On July 15, 2009, Natalia Estemirova was abducted in Chechnya while on the job defending human rights. Later that evening, she was found shot to death.
Humanitarian aid workers are regarded as selfless and live their lives implementing life-saving projects around the world. No matter the public view of these people, the work is full of dangers and, in certain countries, can even be deadly. In war-torn countries, on-the-field humanitarian aid workers have fallen victim to assault, kidnapping, and murder. After the senseless death of Natalia, one Swedish activist group, Civil Rights Defenders, hopes to take preemptive action that will protect the lives of humanitarians across the globe.
In April, Civil Rights Defenders introduced the Natalia Project bracelet, a technological innovation designed to alert authorities when an aid worker is in danger. The bracelet is chunky, plastic, and brightly colored. It is equipped with a GPS-tracking device and cell-enabled alarms that allow the wearer to send out distress signals. The bracelet’s lock will even send out an automatic distress signal if it is tampered with or forcibly removed. While the technology remains a bit spotty at this time, a downed infrastructure could undermine the GPS signals, the Civil Rights Defenders hope to outfit at least 55 aid workers by 2014. On the Natalia Project’s website, supports can give monetary donations as well as sign up for notifications that detail the time and location of a wearer that has activated the distress signal. Supports that sign up for the project and notifications will be updated on the situation as it unfolds and have the opportunity to spread the word.
While the innovation is still in the beginning stages of use, it is sure to be a device that will protect, if not save, the lives of civil rights defenders across the globe.