Category

Advocacy

Le Collectif tous pour All For Digital Rights Cameroon

By | Advocacy, ICT Policy, Internet Freedom

Le Collectif tous pour All For Digital Rights Cameroon a organisé à Yaoundé au Cameroun le 20 octobre 2018, une session d’information sur les droits numériques. Cette session d’information intervient au lendemain de l’élection présidentielle du 7 octobre 2018.

La session de formation a été principalement animé par Rigobert Kenmogne, Google Policy Fellow, par ailleurs point focal de Paradigm Initiative au Cameroun et Afrique francophone. Il a d’abord présenté les activités de Paradigm Initiative au Cameroun ces derniers mois avant d’échanger avec les participants sur les « instruments et les acteurs des droits numériques du pays ». On retient dans sa communication que le Cameroun a connu trois périodes importantes pour son développement numérique, avec des instruments politico juridiques qui interagissent entre cinq parties prenantes à savoir le gouvernement, la société civile, le secteur privé, les communautés techniques et les organisations internationales. A ces parties prenantes s’ajoutent des acteurs multiformes.

L’intérêt de cette session d’information a été aussi celui de présenter le paysage juridique et législatif dans lequel le consommateur Camerounais jouit du service Internet. Une action s’inscrit dans la dynamique d’un plaidoyer devant aboutir à l’adoption d’un texte de lois plus spécifique sur les droits numériques, donc l’usage fait déjà partir du quotidien des Camerounais.

Ce projet fait partie des activités financées par Internews au Cameroun avec le soutien technique de Afroleadership est le résultat des séries formations menées par Paradigm Initiative au Cameroun en 2018. Les acteurs de la société civile actifs sur des questions numériques travaillent aussi pour faire asseoir une coalition capable de répondre aux préoccupations liées aux droits numériques.

Le chef du projet Ernest Yene, a salué la participation des journalistes, des webactivistes et autres utilisateurs des TIC. Une reconnaissance aussi à l’endroits des ONG qui travaillent pour la promotion des droits numériques au Cameroun

Bloggers, Rights Advocates Deplore Bloggers’ License Fee

By | Advocacy, ICT Policy

Tanzanian bloggers and digital rights advocates have condemned the recently introduced license fee for bloggers in the country. They made this call at a dinner organized by Paradigm Initiative in collaboration with  Article 19 and HIVOS  in Dar es Salam, Tanzania. Attendees at the July 9 dinner included a pool of local bloggers, lawyers, civil society organizations, the Dutch embassy, technical community, and media.

 

According to Wathagi Ndungu, Paradigm Initiative’s Google  Policy Fellow, “the purpose of the dinner was to discuss the effects of the Electronic and Postal Communications Regulations 2018 that placed a requirement on bloggers and any other Internet-based service to share the names of their shareholders, their details, their approximate cost of investment, tax clearance certifications, pay slightly more than 900 USD in fees that includes an initial application fee, a licence fee and a renewable licence fee after 3 years and a lot more.”

 

‘Gbenga Sesan, Paradigm Initiative’s Executive Director and Sylvia Musalagani of Hivos led an interactive discussion with the participants.

 

Wilfred Warioba from the Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance said “The new legislation is a tool that has been created to protect certain institutions. There is no room for these bloggers and online content creators to excel unless they touch on certain interests. This is a denial of the right to access to information but nonetheless, there is room for negotiation now that we are in the courts”

 

“You don’t have to be journalists to write and share any information. This new law denies new people space for innovation. Innovation through media is being stopped so how are we going to innovate through media if we are being stifled. On the economic front, it stifles the rights of the young people who have no resources but want to express themselves,” said a blogger at the dinner.

 

‘Gbenga Sesan also encouraged attendees to deliberate on the way forward in the fight against the license fee.

 

“What shall we do? What needs to be done? We should be able to have conversations around it. This is not just for bloggers. How do we let people know about this? The policy is for everyone. When an idea comes to you and you need help to you we are here to help. We always know someone who can hold hands. Let’s work together.” Sesan said.

