Strengthening networks on sexual rights and the internet

APC launched the Exploratory Research on Sexuality and the Internet (EROTICS) network in 2009, a research and advocacy project in India, Brazil, Lebanon, South Africa, the United States and Indonesia that looked at internet-related challenges facing LGBT and other sexual rights communities. The “Building EROTICS Networks in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka” project built on this previous work by strengthening the participation of India through partnering with Point of View, and bringing in new actors from Sri Lanka by partnering with Women and Media Collective, and partnering with LOOM in Nepal. The project connected with researchers, activists, bloggers and advocates working on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), including sex workers, LGBTIQ communities, women with disabilities, and survivors of violence in these three countries.

Project activities in 2017 included advocacy aimed at influencing internet rights policy to include the rights of women and LGBTIQ people in global and regional decision-making forums on internet governance and women’s rights-related issues, such as the UN Human Rights Council and its Universal Periodic Review process, the Internet Governance Forum and the Committee on the Status of Women.

To support advocacy strategies in key policy processes, APC produced the EROTICS South Asia exploratory research: Sex, rights and the internet report, comprising research studies from the project’s three target countries: India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The report forms an important baseline from South Asia that looks at internet-related challenges and opportunities experienced by women’s rights, LGBTIQ rights and sexual rights advocates, and addresses legal frameworks, regulation, experiences and strategies to respond to challenges, as well as use of the “power” of the internet.

The EROTICS Global Survey 2017: Sexuality, rights and internet regulations, also published in 2017, mapped how sexual rights activists use the internet to advance their work, and documented the types of risks, harassment, content regulation or censorship they deal with, and how they respond to them. The first global survey was launched in 2013, and a slightly revised version of the questionnaire was applied as a follow-up exercise in 2014. For the 2017 survey, an important innovation was introduced: in-depth interviews with individuals who volunteered to expand on their responses.

A special edition launched in December 2017, “The right to scream: Research on sexuality, the internet and communication”, looked at the state of internet rights, sexual rights and communication rights globally, and particularly in South Asia.

These research outputs of the EROTICS project were distributed and presented at three national events, two in India and one in Nepal, as well as at the 2017 Asia Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum (APrIGF) in Bangkok, the global Internet Governance Forum in Geneva, the Citizens Digital Summit in Delhi and the Global Voices Summit in Colombo.

APC also organised several activities in 2017 to fulfil the EROTICS project objective of building the capacity of sexual rights movements, organisations, activists and researchers in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka to engage politically with internet rights and resist online violence, content regulation and censorship, and to participate actively in internet policy debates. These included the EROTICS Regional Meeting in September in Negombo, Sri Lanka, and a Feminist Internet eXchange pop-up organised by APC and partners in Bangkok on 31 July, aimed at exploring the Feminist Principles of the Internet as a politically situated framework to address sexuality, gender and technology in the Asia-Pacific region, and developing recommendations for the APrIGF synthesis document as a way to surface gender and sexuality in the internet governance platforms and discussions in the region.

Another 2017 outcome was APC’s contribution to the development of the Yogyakarta Principles+10 on the Application of International Human Rights Law in Relation to Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics, which now include a new principle on “The Right to the Enjoyment of Human Rights in Relation to Information and Communication Technologies”, in recognition of the important role that ICTs play in the enjoyment of human rights by LGBTIQ people. Having this particular principle included is a clear outcome of APC’s impact in terms of its movement-building efforts along with LGBTIQ advocates.

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Developing Internet Universality Indicators with UNESCO

In 2015, UNESCO put the concept of “Internet Universality” at the heart of its work to promote an internet that works for all. In June 2017, UNESCO launched a year-long programme of consultation to develop a set of Internet Universality Indicators, covering four fundamental principles (rights, openness, accessibility and multistakeholder participation) and the cross-currents between them.

The work on the project to define Internet Universality Indicators was led for UNESCO by APC on behalf of the Internet Indicators Consortium, which includes, apart from APC, ict Development Associates, Research ICT Africa, LIRNEasia and DIRSI.

