Human Rights at the IGF - the universality of rights on the Internet

Author's name: 
Henrik
Almström

After a week in Vilnius of listening and learning, of discussing and understanding I am now trying to conclude my experience of the human rights related sessions and discussions.

The week started with a successful pre-event:

Internet governance and human rights: Strategies and collaboration for empowerment.

Successful in terms of over 60 participants from a wide variety of stakeholders and successful putting freedom of expression and access to information as a universal human right and not only a part of internet governance on the top of the agenda during the IGF. Overhearing two corporates saying that human rights really is the major focus of this year’s IGF proved that human rights made it to the top of the agenda (whether it was due to the pre event or not I would not be the person to
judge)

However, one of the goals of the event was to frame and phrase not only freedom of expression but all rights in a “rights language”. My impression after the week is that we still have a way to go before this goal is reached. The issue of access for example is only discussed as universal right to a limited extent.

An important exception from this was to the two workshops organised by APC Women’s program/GenderIT.org presenting results from the Erotics project. The findings were discussed from the perspective of gender and sexual rights as individual human rights in an Internet context and not only as a part of freedom of expression. Hopefully there will be more examples like this in the future, where issues like access, transparency privacy as well as cultural issues such as multilingualism are
approached as individual human rights in an a Internet context in addition to seeing Freedom of expression as a facilitator of these rights.

I think there is a need for a dual focus here – a focus on the individual human rights themselves, how they should be understood, assessed and enforced in an Internet context. And, in addition to this I think freedom of expression as a facilitator to the understanding, the assessment and the enforcement of these human rights should be addressed.

Another factor that was brought up that may have an impact on the rights discourse is the discussions about values, principles and cultural norms. These concepts are all needed to develop strong and widely accepted rights. Both the dynamic coalition on Internet rights and principles and the Brazil government presented well developed sets of Internet principles which hopefully can develop into real Internet Rights. It is however important that the current human rights, as expressed in the universal declaration of Human rights, are not shadowed by discussions of values and principles on the Internet. Internet rights should never be less strong, or less enforceable than the existing universal human rights. So, let us use values, principles and norms to apply human rights in an Internet context and not let them replace human rights on the Internet.

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