Rights in 2018: From resolutions on online gender-based violence, discrimination and privacy, to internet shutdowns in Africa, hate speech in Asia and work with youth and visual stories

Publisher: APCNews     19 September 2019

Human rights norms and standards integrate gender and development, and are respected and promoted in internet and ICT policy, governance, development and practice. This is a compendium of the highlights from APC's Annual Report for 2018.

Contributed to policy by addressing new threats to human rights online

The 38th Human Rights Council session saw the updating of its landmark resolution on “The promotion, protection, and enjoyment of human rights on the internet”. This resolution, first adopted in 2012 and updated every two years, included language and priorities put forward in 2018 by APC and its partners related to issues such as encryption, private sector responsibility, data protection and the gender digital divide. 

The 2018 resolution includes new elements concerning the responsibilities of companies; data protection and human rights; secure, confidential and anonymous communications; attacks on freedom of expression; the spread of disinformation and propaganda on the internet; advancing women's rights online; and human rights-based approaches to bridging digital divides. For further analysis of the resolution, see APC’s statement here.

Image: Deborah Brown, APC’s Global policy advocacy lead during an intervention at the Human Rights Council.

Participated in historic move towards the elimination of violence against women and girls online

During its 38th session, the Human Rights Council adopted the first-ever UN resolution on preventing and responding to violence against women and girls in digital contexts: "Accelerating efforts to eliminate violence against women and girls: preventing and responding to violence against women and girls in digital contexts”. The resolution, which builds upon years of policy advocacy by APC and its network, recognises online gender-based violence as a violation of human rights and recommends the use of international human rights policy to ensure that any response to this growing issue does not further limit the rights of women. 

The resolution indicates not just a growing recognition of the risk of violence faced by all women and girls, but also an understanding that there are those who face violence on account of gender and also multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, and recognises that a multi-pronged approach working with all relevant parties is required. 

The report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the elimination of all forms of violence against women specifically addressed online gender-based violence using a human rights lens, which was a key step toward the watershed resolution on online gender-based violence discussed above. APC Women’s Rights Programme had a concrete role in this through the submission sent to the UN Special Rapporteur to provide input for this report.

APC’s support for research, capacity building and advocacy with local partners through presentations at six events and three training workshops on online gender-based violence has led to increased understanding of over 300 civil society, human rights and women’s rights activists on these issues.

Image: Jan Moolman, APC Women’s Rights Programme policy lead during Human Rights Council meeting.

Called attention on pressing human rights issues to special rapporteurs and human rights mechanisms

During the 37th and 38th Human Rights Council sessions, APC collaborated with members and partners, bringing forward pressing human rights issues through a diversity of submissions and statements: with APC member 7amleh on internet freedoms of Palestinians; with ARTICLE 19, IFEX and Privacy International on secure communications; with the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition on the impact of violence against women human rights defenders and women’s organisations in digital spaces; with the Sexual Rights Initiative on advancing women’s rights in the economic sphere through access and participation in ICTs; with APC members CIPESA, Derechos Digitales and WOUGNET on restrictions to freedom of expression online; and with the Centre for Independent Journalism Malaysia, EMPOWER, Justice for Sisters and Pelangi Campaign on human rights online in Malaysia

Image: Cathy Chen.

Held national governments accountable

In 2018, APC and its network contributed to various treaty body reviews and Universal Periodic Reviews (UPR), influencing rights-based policy in Bangladesh, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico and South Africa. In Bangladesh, APC and the Center for Social Activism raised a number of human rights issues and violations in their joint submission to the country’s UPR, including killings of online activists, an ongoing lack of press freedom and state-sanctioned censorship. The report outlined several recommendations, many of which were subsequently accepted by the government. 

Similarly, following Cameroon’s UPR process, the government accepted several recommendations that reflected points raised in a joint submission by APC and partners related to the rights to peaceful assembly, association and expression online, and unlawful restrictions on internet and mobile service provision. 

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressed concern around low internet penetration and a lack of internet affordability in South Africa in its review of the country’s compliance with treaty obligations, echoing a shadow report by APC and partners.

As a way to reinforce the work in the UPR process, APC joined the UPROAR initiative – coordinated by Small Media in collaboration with a network of digital rights organisations working internationally – to explore digital rights through the lens of the Universal Periodic Review across 21 carefully selected target countries.

