Internet Rights at the Human Rights Council’s 30th session

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By Deborah Brown and Shawna Finnegan (APC) and Max Anderson (Access) for APCNews

14 September 2015

The 30th session of the Human Rights Council is taking place from 14 September to 2 October 2015 in Geneva. Internet rights are to be discussed during this session in the context of participation in political and public life, racism and xenophobia, communications network shutdowns, mass and targeted surveillance, encryption, and restrictions on access to information and communication technologies (ICTs).

This session will see the adoption of working group reports from the Universal Periodic Reviews of 14 countries, including the United States, which received a high number of recommendations relating to policies and practices of surveillance.

The Twitter hashtag for the session is #HRC30, and plenary sessions will be live streamed and archived at this link.

Reports from this session referencing the internet

  • Report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the Promotion, protection and implementation of the right to participate in public affairs in the context of the existing human rights law: best practices, experiences, challenges and ways to overcome them (A/HRC/30/26)

This study identifies internet restrictions as a general challenge to participation in political and public affairs. The report notes that “some States impose not only legal but also practical barriers to participation, notably by restricting the Internet and the flow of information online through increasingly sophisticated means. Mass surveillance, the interception of digital communications and the collection of personal data is another chilling factor on public participation, especially when those measures target political dissidents.” The report also points to the important role played by the internet in providing transparency and access to information. It cites Costa Rica, Estonia, Finland and France as states where access to the internet is recognised as a right. In addressing other forms of political participation, the report recognises the important role that the internet has played in organising protests, as a new avenue for political mobilisation.

In addition to the report, the Czech Republic will reintroduce its annual resolution on participation in public affairs. In past years this resolution has been adopted by consensus.

  • OHCHR report on the Situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (A/HRC/30/32)

The report notes the government’s blocking of access to text messaging services, the internet and social media for several weeks beginning in late January 2015 to prevent the organisation of further demonstrations. The UN Special Rapporteur on the freedoms of opinion and expression, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media, the Organization of American States (OAS) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, jointly declared that filtering of content on the internet and using communications “kill switches” (i.e. shutting down entire parts of communications systems) can never be justified under human rights law.

  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Pablo De Greiff (A/HRC/30/42)

The Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Pablo De Greiff, makes a number of recommendations to states to withdraw or reform provisions that severely hamper civil society participation. Among his recommendations is a call to states to prevent arbitrary or unlawful surveillance and ensure effective access to encryption and anonymity tools in online communications. These recommendations reinforce those made by the Special Rapporteur on the freedoms of opinion and expression, David Kaye, in his landmark report on encryption and anonymity presented at HRC29.

  • OHCHR Study on the prevention of human rights violations and its practical implementation (HRC/30/20)

This study notes the importance of online programmes and tools for national human rights institutions (NHRIs) to promote human rights education and as part of the process to follow up on recommendations by human rights mechanisms. An example of this is included in the report, summarising a panel discussion on national policies and human rights, specifically a platform called SIMORE from Paraguay, which allows the public to track implementation by the state on follow-up to recommendations by the treaty bodies, special procedures and the UPR.

  • The Report of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent on its Missions to Sweden and the Netherlands (A/HRC/30/56)

During their mission to Sweden (A/HRC/30/56/Add.2), the Working Group of Experts were informed about manifestations of racism and related discrimination in the media, including the internet, with racist, degrading and stereotypical images of black people. The Working Group’s report notes that the Data Inspection Board is reportedly concerned about the increasing complaints from people “being violated on the Internet”. On the other hand, the experts note that civil society has successfully used the internet and social media as an effective platform to counter racism, raise awareness about Afrophobia in Sweden, and create national, regional and international networks to combat racism. The report notes, however, that there has also been a backlash to their activities, with an increase in cyber hate messages. The Working Group also notes the role that the internet is playing in radicalising and recruiting young people into anti-democratic and extremist movements, as well as steps that the Swedish Media Council is taking to try to address this.

The Working Group’s report on its mission to the Netherlands (A/HRC/30/56/Add.1) includes a section dedicated to “Racism in the media and on the Internet”. The Working Group is alarmed at the number of cases of discrimination on the internet, many of which are affecting people of African descent. Despite efforts to address racism and xenophobia online, the experts express concern over the fact that this phenomenon is growing rather than dissipating. The report recommends that the government should work with media and internet service providers to sensitise them about their role in promoting diversity and eradicating stereotypes, which foster fear of minorities and foreigners, and lead to incidents of racism and xenophobia. The Government of the Netherlands’ response to the Working Group’s report (A/HRC/30/56/Add.3) details a number of responses that the government is taking to address the issue of racism and xenophobia online, and notes that the government shares the concerns expressed by the Working Group.

