Last week, more than 70 countries voted to ensure that the human rights we enjoyed before the internet are still relevant online. South Africa was not among these nations.

The vote formed part of significant resolutions on the, “the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet“. At their core, the resolutions seek to protect those who express themselves online, including media outlets.

The resolutions will be adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

“From impunity for the killings of bloggers to laws criminalising legitimate dissent on social media, basic human rights principles are being disregarded to impose greater controls over the information we see and share online,” executive director of ARTICLE 19, Thomas Hughes said.

The resolutions put forward include:

  • Address security concerns to protect freedom of expression, privacy and other human rights
  • Ensuring the release of those imprisoned for legitimate freedom of expression
  • Ensuring any attack on bloggers or internet users is investigated and offenders are brought to book
  • Refrain from measures that prevent information from being disseminated online including shutting down the internet, or part thereof at any time.
  • Provide and expand internet access with a “human rights based approach”.

All resolutions were passed with consensus and states are now committed to them based on their existing international human rights law.

The Russian Federation and China called for amendments to resolutions, calling on states to expand internet access with a “human rights based approach”.

The pair of nations also hoped to remove references to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights from the resolutions.

South Africa voted in favour of these amendments.

What does this all mean?

Despite the amendments not mustering enough votes, they should be of concern to anybody that enjoys being able to express themselves freely online.

“We are disappointed that democracies like South Africa, Indonesia, and India voted in favour of these hostile amendments to weaken protections for freedom of expression online,” Hughes remarked.

“States must tackle these issues head-on, including abusive laws that target legitimate online dissent, government efforts to undermine anonymity and encryption, and attempts to exert undue pressure on private ICT actors to engage in censorship,” he said.

This is important in South Africa where the national broadcaster has been responsible for numerous other examples of censorship, including its recent refusal to show footage of protests.

A number of SABC journalists were suspended last week for releasing a letter condemning the the broadcaster’s editorial practices.

A few days earlier, the broadcaster’s CEO, Jimi Matthews, stepped down stating publicly that “what is happening at the SABC is wrong“.

[Source – ARTICLE 19] [Image – CC BY 2.0 Rachel Hinman]