Image: Illustration in the article “UPROAR —Engaging With the Universal Periodic Review” by James Marchant from Small Media.

Contributed to model recommendations for online content regulation guidelines 

The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, presented his report on content regulation in the digital age during the 38th session of the Human Rights Council. Echoing APC’s priorities, the report recommended that platforms model their content guidelines after international human rights standards. APC and Access Now contributed to the Special Rapporteur’s report through in-person and online consultations, as well as written input, which is available here and here.

APC welcomed the report and valued that it examines the obligations and responsibilities of both states and companies, and commended the Special Rapporteur for addressing this issue in a way that is rooted in international human rights standards and reflects the lived experiences of people around the world, particularly groups at risk and people who are marginalised based on sexual orientation and gender identity, cultural, linguistic or political contexts.

Don’t miss the illustrated summary of the Special Rapporteur’s report on content regulation in the digital age that APC developed to highlight key findings and recommendations.

Image: Cathy Chen.

Advocated against discrimination of women and girls

The resolution passed during the 38th session of the Human Rights Council on the “Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls” focused on removing obstacles to women’s economic empowerment. APC joined a group of organisations working on women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights in welcoming the resolution, which “is ground-breaking in its framing of women’s economic rights as being restricted and violated by structural gender discrimination arising from patriarchal economic, social and political systems and by articulating State obligations to change these systems.”

In line with the resolution on online gender-based violence (GBV), this resolution strongly condemns discrimination and GBV against women and girls in all its forms, including in digital contexts. The resolution recognises the role that the internet and ICTs can play in eliminating obstacles to women’s economic empowerment, as well as ways in which they can perpetuate discrimination against women and girls. It calls on states to enact legislation and undertake reforms as appropriate to realise the equal rights of women and men to economic and productive resources, including appropriate new technology. It also calls upon states to implement policies and actions to facilitate women's and girls’ access to ICTs and science, technology, engineering and mathematics education to support their labour market entry.

Image: Cathy Chen.

UN recognised new threats to privacy, incorporating contributions from APC and partners

The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on “The right to privacy in the digital age”, incorporating important points brought forward by APC and civil society partners. 

The resolution not only highlights privacy as a gendered issue, but also demands an end to unlawful government-led surveillance, and stresses the need to enshrine the right to privacy in the development of machine-learning technologies as well as the collection and storage of personal information, particularly biometric data. 

As an organisation that has worked at the intersections of women’s rights, sexual rights and technology for more than two decades, APC welcomed the focus of the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy on gender perspectives on privacy and inputted into the report that is in development.

APC also made a submission to the OHCHR’s Working Group on Business and Human Rights on the impact of the policies and practices of internet intermediaries (as business entities). The submission addressed the ability of women and LGBTIQ communities to access, shape and use ICTs within the context of the full realisation of their human rights.

Image: Privacy and data principle of the Feminist Principles of the Internet.

Built opportunities for securing digital rights in Africa

The African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms gained new momentum in 2018 as the initiative’s Secretariat and Coalition expanded the scope of their work through a new, funded initiative led by APC, “Securing human rights online in Africa through a strong and active ‘African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms’ network'”.

Originally launched in 2014, the Declaration is a Pan-African initiative that promotes a rights-based approach to internet policy in the region. To facilitate the coordination and encourage implementation of this policy framework, a Secretariat and Coalition of 23 organisations were established. The current initiative aims to empower this Secretariat and Coalition, in partnership with civil society, media and human rights defenders, to bring human rights to the forefront in digital policy processes across the region and, specifically, to promote the Declaration’s uptake in national jurisdictions. 

APC also joined the reference group of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) to revise the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, which will take into account the impact of ICTs.

Image: African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms website.

CIPESA gathered diverse groups and sectors to advance internet freedom in Africa

The annual Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica) was held in Accra, Ghana, from 27-28 September 2018. Jointly organised by APC member Collaboration for International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) and the Media Foundation for West Africa, the event brought together diverse groups and sectors, including human rights defenders, government officials, journalists, developers, business representatives and more, to discuss the advancement of internet freedom on the continent. Representatives from APC and member organisations, including the Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNet) and Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet), spoke at the event.

