• Thomas Coombes

Reimagining human rights for the 21st century

Fine Acts and hope-based comms are launching a new initiative to change how people envision human rights. “Reimagining Human Rights” seeks to draw upon the the creative power of artists globally to illustrate human rights as a positive collective good from which all of us benefit, not just something that is violated, destroyed, or abused.


We need a new visual vocabulary for human rights


Too often, the image that accompanies communication about human rights shows their absence or abuse - barbed wires, handcuffs, chains, prison bars or boats at sea. But we also need to show people what we are working for, including the outcomes and behaviour that we want to associate with the phrase “human rights”.


I have spent the last two years asking human rights activists to draw what the world would look like if they succeed, and talk about human rights as a metaphorical tool people can use to make change happen. It is not easy! That is why we have commissioned more than 40 artists around the world to help come up with new visual ways to represent the cause of human rights (you can also contribute existing works to the collection).


The commissioned artwork already offer us new ways of telling the story of human rights.


Three new ways to see about human rights


1. Human rights is about cultivating communities

Communities Change The World

by Monique Jackson


Monique's work is remarkably similar to an idea I have seen activists around the world try to express when talking about how they think their societies should look.


Human rights is about cultivating communities where we treat each other the way we want to be treated ourselves. To make the case for better laws and policies, human rights communications should also show people how we hope society will appear once those changes have happened.


If populist strategies seek to divide us by stirring crisis, conflict and controversy, then counter strategies must avoid feeding these outcomes, and instead cultivate cooperation, community and culture.


If we want a world where there is more empathy and compassion, more community and togetherness, more kindness and understanding, we must also promote those values right here, right now.


Celebrating community not only shows people the better future human rights are trying to create, itsimulates exactly that kind of behaviour for others to copy.


2. Human rights is about what we have in common

We Are All On The Same Team

By David Espinoa



How do you create empathy and unity between people without giving them an "other" to unite against? The point of human rights is the "human", more so that the rights. You can have entitlements because you are a citizen of a country, but human rights are for you because you are also a citizen of the world.


We need to activate humanity in the the way people think of their own identity. After all, only by acting together as a human family can we overcome challenges like climate change.


3. Human rights is about cultivating the humanity in everyone

Uncover the human in anyone

by Alessia Margarita


Human rights has to be about more than a list of entitlements and abuses: it has to be about how we treat each other.


We need to talk about a greater standard for who we and our leaders behave: acting with humanity.


To paraphrase Hannah Arendt, the world must find something sacred in the abstract nakedness of being human.