude some people.


The website was an outcome of a hack event that lasted two days, so it’s still very much a work in progress; particularly the technology behind it. We’re not claiming that our version is ideal, or that the website is perfect! We hope this would stimulate some thought and discussion around the Declaration of Human Rights. Is it outdated? Should we update it? Does it really include everyone as it claims to do?

We’re thinking of maybe working on it a little more to add options to directly compare draft versions of the rights and to make it more interactive; allowing for comments and things. If you’re interested, here’s the GitHub code and stuff. Feel free to branch, push, and pull!