During the forum, CIPESA launched its fifth annual report on the “State of Internet Freedom in Africa”, with a focus on privacy and data protection in the region. The report synthesises research on 13 African countries, highlighting a worrying trend toward greater digital surveillance by African states, a lack of comprehensive privacy laws and low levels of public awareness around data protection.

Image: CIPESA.

KICTANet encouraged internet intermediaries in Kenya to adopt a rights-based perspective

In 2018, the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet) launched a research project exploring the role of internet companies in upholding and promoting the exercise of human rights online, with the support of an APC subgrant. 

With a focus on Kenya and making use of the Ranking Digital Rights index and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, KICTANet created a policy brief mapping the terms of use and privacy policies of these local intermediaries from a rights-based perspective. The initiative aimed to encourage policy advocacy, capacity building and ongoing research in this area.

Image: Will Sexton in Flickr used under Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license.

Metamorphosis Foundation shone light on internet freedom in Macedonia

In recent years, Macedonia has been rocked by political turmoil, leading to restricted rights both online and offline. Following the success of the Internet Freedom Summit held in the country in 2016, Metamorphosis Foundation worked to create awareness and understanding of digital rights and freedoms among civil society organisations, journalists, the legal community, law enforcement and youth, primarily through the delivery of training workshops and organisation of multistakeholder public events. 

The organisation additionally performed an assessment of the state of internet freedom in Macedonia through monitoring and reporting on court cases related to data, privacy and use of new technologies.

Image: Metamorphosis Foundation in Flickr.

Social Media Exchange launched digital rights campaign in Lebanon

With the support of an APC subgrant, Lebanon-based organisation Social Media Exchange (SMEX) launched the #IstiqlalRaqmi (#DigitalIndependence) campaign in 2018 to build public awareness and support for digital rights in a country where widespread government surveillance and censorship are the norm. 

The project involves a series of public events and workshops designed to foster understanding of the importance of online freedoms among the Lebanese public, as well as specific capacity-building and engagement work with women, the LGBTIQ community and youth.

Image: Free Internet by Blondinrikard Fröberg used under Creative Commons license.

VOICE tackled internet and social media legislation and policies in Bangladesh

In light of an alarming and violent crackdown on freedom of expression in Bangladesh in recent years, Voices for Interactive Choice and Empowerment (VOICE) undertook a review of legislation, regulations and policies related to internet and social media use, with the support of an APC subgrant. With at least 15 local human rights defenders and activists killed in the country between 2013 and 2017 and government censorship of platforms such as YouTube and Facebook, the project was particularly timely. 

This initiative focused particularly on the loosely worded Information and Communication Technology Act of 2006, which has been used aggressively by law enforcement to criminalise free speech. The organisation hopes to develop policy recommendations and build online activists’ capacity to avoid internet censorship and maintain personal safety.

Image: VOICE.

Committed to challenge hate narratives and violations of freedom of religion and expression online in Asia

APC launched a three-year project aimed at protecting and promoting respect for freedom of religion and expression online in South and Southeast Asia, with a particular focus on Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Myanmar and Pakistan. The initiative, titled “Challenging hate narratives and violations of freedom of religion and expression online in Asia” and funded by the European Instrument For Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), came at a time of growing populism, authoritarianism and increased incidents of violence related to religious expression and diversity across the region. 

The project aims to increase the availability of information about trends, opportunities and challenges pertaining to freedom of religion and expression in the region, raise awareness about the violation of these rights among target groups across the five countries, build the civil society sector’s capacity to counter online hate speech related to beliefs and religion, establish and strengthen networks of individuals and organisations to leverage opportunities for policy advocacy and, finally, encourage the creation of artistic and critical content that is “secular, diverse, inclusive and rights-respecting on issues related to religion.”

Image: Cathy Chen.

Enhanced information access for improved decision-making for Meru County in Kenya

Access to information is not only a fundamental human right as enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but it is something that the Kenya-based Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) is also passionate about. In 2018, with support from the UKaid and USAID, ALIN implemented a seven-month project dubbed, “Enhancing Access to information held by Meru County Government”. 

