In newly published report, ISHR and four partner organisations assess China's lack of implementation of human rights commitments from its 2018 Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The report details the government's diverse strategies to silence and repress human rights defenders, lawyers, and journalists.
The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) co-organised a side event to the 76th session of the UN General Assembly on the Private Sector Responsibilities to Promote Human Dignity Online held on 22 September 2021. The event brought together panelists from the private sector with States and civil society to discuss the intersection of digital technology and the human rights obligations of the private sector. ISHR continues to expand its areas of work to cover new spaces where the intersection between business and human rights becomes more sensitive.
Emerging technologies are a “double edged sword” for human rights. New technologies have the potential to promote human rights and increase civic engagement, but they also pose a risk to human rights and democracy online. Close cooperation from all stakeholders is essential to address these challenges. A few weeks ago, Jeppe Kofod, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Denmark emphasised the importance of a joint effort from both States and the tech sector to promote human rights and democracy.
H.E. Choi Jongmoon, Vice Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea echoed Kofod: “On the one hand it has opened greater access for individuals to education, healthcare and economic activities; however, the misuse of technologies can fuel the spread of misinformation, online discrimination and even cyber-attacks on critical infrastructures which can harm the fundamental rights of individuals.”
Digital technology is here to stay, and it will vertebrate our social lives, entertainment, culture and economic activities. In this regard, Freida Roslin, Danish Youth Delegate for the UN noted that the power of tech companies is on the rise with limited regulations. Young people, in particular, call to have their rights and dignity ensured online.
To better control the potential harm from emerging digital technologies, Isedua Oribhabor from Access Now, a leading organisation on Technology and Human Rights, encouraged stakeholders to work closely with civil society to understand where potential risks may arise from when considering adopting new and emerging technologies.
Meanwhile, Anita Ramasastry, Member of the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights, called for early intervention from companies to prevent potential human rights violations, advocating for companies to assess their business models and adapt to mitigate human rights risks and impacts. Providing a remedy to human rights violations caused by digital technologies starts with human right due diligence as it is at this stage that the company can make the difference, preventing harm to people.
Covid-19: the acceleration of human rights risks
The areas where human rights and digital technologies intersect are vast, ranging from long standing issues such as equality and discrimanation, civic space, privacy and surveillance data to the emerging world of artificial intelligence.
In many cases, our reliance on technology has been accelerated as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic with many of us turning to the online sphere to keep in contact with friends and family, to work and learn from home. However, some of the emerging challenges of digital technology specific to Covid-19 include privacy issues and the digital divide which was brought to the fore during the pandemic. Eamon Gilmore, the EU Special Representative for Human Rights highlighted this during the discussion: “the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the digital transition, but it has also unfortunately fast tracked the use of new technologies to suppress human rights through mass surveillance and cyber harassment.”
The UN Secretary General warned the international community last year, when he stated that “together, as we seek to recover from the pandemic, we must learn to better curtail harmful use of digital technology and to better unleash its power as a democratizing force and an enabler.” It is within this context that the private sector must be encouraged to do more to protect and promote human rights. To optimise efforts, this must be situated within a multisectoral, human rights-based approach. Innovation is needed also to tackle these risks.
What’s coming next?
New digital technology, communication tools, social media platforms and other innovations are becoming increasingly influential in many spheres of our daily lives. These new technologies have unprecedented influence on social, political and economic dynamics. While they can be instrumental in economic growth and contribute positively to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, they can also be used in ways that threaten human rights. As a result, technology has fast gone up in the ranking of priority issues for those of us assessing and preventing human rights risks and impacts to human rights.
As a leading organisation on the promotion and protection of human rights globally, ISHR, together with expert civil society actors, such as, Access Now are looking to combine and apply our expertise within the realms of new digital technologies and human rights. In the coming months, we hope to contribute to and build on the groundbreaking work initiated by the B-Tech Project at OHCHR. This will see us addressing these emerging challenges by facilitating a coordinated, multi-stakeholder approach to ensure that new technologies become an enabler to human rights, not a fearful risk.
On Wednesday 24 November, Commissioner Solomon Ayele Dersso, Chairperson of the working group on extractive industries, environment and human rights violations in Africa (WGEI) presented his inter-sessional activity report.
The Working Group on Extractive Industries , Environment and Human Rights Violations (WGEI) presented a background study on the operations of extractive industries and the realisation and full enjoyment of human rights under the African Charter.
During each ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (‘The African Commission’), Commissioners present their activity reports which provides an overview of the work done in between two sessions. On 23 November 2021, the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and Focal point on reprisals presented his report.
On the last day of the NGO Forum, a panel was organised to officially launch the newly established Lusophone Platform for Human Rights in Africa.
In compliance with Article 62 of the African Charter, States have the obligation to report every two years on the legislative, administrative and political measures taken with a view to give effect to human rights guaranteed by the Charter. Despite the challenges of conducting the sessions online, it doesn't prevent the African Commission from holding States accountable to their human rights obligations.
The passage of a human rights defender resolution by the Third Committee of the GA by consensus, with 85 co-sponsors, is another important step in ongoing work to strengthen the promotion and protection of those who defend rights.
During its 76th session and in a move welcomed by civil-society, the Third Committee of the GA adopted by consensus a resolution recognising the rights of all people to participate in elections and public affairs, without discrimination, including on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
Concerned about the increase in the number of human rights defenders in exile in Africa, during its 27th Extraordinary session, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (‘the African Commission’) adopted resolution 439 mandating the African Commission to publish a report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in Exile in Africa.
Civil society calls for an end to attacks against Sudanese women protestors and WHRDs following the military coup.
On 16 November, ISHR delivered a statement on the situation of human rights in Africa, with a particular focus on the criminalisation and arrest of women defenders in Sudan, of LGBTI defenders in Namibia and the progress made on legislative protection of defenders in Benin and Mali.
As we celebrate 40 years since the adoption of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights which established the African Commission, the NGO Forum seized the opportunity to analyse the engagement of civil society with the Commission the past 40 years.