 

Henry Maina, the regional director of Article 19 said, “Think about the reactive work e.g. where government and other actors have been ahead of us and we need to play catch up. We need the right people in the right spaces in order to move government on certain laws. It’s important to create standards because as specialists we cannot remain casual.”

 

Sylvia Musalangi of Hivos added, “We need to have more conversations on this. We need to get more voices. There is an issue on capacity in understanding the issues around this.”

 

It was agreed among all in attendance that it was vital to take immediate action and that it was paramount that all stakeholders have long-term conversations.

Freedom of expression online threatened in Tanzania

By | Advocacy, Internet Freedom

On the Monday of 11th June 2018, the Tanzanian government tightened its grip on free speech by ordering the immediate suspension of unregistered blogging sites and other online fora. Failure to suspend would lead to prosecution under Tanzania’s criminal law, forewarned the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA). The authority went ahead to explain that this move was in a bid to solve computer misuses such as hate speech, pornography, and online bullying.

Violators of the regulation will find themselves liable to paying a fine of at least five million Tanzania Shillings (2200 USD), serving a 12-month jail term or to both. This is in a bid to enforce the March Electronic and Postal Communications Regulations 2018 that requires bloggers and any other Internet-based service to reveal the names of their shareholders, their details, their approximate cost of investment, tax clearance certifications, pay slightly more than 900 USD in fees that includes an initial application fee, a licence fee and a renewable licence fee after 3 years and a lot more.

It is evident that this regulation only aims further stifle the already tight freedom of expression of the Internet in Tanzania. A popular site Jamiiforums  that is known to be used to expose unethical information on matters concerning the country continues to fight it out in court on grounds on infringement of the right to privacy of the freedom of expression. The appellate court is to rule on the freedom of expression in Tanzania but the most recent ruling was in the government’s favor.

Tanzania’s civil society  organizations have argued that “The law is part of a crackdown on dissent and free speech by the government of President John Magufuli, who was elected in 2015”

The government of Tanzania is defying International, regional and national regulation with the legislation. It is evident that they have forgotten that, “ the same rights people have offline must also be protected online,” as provided in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights-In this case the universal freedom of expression.

The exorbitant fees will only seek to ensure that bloggers from the lower end of the economic spectrum are off the net, taking away their source of livelihood and freedom of speech.

We urge that the government of Tanzania and president Magufuli recall this legislation as it grossly contributes towards the abuse of numerous human rights. We are calling on Tanzania to keep the Internet open and free.

“Suspension of Mohammed Wanigi a Flagrant Abuse of Power”- Paradigm Initiative, EiE

By | Advocacy, Internet Freedom, Press Release

Paradigm Initiative and Enough is Enough (EiE) Nigeria have condemned in strong terms the suspension of Baba Mohammed Wanigi, a school teacher with the Agaie Local Government in Niger State, in reaction to Wanigi’s alleged criticism of government officials including President Muhammad Buhari. The two civil society organisations made this known in a jointly signed press statement released today.

According to Tope Ogundipe, Paradigm Initiative Director of Programs, “The Local Education Authority of the Agaie Local Government Council, Niger state, Nigeria issued a suspension letter to one of its employees, Baba Mohammed Wanigi, a teacher in service of the Niger State government. According to the letter, the suspension was based on the teacher’s ‘active participation in politics and hate speech especially on the social media’. This is all because Mr Wanigi exercised his freedom of speech in criticising government and government officials on social media.”

“It is obvious that this act by the LEA is not only morally reprehensible but patently unconstitutional. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in Section 39 provides that every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference. This is a most basic right for citizens in a democracy,” Ogundipe said.

Every Nigerian is a key stakeholder in matters concerning Nigeria and no group or body may constitute itself as an authority to preclude its members from ‘Active participation in politics’. It makes no sense whatsoever, neither does it matter that a meeting was held with the 169 Head Teachers of Agaie Local Government Education Authority to decide against active participation in politics. The Local Government Education Authority does not have the authority to overrule the constitution or limit constitutionally-guaranteed rights.   