The project addressed limited access to information on preparation and submission of budget estimates during the public hearing on budget in Meru County, Kenya, the low understanding of the importance of public participation, as well as the scarce understanding by citizens on their right to access information and low capacity of non-state actors to engage Meru County government. Through this project, “ALIN has provided a link to accessing crucial development information for the residents of Meru County. We have also been empowered to influence development decisions in Laare,” said Suleiman Tembo, a Laare Resident from Meru County.

ALIN increased access to simplified information on governance and devolution as a result of the 1,114,734 curated SMS disseminated to 40,098 Meru County residents. In addition, ALIN trained 75 non-state actors on Web 2.0 and communications skills, which have helped them to enlighten the public on resources that have been allocated to specific community projects as well as playing a pivotal role in citizen engagement and advocacy.

Image: ALIN. Implementing the “Digital Learning Space for Isolated Communities” project with support from APC.

Conquered governmental commitment in favour of children and adolescents in Paraguay

Almost 10 years ago, Asociación Trinidad of Paraguay, together with a dozen civil society organisations, formed the Front for Children and Adolescents to secure the commitment of presidential candidates to 20 points, including increased investment in health and education in the social sector.

In the elections of 2018, they repeated the experience of the 20 points but it was now strengthened by more than 20 organisations and two networks of children and adolescents that interact and communicate through WhatsApp and Facebook.

The work of these organisations benefits from the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs), which allow them to keep in permanent communication, sending audio messages, podcasts, videos and other types of information as part of their monitoring of government compliance with the commitments for the next five years.

On 16 June 2018, one day after the inauguration of the new president of Paraguay, Mario Abdo Benitez, the aforementioned commitments were ratified and the Ministry of Children and Adolescents was created for the first time.

Image: Screenshot of the campaign video #20Compromisos.

Advances in the recognition of digital rights in Chile

2018 was a key year in Chile for the recognition of online fundamental rights, their importance and the need to have instruments to promote and protect them. In sight of the 32nd session of the United Nations' Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, Derechos Digitales embarked on the arduous task of ensuring that the protection of the different ways in which people exercise their rights online were part of the list of recommendations received by the Chilean state.

This involved the difficulty of opening up space in an extensive range of equally legitimate and important petitions. However, the effort paid off and numerous states made recommendations related to online rights, particularly women’s rights, protection of privacy and the need to improve the standard in the use of surveillance technologies. It was not a task that Derechos Digitales undertook alone, as they had the support of ProAcceso Foundation, Privacy International, Smart Citizenship, IFEX and APC.

This was an important victory, which allowed Chileans to have instruments that ensure greater attention to issues related to fundamental rights in cyberspace. Derechos Digitales also believes that the experience gained can be significant for other organisations in other latitudes and they are eager to share it.

Image: Derechos Digitales.

EngageMedia co-produced Myanmar Digital Rights Films

EngageMedia collaborated with filmmakers KyalY Lin Six and Joosk Studio, and digital rights group Myanmar ICT for Development Organization (MIDO), to produce films for advocacy and movement building not just in Myanmar, but also throughout Southeast Asia.

The two short films produced – It's Time to Talk and Are You Ready? – present compelling visual stories on some of the most pressing digital rights issues in Myanmar: online harassment and article 66D of the Myanmar Telecommunications Law. The journey that led to the creation of both films is a long but rewarding one involving EngageMedia's two major programs: Digital Rights and Video for Change. 

In June 2015, EngageMedia held Camp Chindwin, a Southeast Asia video camp. Three years later, filmmaker participants of the Camp Thet Phang Kha of Joosk, Kyal Yi and King Catoy, reunited to co-create short films. 

In October 2017, EngageMedia hosted COCONET, a Southeast Asia Digital Rights Camp, where participants hatched the idea of collecting and producing films to help digital rights advocacy initiatives. A year later, APC, MIDO and EngageMedia, collaborators of COCONET, created this Myanmar Digital Rights Films Project.

EngageMedia believes that film collaboration projects help strengthen social movements by fostering and mobilising networks of media makers and activists formed in previous initiatives. The films produced also serve as materials for rights activists.

Image: EngageMedia.

