Digital human rights: How IGF-born guides support the roadmap

10 Dec 2021 08:30h - 10:00h

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This session, dedicated to digital human rights documents that emerged within the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) or were inspired by the work of the IGF community, started with a remark that we live in a time where the rate of technological development is pushing the boundaries of the possible, but also of the legal and ethical. Thus, it is crucial to raise awareness of digital human rights frameworks and their roles in promoting and ensuring that human rights apply online as they do offline.

The session focused on these documents, analysing how they emerged and how they translate existing human rights law and norms to the online environment, reflecting on their relevance, achievements, and main challenges.  The session further explored how those documents can support the UN Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, support the promotion of human rights online, and help achieve the sustainable development goals. Separated into three different sections, this session covered how these documents have supported the promotion of human rights online, discussed the way in which they inspired national and regional initiatives, and finished off with a reflection on the role and relationship between these bottom-up initiatives and the wider UN and IGF ecosystem.

Ms Marianne Franklin (Steering Committee Member of the Internet Rights and Principles Coalition) spoke about the Charter of Human Rights and Principles for the Internet. Drafted within the IGF space, starting in 2009, this document was a successful encouragement of all sectors to translate and interpret existing international human rights documents so that they resonated with the online context. The charter is modelled on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, according to Franklin, it is a backbone, a point of reference, a point of account, and a source of accountability; in addition, it is a bridging document connecting human rights with technological advances.

Mr Edetaen Ojo (Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda in Lagos) pointed out that in the last couple of years many laws and policies have emerged from many different countries seeking to govern different aspects of the internet and internet activities. The majority of these have not respected human rights and seem to take a punitive approach towards management, so putting in place a set of principles that would guide law and policy making around the internet was necessary. The African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms emerged from this idea, serving as a guide for advocates and policymakers; it is a pan-African initiative that promotes human rights standards and principles in the formulation and implementation of policies, both at a national level and across the continent. 

Ojo also added that policy makers should try to be more futuristic and forward looking in developing the application of principles, because it is questionable how often this document will be updated and revised, but also how relevant and applicable it is in today’s fast paced, technologically dependent world. Regarding the advocacy of digital human rights and human rights in general on the African continent, he added that it can be extremely difficult to convey to people that they have rights to which they are entitled to enjoy and exercise.

Ms Anriette Esterhuysen (Executive Director, Association for Progressive Communications) pointed out that as the power of the internet as a platform for strengthening human rights has increased in Africa, so increased the need for certain governments to repress the internet and silence social media platforms.

The Guide to Human Rights for Internet Users from the Council of Europe and the Brazilian Human Rights framework were also cited as extremely important work in this field.

Ms Ana Neves (Advisor to the Minister of Science, Technology and Higher Education), in regard to national initiatives dedicated to digital human rights, presented the case of the Portuguese Charter of Human Rights in the Digital Era, underlining how this charter establishes a set of innovative standards that regulate the digital national environment. She mentioned such standards as the rights and duties that apply both to relations between the states and citizens and relations between private individuals; the latter include the social tariff for internet access services to the protection of platform users and the protection of minors.

Ms Raashi Saxena (Global Project Coordinator for Hatebase at The Sentinel Project), responding to how the IGF-led documents support local initiatives in their commitment to advance human rights online, described what she has done locally with the IO Foundation. Essentially, they have defined universal digital rights that would apply to everyone, because a commonly accepted definition of digital rights should be accessible and understandable to all, regardless of their cultural or economical background, so we can all come together and be connected.

Lastly, Saxena added that what these documents have in common is to bring already established freedom of expression from the offline world into the online world.

By Andjelija Mijatovic

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