Consultation with stakeholders played a central part in developing the indicator framework, as well as making the questionnaires available in all of the six UN official languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish). The first phase of consultation, from June to October 2017, was concerned with broad principles and ideas for the framework as a whole. The second phase, from December 2017 to March 2018, was concerned with specific indicators. Towards the end of 2017, a draft set of options for specific indicators was published, and stakeholders were again asked for their views on these.

APC and UNESCO also organised regional and global multistakeholder consultations in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), Europe and Asia. During the first phase, 24 face-to-face consultation meetings in 21 countries attracted 165 written and online contributions. During the second phase of consultations, 12 face-to-face consultation meetings in 10 countries attracted 148 written and online contributions. There was also a global consultation that took place during a session at the 2017 IGF.

To watch out for: In 2018, the final development of the Internet Universality Indicators will be made public.

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Advocating for a rights-based approach to internet policy in Africa, Asia and LAC

APC’s research, advocacy and capacity-building work during 2017 contributed to an increased understanding among civil society, human rights defenders, national human rights institution (NHRI) representatives and development practitioners in Africa, Asia and Latin America of how the internet has become a key site of struggle for the full enjoyment of human rights.

Human rights violations on the internet are increasing and NHRIs have a key role to play to protect and promote human rights online. APC developed a paper, “National human rights institutions in digital spaces“, in response to the call for submissions on the role of NHRIs in Southeast Asia in protecting human rights. It addresses the ways that ICTs and the internet in particular create new and promising spaces where NHRIs can improve the way they function and reach out to stakeholders in previously unimaginable ways. It also makes a call to NHRIs to remind governments that their obligation to protect, promote and fulfil all human rights includes providing meaningful access to the internet for all people.

In Africa, APC co-organised human rights capacity-building workshops, including an event where NHRI representatives and members of the judiciary from over 15 countries were trained on how to protect and promote human rights online by effectively using regional and international human rights instruments such as the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms, and a training workshop for civil society organisations from the region, co-organised with APC member CIPESA and Small Media Foundation, titled “Connecting your rights! Using international and regional human rights mechanisms to protect human rights online”.

APC also co-organised a training workshop for 11 representatives of Latin American civil society organisations in December 2017 on the use of regional and global human rights instruments, in collaboration with the Centre for Studies on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information (CELE).

The African Declaration, the Feminist Principles of the Internet, the APC Internet Rights Charter, the APC Internet Rights Are Human Rights training curriculum and the APC-La Rue Framework were used as monitoring frameworks and mechanisms to advocate for a rights-based approach to internet policy.

In 2017, the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms interactive web platform was translated in more languages to promote wider engagement and outreach of the Declaration. The platform is now available in English, French, Portuguese and Arabic. According to Avis Momeni, secretary general of PROTEGE QV, an APC member organisation in Cameroon that frequently uses the African Declaration for advocacy, “Having the Declaration in all these languages helps sensitise all African users and makes them more aware of their rights relative to the internet. It also enables African governments, on the other hand, to understand the scope of these principles in the elaboration and implementation of public policies.”

APC also carried out presentations to promote greater awareness and engagement around the African Declaration and its web platform at five key global and regional events, including the 2017 Internet Freedom Festival in Valencia, Spain, RightsCon in Brussels, Belgium, and the Africa Internet Summit in Nairobi, Kenya.

To watch out for: In 2018, APC will deepen its engagement in regional work through strategic interventions at regional human rights mechanisms and developing internet rights agendas with regional members and partners.

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Collaboration with members and partners in international policy processes contributes to the integration of internet rights issues

Consistent collaboration with APC members and partners contributed to the inclusion of internet rights issues in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process.

APC supported partners from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malaysia, Mexico and Pakistan to submit country reports to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women’s thematic report on online gender-based violence.

Collaboration with members and partners also resulted in submissions to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Pakistan and Lebanon) and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (South Korea and South Africa) committees.

Of particular importance is the recognition of network shutdowns as a threat to freedoms online in Pakistan by the country’s high court and by both the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression and the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of assembly and association.