  • OHCHR summary report on the panel discussion on realising the equal enjoyment of the right to education by every girl (A/HRC/30/23)

The summary report of a panel discussion on realising the equal enjoyment of the right to education by every girl, which took place during the 29th session of the Human Rights Council, notes the panel’s recommendation to harness the power of social media as a means of changing education policies and encouraging girls to stay in school. The panel specifically referred to the UNICEF Techno Girl Programme in South Africa, which connects more than 10,000 adolescents with mentors from the tech sector, as a good practice.

Universal Periodic Review

Fourteen UPR outcomes will be adopted at this session, the majority of which reference internet rights-related issues, from internet freedom to the independence of regulatory bodies. It should come as no surprise that the United States, which went through its second cycle on 11 May 2015, has received a slew of surveillance-related recommendations.

The United States’ UPR outcome will be considered on 24 September. It has received 16 internet-related recommendations from a diverse group of countries. Most of these call for an end to unlawful surveillance, and call attention to the lack of legal protection for non-US citizens.

On 24 September, the outcome of Belarus’ UPR will be up for adoption. Reflected in the report are concerns over “increased State control over the internet” (Sweden) and “restriction on internet freedoms” (Greece). Belarus also received a recommendation from Greece to end “its restrictions and surveillance of the Internet, namely by amending its legislation in order to remove extrajudicial procedures for blocking websites, in line with recommendations made by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media.”

The reports scheduled for adoption on the afternoon of the same day (Mongolia, Panama and the Maldives) all have a more positive tone. Germany commended Mongolia on its role in protecting human rights online. Mongolia itself cited that out of its population of 3 million, 2 million were internet users and of those 1.8 million used smartphones. Mongolia also stated that its citizens “had access to all social media and enjoyed the right to express their opinions through social media to the fullest extent.” There were three internet-related recommendations. Switzerland urged Mongolia to ensure the independence of the communications regulator. France recommended that the freedom of expression be guaranteed, including on the internet. Germany asked Mongolia to “Ensure full respect of human rights, including the right to privacy and the right to freedom of expression, in all aspects of internet regulation, and adherence of any restrictions of those rights to the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality.”

Panama was commended on its advancement on media freedom and privacy by Germany, and in the Maldives report, the Maldives itself called attention to it having “one of the most liberal interpretations of freedom of expression: it placed no restrictions on freedom of the media, including online newspapers.”

On the following day, 25 September, the outcomes for Andorra, Bulgaria and Honduras will be considered. Though Andorra’s report does not mention surveillance on internet rights as such, the state makes clear its intention to ratify the Convention on Cybercrime, a move that was also formally recommended by Georgia.

Bulgaria received two recommendations worth noting: one from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, asking for “a strong response to hate speech, including in offline and online media,” and the other from Norway asking the state to “counter harassment, threats, and wiretapping of investigating journalists, bloggers and NGO representatives.”

Honduras referred to a constitutional amendment to “include the guarantee of habeas data as a mechanism of protection of private data and the rights to honour, privacy and personal image.” The state received a recommendation from Paraguay to establish an online monitoring system to support UPR follow-up. To note, Paraguay made the same recommendation to Jamaica, whose UPR outcome will also be considered on the 25th.

NGO side events relating to internet rights

  • African Regional Standards on freedom of expression and access to information, organised by Article 19 and the Permanent Delegation of the African Union, in collaboration with the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), on 14 September. This event is scheduled for 13.00-15.00, at Palais des Nations, Room XXI.
  • Safety of journalists, organised by Article 19, on 15 September. This event is scheduled for 12.00-14.00 at Palais des Nations, Room XXI.
  • Human rights in Bangladesh, organised by the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), APC and IFEX, on 18 September. This event is scheduled for 10.00-11.30 at Palais des Nations, Room XXIV.
  • Islamophobia in media, organised by Conseil de jeunesse, on 29 September. This event is scheduled for 12.00-14.00 at Palais des Nations, Room XXVI.

Other relevant side events

  • National Policies and Human Rights Defenders, organised by the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), on 15 September. This event is scheduled for 15.30-17.00 at Palais des Nations, Room XXI.
  • Human rights in Sudan, organised by Human Rights Watch, on 18 September. This event is scheduled for 13.00-14.30 at Palais des Nations, Room XXVII.

The full schedule of NGO parallel events is available through ISHR here .

(END/2015)

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