According to Adeboro Odunlami, a digital rights advocate with Paradigm Initiative, said, “The general definition of Hate Speech is any statement or speech that attacks a group or category of people and incites violence or prejudicial attack against them. A controversial statement is not hate speech. A dissenting opinion is not hate speech. An uncomfortable perspective is not hate speech. An unpopular stance is not hate speech. It is therefore wrong for the government to take disciplinary action against a person for no reason other than the expression of his opinion about the state of affairs and conduct of the administration.”

Also speaking on the matter, Adeolu Adekola, Program Manager of EiE Nigeria said, “As Nigeria moves towards the 2019 elections, we are concerned about politicians using this excuse and guise of hate speech to repress citizens and the opposition. Several attempts to control free speech especially on social media has been resisted and will continue to be challenged”.

“We recall the Frivolous Petition bill (Prohibition, etc) Bill 2015 sponsored by Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah had a clause that sought to regulate the use of social media and short message service (SMS) in the country. This was resisted and in May 2016, the bill was withdrawn and thrown out. Also, section 24 of the Cybercrime Act, 2015 has loopholes that are being exploited to repress freedom of expression over the Nigerian cyberspace and civil liberties,” Adeolu said. EiE Nigeria, Paradigm Initiative and Media Rights Agenda (MRA) are in court to challenge section 24 of the act.  

We therefore call on the Local Government to retract the suspension letter and decision and reinstate unconditionally Baba Mohammed Wanigi back into service. We also demand that an apology should be made to him for the gross infringement of his fundamental right to freedom of expression.

‘Gbenga Sesan Bemoans Attacks on Internet Freedom in Africa

By | Advocacy, ICT Policy, Internet Freedom, Press Release

A digital rights expert and the executive director of Paradigm Initiative, Mr ‘Gbenga Sesan has bemoaned the spate of attacks on internet freedom in Africa. Sesan was speaking at RightsCon, an international conference on digital rights recently in Toronto, Canada.

Sesan, while speaking on efforts by Paradigm Initiative and its partners to protect digital rights and freedom on the continent, said “At Paradigm Initiative, we do this annual report focused on the state of digital rights in Africa. In 2017, we looked at twenty-one African countries and one of the trends we have seen is that things are getting worse. In terms of clamp down on the media, in terms of clamp down on citizens, in terms of using excuses like national security to shut down the internet, things continue to go downhill in many countries across Africa.”

“In Nigeria, there is a new proposal on hate speech bill, and the definition of hate speech is very interesting actually, an insult is considered hate speech. So we have a situation where citizens would not be able to express themselves freely online. Next month, we will release our report on Nigeria and I can tell you right now that things are not looking great for Nigeria in terms of respect for internet freedom.”

Paradigm Initiative recently conducted an online pool on freedom of expression online in Nigeria, and it was discovered that 40% of respondents feel unsafe expressing themselves online.

Sesan also used the opportunity to talk about Nigeria’s Digital Rights and Freedom Bill that was recently passed by the National Assembly. He said the bill would ensure that digital rights are taken seriously in Nigeria and that those who violate these rights are held accountable under the law.

“We are excited about the passage of the bill by the national assembly. We hope the national assembly would expedite actions on transmitting the bill to the presidency for the presidential assent. Our hope is that the bill is signed into law before activities for the next elections in 2019 take centre stage.

Paradigm Initiative held three sessions at the international conference and all were focused on entrenching understanding of issues affecting digital rights and freedom in Africa. Other members of Paradigm Initiative at the conference were the Tope Ogundipe, the Director of Programs, and Boye Adegoke, the Digital Rights  Program Manager for Anglophone Africa.

For more information on this, please send a mail to media@paradigmhq.org.

