Access to the internet, community-owned infrastructure and free software linked to combating racism, UN report says

Publisher: APCNews     NEW YORK, 04 June 2014

A new report by the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Mutuma Ruteere, was released in late May. It focuses on the use of new information technologies, including the internet, for disseminating racist ideas, hate messages and inciting racial hatred and violence.

The report highlights the importance of affordable access to the internet and promotion of local content, particularly for those groups who are most often the targets of racial discrimination, in order to reduce information asymmetry and misperceptions that feed racist and xenophobic sentiment. It also highlights the fundamental role of education and media literacy, especially for young people.

Recognising the importance of strong movements to counter racism and intolerance online, the Special Rapporteur suggests: “Community ownership of infrastructure, training in network and content management, and alternative software use, including free and open software, can help to bridge existing gaps in knowledge and access.”

Legal and policy efforts to combat hatred and incitement, however, must take into account states’ obligations to protect other fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression and opinion, the Special Rapporteur noted.

Commenting on the report, APC’s Joy Liddicoat said: “We welcome the Special Rapporteur’s focus on community efforts to combat racism, especially for marginalised and vulnerable groups. The Rapporteur also highlights the work of women’s rights defenders and sexual rights activists, including their use of the internet and information and communications technology to promote and protect their rights. This work is critical to help combat racism and other forms of intolerance in ways that are empowering and which do not always require regulatory intervention by states, but rather empower communities to claim rights for themselves.”

Alfredo López, from APC member in the United States and Mexico May First/People Link, added: “We’re pleased the report links two of our major issues, de-privatisation of the internet and free and open source software, to the kind of access to knowledge and technology that will most effectively combat hate speech. It displays a progressive and incisive confidence in the ability of humanity to do the right thing when it has the power to.”

Commenting on the broader issue of the intersection of racism and the internet, Shahzad Ahmad from APC member Bytes for All Pakistan stated: “Racism and discrimination are inextricably linked with censorship and surveillance, as we have highlighted in our most recent research.” He added: “We found out that one set of people have the right to disseminate hate material against others who don’t have the space or power to present their counter narratives. Millions of Pakistanis, including women and religious and sexual minorities, suffer from this with no respite.”

APC, as well as May First/People Link and Bytes for All Pakistan, were part of the multi-stakeholder consultation process that led to the preparation of this report, and welcomed the report’s findings and recommendations. APC will be supporting this work during the upcoming Human Rights Council session (including a side event on 25 June) and will continue to monitor and develop this work in the year ahead.

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