APC also contributed to outcome documents, concluding observations and recommendations that reinforced states’ obligations to protect human rights online and develop internet regulation and policies in line with international human rights norms.

To watch out for: 2018 will be a year of many collaborations, including joint advocacy that links national efforts to regional and global initiatives, new partnerships, and the development of resources to support APC members’ engagement in international human rights mechanisms.

Image: Fragment of the design by Constanza Figueroa in the “Human rights and the internet: The Key Role of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) in Protecting Human Rights in the Digital Age” brochure.

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Policy impacts in the United Nations sphere reinforce human rights online and address emerging challenges

APC’s policy advocacy work in 2017 contributed to several resolutions that were adopted at the Human Rights Council and other UN bodies that reinforce human rights online and address emerging challenges.

Issues we raised include norms around protecting encryption and anonymity, concerns about the impact of profiling of data for economic, social and cultural rights, the criminalisation of expression in Asia, and the criminalisation of digital security.

These issues were taken up in the HRC resolution on privacy in the digital age, the UN General Assembly Third Committee’s resolution on human rights online for human rights defenders and the safety of journalists, and the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on ways to bridge the gender digital divide from a human rights perspective, which reflects APC’s framing of the issue and puts forth recommendations aimed at advancing women’s rights online.

APC also spoke at the opening ceremony of the WSIS Forum, presenting civil society concerns over insufficient focus on human rights and people-centred development in the WSIS follow-up process and highlighting that governments are not including civil society at the national level.

To watch out for: In 2018, APC will continue to collaborate with its members around a number of key internet-related policy spaces, including the Human Rights Council, RightsCon Toronto and regional forums.

Image: Courtesy of Deborah Brown.

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Increased understanding of censorship and criminalisation of political, religious and sexual expression in Asia

APC’s research, advocacy and capacity-building work contributed to increased understanding among civil society, human rights defenders and development practitioners of the threat of censorship and criminalisation of political, religious and sexual expression in Asia.

This increased capacity was a result of two joint submissions at the Human Rights Council 2017 sessions, and several publications produced as part of the Advocacy for Change through Technology in India, Malaysia and Pakistan (IMPACT) project, implemented in partnership with the Digital Empowerment Foundation from India, EMPOWER from Malaysia and Bytes for All, Pakistan. The research produced through the IMPACT project provided evidence and analysis of trends in Asia.

One of the main outputs was APC’s regional mapping of laws impacting the internet, titled “Unshackling Expression”, which was released as a special edition of Global Information Society Watch, and covers laws in six countries: India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia.

Another relevant publication, APC’s regional research paper on freedom of expression in the context of religion online, “Let the mob do the job: How proponents of hatred are threatening freedom of expression and religion online in Asia”, expands the scope of the analysis on hate speech to suggest a multi-layered analysis that considers political, economic and social structures, the impact of inequalities in societies and individual agency.

APC and our IMPACT project partners also published country research papers on the state of freedom of expression, freedom of information, and freedom of assembly and association online in India, Malaysia and Pakistan.

To broaden advocacy in Asia, APC, Global Partners Digital, FORUM-ASIA and Bytes for All Pakistan brought together 50 civil society groups from across the region for a two-and-a-half-day gathering in October in Bangkok, Thailand. They were joined by David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, who, in his keynote address, outlined some of the main intersections that characterise the digital and human rights landscapes. Participants also had the opportunity to share their views and input first hand into Kaye’s 2018 annual report to the UN Human Rights Council, which will be focused on content regulation.

To watch out for: APC will develop further capacity-building spaces for NHRIs in Asia. And look out for the illustrated summary of the report on online content regulation by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression that APC will produce.

Image: David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion during the State of the Internet event in Bangkok. Source: Twitter.

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VOICE issues legal notice to protect the right to privacy in Bangladesh

A legal notice has been issued by VOICE to the Secretary of Posts and Telecommunications and Chairman of the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC) demanding protection of the rights of mobile consumers and particularly the right to privacy. The notice was issued by VOICE’s legal adviser, Advocate Tanzim Al Islam, on 5 November 2017.