LaborNet supported tech workers' rights in the face of the gig economy

In 2018, US-based LaborNet held educational meetings on the effect of the gig economy on drivers and tech workers who are contracted out. The meetings in San Jose, California, were sponsored by unions in Silicon Valley and UBER Lyft organisers. Tech service workers and computer workers discussed the effect of new technology on their lives, the role of robotics, as well as how they are organising to form unions and defend themselves. They also discussed the growing racial discrimination and xenophobia that is threatening them and their familes as a result of the election of US president Donald Trump. These panels were broadcast live on www.labortech.net.

LaborNet is supporting the development of an international labor streaming channel that workers and unions throughout the world can use to broadcast their rallies, press conferences and actions, and is working to link up tech workers globally.

LaborNet also supported the international campaign to defend journalist and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and whistleblower Chelsea Manning, with educational forums and rallies at the UK consulate in San Francisco and US Federal Building. The attack on Assange and WikiLeaks and the growing use of spying software against journalists and whistleblowers is something that LaborNet continues to focus on.

Image: LaborNet.

Examined Cameroon through the lenses of the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms

In 2018, with the support of an APC subgrant, PROTEGE QV implemented a research project on the nation’s situation with respect to the 13 key principles of the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms adopted by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights.

On 27 December in Yaoundé, Cameroon, PROTEGE QV hosted an event to present the study, entitled "Watching Cameroon through the lenses of the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms".

This study, which involved institutions working on ICTs, human rights, Cameroonian civil society, online and print media, as well as many other ICT players, was part of the awareness-raising efforts carried out by PROTEGE QV on the level of application of the key principles of the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms in Cameroon and presented suggestions for improvement. The meeting was also attended by Canadian APC member Alternatives' trainees present at PROTEGE QV, who are part of the International Youth Internship Program.

During the meeting, the designers and authors went through the different components of the research: the survey on the understanding by Cameroonians of the key principles of the African Declaration; the articles presenting the application of these principles in Cameroon; and finally, the development of the evaluation index of the application of the key principles in Cameroon. The event was closed with exchanges and debates on the content of the study and many other topics related to the state of ICTs in Cameroon, after which all participants were presented with a copy of the study.

Image: PROTEGE QV.

Pushed against internet shutdowns in Africa

The year 2018 saw a spate of internet shutdowns that hindered public access to information and communications, particularly throughout the African continent, where many APC members are based. 

APC’s community worked hard in countering this trend and raising awareness about the power of internet disruptions to stifle public debate, social action and dissent, particularly during electoral periods. 

The KeepItOn campaign, of which APC is part and which brings together civil society organisations, activists and citizens to combat this practice, was a key effort on this front, producing statements and joint letters on keeping the internet open and secure in Ethiopia and Pakistan, among other regions.

Image: "Disconnected" by Kenny Stoltz used under CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

To watch out for

In 2019, APC and its network will continue to build momentum around protecting and promoting digital rights in numerous ways – from policy advocacy to panels to new projects. APC will continue to advocate for stronger resolutions around digital issues in 2019 at the 40th session of the Human Rights Council and highlight the need for gender-responsive approaches to defending data privacy in a digital age, as well as to push for greater protection and promotion of diversity of religion and belief online and offline.

The African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms Secretariat and members of the Coalition will meet in 2019 to put together a strategic plan to build a more rights-based online environment in the region and to establish a sub-granting initiative to promote uptake of the African Declaration at national and regional levels. The Secretariat will also hold its next consultative meeting.

APC will launch an exploratory initiative titled "Putting cybersecurity on the rights track” with the support of Mozilla to develop a research and advocacy strategy to ensure that cybersecurity, policy and norms are influenced by civil society and progressive techie voices and consistently integrate a rights-based approach.

Among other exciting activities, the “Challenging hate narratives and violations of freedom of religion and expression online in Asia” project will host a camp, with the participation of activists and artists who will come together to exchange strategies and coorganise concrete activities to tackle hate speech. 

APC will also join its member Social Media Exchange (SMEX) as implementing partner in the project CYRILLA: Global Digital Rights Law, which seeks to map and analyse the evolution and impacts of legal frameworks in digital environments.

APC will continue joining efforts with other organisations in Africa and Latin America to engage with the regional human rights instruments towards addressing digital rights issues.

https://2018report.apc.org/



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