US and EU issue joint guidelines to combat digital threats against human rights defenders

The move comes amid growing concerns over virtual attacks targeting individuals advocating for fundamental freedoms globally.

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The United States and the European Union have collaborated to release comprehensive guidelines aimed at safeguarding human rights defenders from digital threats such as internet shutdowns, censorship, cyberattacks, surveillance, and doxxing. These guidelines, comprising ten key recommendations, were developed following extensive stakeholder consultations and addressed various online risks faced by activists, journalists, and other human rights defenders.

Key recommendations include the adoption of a human rights defender protection policy, risk identification, information sharing with relevant parties, the establishment of performance metrics, adequate staffing, local risk management, provision of safety education and tools, setting up incident reporting channels, offering assistance to human rights defenders, and ensuring a transparent infrastructure.

While the guidelines align with existing transatlantic policy commitments, such as the Declaration for the Future of the Internet, adherence to them remains voluntary. However, the guidance urges online platforms to protect HRDs from digital attacks and suggests that the US or EU may take further actions to promote rights-respecting approaches.

Why does it matter?

The publication of these guidelines marks a significant step forward in both nations’ commitment to safeguarding human rights defenders from digital threats. Unfortunately, reports indicate numerous such threats occurring globally, often with perpetrators going unpunished. Notably, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders issued a statement last year addressing a troubling online defamation campaign against a Syrian woman human rights defender in Türkiye, bringing attention to the issue. However, such cases continue to face slow responses from platforms and governments, risking real-life consequences. The question remains whether voluntary measures will effectively compel platforms to take more proactive steps in addressing these cases.