Mobile phone users of Bangladesh have been suffering from disturbances caused by unwanted calls and text messages from mobile operating companies that promote and advertise their products without considering subscribers’ personal daily life routines and customers’ interest, which constitutes a public annoyance.

No specific legal framework exists to control disturbances caused by the mobile operators. Thus the legal notice urged the authorities to take steps immediately for establishing a guideline or policy regarding telecommunication consumer protection for controlling unwanted calls and text messages from mobile operators and protecting the right to privacy of consumers.

The notice also stated that if the authorities fail to comply with the right to privacy of consumers, that matter would be taken further to Public Interest Litigation under Article 102 of the Constitution of the Peoples’ Republic of Bangladesh in the Supreme Court of Bangladesh seeking proper justice.

Image source: Byron Barrett on Flickr.

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Digital skills to strengthen digital rights for local communities in Argentina

In 2017 Nodo TAU focused on the capacity building of local organisations to strengthen their digital rights, with the support of an APC subgrant. Between August and December they coordinated a series of communication workshops (Taller de Comunicación, or TACO for short) on digital skills for local organisations working on human rights, children’s issues, labour and health rights, gender, social economy and Indigenous communities, among others.

The TACO workshops involved eight meetings that were designed and planned together with six local organisations from the communications field: FARCO, the Argentine community radio federation; Sin Cerco, an independent press and photography agency; Sindicato de Prensa de Rosario, the local journalists union; ConX, a collective of journalists working on gender-sensitive communications; La Masa, a cooperative of journalists who head up a newspaper, a web agency and radio programmes; and Coopares, a cooperative working on digital tools for social and labour organisations.

During the workshops Nodo TAU focused on issues like communication, the internet and human rights; gender; abilities in writing and telling our own stories; audiovisual production; mapping local media, social networks and digital tools; independent media and the sustainability of independent communication projects. This initiative not only brought them closer to local communities, but also consolidated a network of local groups. At the end of November Nodo TAU organised together with ConX a Feminist Workshop on Digital Self-Defence, in the framework of the Take Back the Tech! campaign.

Image source: Facebook.

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Real or Not: News verification and fact checking Facebook page in Myanmar

MIDO has started a Facebook page called “Real or Not” to tackle the pressing issues of misinformation and incitement of inter-communal conflict in Myanmar.

Real or Not is a Facebook-based initiative in which MIDO conducts three main types of activities: developing content on news/digital literacy awareness; emergency response to current mis/disinformation that is being spread and could spark conflict and hatred; and assisting with fact-checking in response to users’ questions.

This is a flagship initiative in Myanmar and has inspired similar efforts in different locations and communities across the country. Now Real or Not is working on building an ethical fact-checking community in Myanmar and also producing content to be broadcast on major TV channels in the country.

Image source: MIDO.

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KICTANet elections observation mission

The last two general elections in Kenya have had heavy deployment of technology to improve transparency, efficiency and accountability in the electoral process. During the 2017 general elections, the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet) observed the use of information and telecommunications technologies (ICTs) before, during and after election day. The network focused on digital rights such as privacy rights during the electronic voter registration process and access to election information by the citizens, as well as the use of online spaces during the election period.

In preparation for the observation exercise, KICTANet held online and offline discussions on technological emerging issues. These included discussions during the Kenya IGF that brought together representatives from the electoral management body, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), the regulator, the private sector and civil society. Some team members also attended training meetings organised by the IEBC, where they observed mock voting and transmission of results.

As part of its cybersecurity programme, KICTANet also conducted a cybersecurity and elections workshop in partnership with Global Partners Digital (GPD). The workshop reflected on the issues that came up during the elections. Some of the topics that emerged were the use of fake news by citizens and politicians, the hacking claims made by the opposition during the tallying of votes, and the capacity of the new cybercrime legislation to resolve these issues.

KICTANet continues to engage with the newly elected leaders, the elections body and other stakeholders on the use of fake news online, on cybersecurity and on the importance of digital rights in public policy processes.

Image source: KICTANet.

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