Fifty years ago the international community agreed upon a set of rights to which everyone is entitled. As the internet has become more important in our everyday lives and as we’ve seen in Egypt and Tunisia in the last few days, a critical means for people to defend their rights and to fight for them, the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should apply everywhere and at all times – including when people are communicating online.
But the enormous potential of the internet as a tool for strengthening democratisation is under constant threat. The world has witnessed in Egypt and Tunisia to a lesser extent that when governments feel threatened not only do they censor individuals but they also try to take away the tools they use to contact and inform each other and organise.
“If fundamental human rights such as free speech and free association are not respected and enforced on the internet then these rights are no longer ‘real’ in today’s world,” said Anriette Esterhuysen, APC’s executive director.
“We cannot take the potential of the internet to strengthen people’s struggles for freedom and justice for granted. Yet many people do – until the internet is shut down by a repressive government or a commercial service provider”.
Beyond the recent political crisis in Tunisia and Egypt, restricting the free flow of information on the internet is a global trend. Witness the ban on Facebook in Pakistan in 2010 and the blocking of WikiLeaks.
However its intensity and impact is greatest in countries lacking democratic culture or strong human rights regimes. Those who speak out against repression risk their lives or freedom. The online channels they use are banned, blocked or censored.
This is also the case in cultural contexts where fundamentalism prevails and where communities and individuals experience violence and abuse by virtue of their gender, sexuality or beliefs. Groups APC works with experience such threats on a regular basis.
APC has defended the use of the internet for social justice since our founding in 1990. The APC Internet Rights Charter (based on the UDHR) was first written in 2001, revised in 2006 and has been translated into more than twenty languages. It has been used as the basis for
people-centred human-rights-focused internet policy negotiation in tens of countries.
APC will soon launch a world wide campaign to create broad-based awareness of the importance of online freedom of expression and association, and to persuade policy makers that “internet rights are human rights”, and to ensure that people who are defending human rights can be free to use online communications without fear of arrest or censorship.
This campaign is part of an initiative that will also document and analyse trends, violations and impacts on freedom of expression on the internet at national level and globally. It includes the 2011 edition of Global Information Society Watch, the annual review APC publishes with Dutch development agency Hivos, which will focus on the state of freedom of expression and association on the internet in sixty countries around the world; in depth analysis, advocacy, and support for action in specific countries where internet rights are most at risk; alerts and rapid response to internet rights abuses experienced by human rights defenders and civil society activists; capacity building in secure online communication and campaign development for human rights defenders, with a special emphasis on women’s human rights defenders; and taking the ‘internet rights are human rights’ message to decision makers in global and regional policy spaces.
The initiative is supported by Sida, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through the the Swedish Government´s special initiative on democracy and the freedom of expression.
Founded in 1990, the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) is an international network and non-profit organisation that wants everyone to have access to a free and open internet to improve our lives and create a more just world.
Photo by Rufino Uribe Used under Creative Commons License