We’re headed to South Korea: the when, where, and why of our next convening
► Our announcement: South Korea 2025 and Africa 2026
Today we’re excited to announce that the 13th edition of the RightsCon Summit Series will be held in South Korea and online in February 2025!
We believe South Korea is uniquely suited to host our first summit in East Asia, and to welcome our community from the Asia Pacific region and beyond. Given its vibrant civil society, democratic heritage, and prominence as a global hub for innovation with strong regional linkages to the Asian tech sector, RightsCon South Korea will enable our community to connect with and learn from the flourishing and creative regional actors that have previously been underrepresented at our summit.
As we officially kick off our next summit cycle, we also want to share our intention to host RightsCon in Africa in 2026, and create pathways for the RightsCon community to provide input into exactly when and where in Africa we convene.
As part of our announcement, we want to provide context on why we’ve shifted our timeline for RightsCon to 2025, share transparently about our location selection process, and invite you to join community consultations to help us shape the next (and future editions of) RightsCon.
A longer lead time: why we’re extending the RightsCon cycle
After 12 years of convening and after trialing our first hybrid summit in Costa Rica, there are core areas of RightsCon that warrant revisiting and redesigning. We’ve heard from many of you that the existing cycle is too short for adequate budget, travel, and visa planning. We’ve also learned that the RightsCon program has become too big (33% of survey respondents found this year’s program to be on the larger side and 27% found it overwhelming), and that there is a need for more opportunities to meaningfully connect with other community members outside of formal programming (35% of survey respondents said they didn’t have enough time to network).
In order to adapt and make RightsCon the best that it can be, we need more time. Extending our timeline from June 2024 to February 2025 will allow us to consult with the community, anticipate and mitigate risks, expand our support mechanisms, and adjust our budget in line with community priorities. For the rest of the year and throughout 2024, we will continue to engage with you in shaping the future of RightsCon and amplify the important work you have been doing.
Selecting a RightsCon location: why Asia Pacific and why South Korea
In the past, we have used the summit’s closing ceremony to announce the location of the next RightsCon; however, following visa and immigration challenges in Costa Rica, we decided to listen to concerns from the community and take a pause. We knew it was important to review our research and be open to changing course, as the choice of RightsCon’s location impacts our entire community in different ways.
Why Asia Pacific?
RightsCon was last held in Asia in 2015, when we convened a much smaller gathering in Manila, the Philippines. Since 2019, our team has been coordinating with regional partners to plan for a much-anticipated return to the region – with a now more diverse, wider digital rights community dealing with ever larger challenges. While this was originally set to take place in 2021, it was postponed along with our Costa Rica convening due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following RightsCon Costa Rica, we knew it was important to maintain our commitment to hosting our next summit in Asia Pacific, since access to RightsCon over the last five years – in both online and in-person settings – has been challenging for community members in the region due to time zones, as well as the length and cost of travel. The Asia Pacific region was also the second most-impacted region by the visa-on-arrival situation in Costa Rica, following Africa.
Along with our partners in Asia, our team started the foundational work to bring RightsCon to the Asia Pacific in 2019, including in-depth research on potential countries in the region, and multiple site visits. This was complemented by further regional discussions and consultations with a range of stakeholders over this year. We wanted to honor the team’s capacity as well as the work that has been put in by many, and recognize that delivering a summit that meets the community’s needs – programmatically, operationally, and safely – in another region, would require a more significant timeline adjustment.
We believe that the Asia Pacific region is at a critical juncture, where the need for a global spotlight on its passionate digital rights activism is more urgent than ever. The growth of the tech sector, rapidly accelerating digital transformation, and the many pressing human rights issues, including expanding digital authoritarianism, in the vast and diverse Asia Pacific region demand our attention.
Why South Korea?
We first decided to bring RightsCon to South Korea in 2020, after evaluating seven countries in the region based on criteria such as potential risk (to participants and our organization), venue infrastructure, cost, and the strengths of our partnerships in the country. Our decision was made in consultation with Korean partners and civil society across the region, and informed by the direct experiences of our team in the region.
Following RightsCon Costa Rica, we listened to the concerns from the community and knew it was important to revisit our research. As such, our team mapped potential pathways for RightsCon and reevaluated countries with a more robust set of indicators:
- risks or unknowns, including geopolitical tensions;
- election cycle;
- civic space ranking;
- government receptiveness;
- safety of marginalized groups;
- venue infrastructure, details, and availability;
- cost of business travel;
- visa requirements, embassy presence, accessibility of visa processes, and reported visa experiences;
- ease of travel logistics including widely spoken language, navigation, and payment services.
Every country where we could potentially host RightsCon comes with opportunities and challenges, requiring us to weigh what is logistically feasible with the experience we and our community will have in participating. In both our initial and follow-up research, other countries considered were not selected for one or more of the following reasons:
- inadequate venue infrastructure or availability;
- concerns about government reception or adherence to human rights;
- uncertainty due to an upcoming presidential or other major election;
- geopolitical tensions or concerns.
We believe that South Korea’s social infrastructure provides a safe environment for civil society to convene in the Asia Pacific region, some of the most connected airports in the world, a reliable and affordable public transportation network, as well as a supportive and globally engaged government.
Recognizing the challenges
While we are looking forward to bringing RightsCon to South Korea, we know there are obstacles ahead for the community, and that wherever we go, visa processes will unduly impact some more than others.
An extended timeline will enable us to adjust our processes and improve our support plans, including for visa support and travel funding, to facilitate greater access to our convening. We also commit to investing time and effort in building meaningful relationships with governments and other key stakeholders to advocate for participants to secure visas, especially those who belong to marginalized communities and face significant barriers to international travel.
While we know that visa inequity, and passport and border discrimination are systemic issues that we do not have control over, we want to be adequately prepared to support the people directly impacted by these issues, such that they are able to cross borders safely and with dignity in order to join us at RightsCon South Korea.
Looking ahead to Africa for RightsCon 2026
People from Africa were most affected by the visa-on-arrival situation at RightsCon Costa Rica. This is part of a wider pattern of passport and border discrimination, which leads to people from the region being routinely excluded from global convening spaces, in turn, limiting their access to networks, opportunities, and funding.
As such, we believe that it is an important next step to host RightsCon in Africa in 2026. While we hosted RightsCon 2019 in Tunisia, we have never convened in South, East, West, or Central Africa. In order to be a truly global movement, the future of digital rights depends on centering voices that are often silenced, stifled, and sidelined. We are eager to learn from, highlight, and amplify the groundbreaking work happening in the Africa region – and that starts with bringing the community into decision-making processes around RightsCon.
Hearing from you: join our community consultations
In the coming months, we’ll be hosting a series of community consultation calls, focusing on different aspects of RightsCon, including: community support, programming, participant experience, mitigating barriers to travel to RightsCon South Korea, and selecting where and when in Africa we will host RightsCon 2026.
We hope you will engage with us in whichever way makes sense to you. We commit to action, not just conversation, and will be sharing anonymized notes from the community calls, as well as regular progress reports on action items that arise out of these calls.
You can let us know what you think about RightsCon Costa Rica in our participant survey (open until October 15), or email us directly at [email protected] if you prefer to communicate with us in a different way.
We are excited to build the future of RightsCon together.