Priorities for the seventh Internet Governance Forum (IGF) 2012

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By APC (APC)
, October 2012

In 2011, we noted that of the 92 IGF workshops and open forums, more than thirty focused on some aspect of human rights on the internet. The Chair’s Summary noted that human rights were mentioned in each of the main sessions and across the range of feeder workshops and that the three most prominent issues were the right to internet access, freedom of expression, and freedom of association. The emphasis on human rights in the IGF had clearly increased progressively since the event’s launch in 2006. This view was shared by several government and civil society delegates.

On July 5th, 2012 the United Nations Human Rights Council approved a resolution stating that the right to freedom of expression on the internet should be protected by states. The resolution affirmed the simple idea that “The same rights that people have offline must also be protected online”. The resolution had the support of 85 co-sponsors, including Brazil, Sweden, the United States, Azerbaijan, and Egypt, an incredibly large number compared to previous resolutions on the same issue. It recognises “the global and open nature of the internet as a driving force in accelerating progress toward development”. It is a precedent for the application of all human rights online and a significant first step towards the enforcement and protection of human rights on the internet. In a further precedent, Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights emphasised, during the HRC Expert Panel on Freedom of Expression and the Internet, the importance of a human rights impact assessment whenever internet policies are being developed.

These developments show the receptiveness of the HRC to giving serious consideration to human rights in internet policy and governance, something that the IGF has failed to do, despite the clear human rights foundations set by WSIS outcome documents, including the Tunis Agenda5. These developments also build on the internet and freedom of expression work of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Frank La Rue, whose work APC continues to support. The momentum for a human right approach to internet public policy is growing and must be linked to the foundations and history of the IGF. It involves exploring not only civil and political rights, but also social, economic and cultural rights.

The promise of the internet as a tool for development and empowerment continues to be unrealised for large segments of the world’s population. Disparities in access between rich and poor, and urban and rural serve to exacerbate existing social inequalities. During the IGF 2011, APC called for a rights-based approach to internet governance to ensure citizens have universal fair, open and affordable access at a time when many governments are restricting internet access in different ways and many people are suffering the effects of the global economic crisis.

These trends continued and intensified in 2012. We remain convinced that a human rights-based approach to internet governance is the best way to ensure universal fair, open and affordable access and to effectively address the integration of development, one of the priorities identified in the report of the Commission for Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) Working Group on IGF Improvements. The IGF theme for 2012 is ‘Internet Governance for Sustainable Human, Economic and Social Development’. We believe that this theme cannot be addressed in a meaningful manner without an explicit focus on human rights, including women’s human rights. The Gender Dynamic Coalition, among others, also supported the proposal that human rights be a main theme in the 2012 IGF and recommended that the IGF “pay equal to attention to women’s rights in a way that emphasises a rights-based approach in place of protectionist solutions”. In other words, solutions that do not patronise but empower women and reinforce their exercise of rights. The time for focusing IGF discussions only on affordable access as a means to utilise the potential of the internet for innovation and sustainable development is over.

Two thirds of people around the globe are still not connected to the internet and many of those accessing the internet for the first time experience far less freedom compared to that of early internet users. Most are not even aware that their internet freedoms are under threat or already restricted. The power and potential of the internet as an enabler of human rights will not be realised unless these threats are strongly resisted and more enabling environments created.

In addition, if the internet is to realise its potential as an enabler of people’s human rights then it must enable all rights, not only a few. Despite the significant number of human rights related workshops at IGF 2011, the treatment of human rights issues remained narrow, a trend also observed in regional and national IGFs. Freedom of expression, freedom of association, privacy and security are important issues. But to make progress in ‘Sustainable Human, Economic and Social Development’ we must include all of our human rights including civil and political rights, economic cultural and social rights and the rights of vulnerable and marginalised groups.

For these reasons, APC will be taking a human rights approach to the 2012 IGF. We will analyse each of the main themes from a human rights perspective and aim to bring these to the fore during discussions. We will work with Kenya, Sweden, Finland and others to host a roundtable on human rights and we will bring the outcomes of discussions as inputs to the Taking Stock and the Way Forward main session. We will focus on a more inclusive range of human rights including women’s human rights. Building on the APC 2011 gender report card APC, has advocated for the formal implementation of a gender report card for IGF workshops and main sessions. We will continue to seek to strengthen women’s participation in internet policy processes and to ensure women’s rights perspectives are included in deliberations.

We will analyse the main sessions, workshops, forums and dynamic coalition and other meetings with a view to extracting human rights concerns and will make proposals that outline how the IGF and other policy spaces can address these concerns.

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