Experts Call for Replication of Digital Rights Bill in other African Countries

By | Advocacy, ICT Policy, Internet Freedom, Press Release

Digital rights experts have called for the replication of Nigeria’s Digital Rights and Freedom Bill by other African countries. The bill which was recently passed by the National Assembly was praised by experts as a step in the good direction in strengthening digital rights on the continent.

The experts made this call at the 6th Internet Freedom Forum, an international conference organized by Paradigm Initiative, which is currently taking place at NAF Conference Centre, Abuja.

Speaking at the event, Ephraim Kenyanito of Article 19 East Africa, said, “It would be great if the Nigerian president could immediately sign the bill into law. This would be seen as a challenge to other African countries. It would be great for Nigeria to set a good example in this area.”

According to Adeboye Adegoke, Paradigm Initiative’s Digital Rights Program Manager, “The Digital Rights and Freedom Bill was drafted by a coalition of civil society, private sector and government to protect the digital rights of Nigerians in the emerging digital age. The bill is great for the protecting citizens’ rights and also great for the economy as it would energize the tech industry.”

John Edokpolo, Microsoft Nigeria Head of Legal Affairs, called on the government to enact good laws in encouraging innovation and development in the tech industry. “If you want foreign direct investment in the technology industry, you need to have a good data privacy law, among other things. It helps when businesses can help government see the economic benefits of having positive legislation around digital rights. The job should not be left to the civil society alone.”

The Forum also provided an opportunity to discuss the adversarial relationship between government and media in the digital age. Speaking at the session dedicated to the theme, Henry Maina, Regional Director of Article 19 Eastern Africa, said: “Nigeria remains one of the many African countries which still retain criminal libel laws, an unfortunate reality that simply erodes freedom.”

Tolu Ogunlesi, Special Assistant to the Nigerian President on Digital Media, said, “an effective media ensures a free society and serves as a check on government. The media should, therefore, avoid engaging in only broadcasting what different actors are saying but go beyond the press statements to finding out the truth. The media must do more to combat fake news and ensure truthfulness in their reports. While I would not campaign for government regulation of media space, I would argue for the media to be more accountable and self-regulate.”

Dapo Olorunyomi, the publisher of Premium Times, said the media was already accountable and it was the government that needed to improve transparency and its proactiveness in releasing information.

The Internet Freedom Forum also had a session dedicated to discussing the impact of intentional internet disruptions on the economy. This session, coordinated by the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law (CIPIT) at Strathmore University Kenya, analyzed the economic impact of internet shutdown on the economies of the countries that have experienced. Speakers at the session bemoaned the ease with which African countries now resort to internet shutdown without any consideration for its impact on their peoples and economy.

The Forum, which runs between April 24 to April 26, brings together experts from across some forty countries in Africa and beyond.  speakers at the event together also included ‘Gbenga Sesan, Tolu Adeleru-Balogun of Naija Info, Ana Brandusescu of Web Foundation, and Titi Akinsanmi of Google.

Stakeholders Hold Roundtable on Digital Rights and Engagement in Lagos

By | Advocacy, Press Release

Effective digital engagement by government agencies remains a big priority for the Federal Government because of its immense potential, this was the position of Tolu Ogunlesi, the Head of Presidency Office of Digital Engagement (PODE). Ogunlesi was speaking at a stakeholder roundtable on digital rights and digital engagement organized by Paradigm Initiative, Facebook, and PODE.

The roundtable, which held on February 22, in Lagos, brought together stakeholders from government agencies, the private sector, and the civil society.  It provided an engaging atmosphere for a lively debate on issues affecting internet freedom and digital engagement by government agencies in Nigeria. Issues discussed at the roundtable include data privacy and protection, law enforcement, libel, fake news, and digital engagement by the government. The roundtable followed the first edition held in Abuja last year.

Speaking at the roundtable, the Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative, ‘Gbenga Sesan emphasized the need for continuous conversation between stakeholders in the private sector, civil society and the government on digital rights issues in Nigeria. He said, “Digital right issues are far too important to our democracy and it is crucial that we engage in conversation with security agencies and public servants on how we can ensure freedom of people online while keeping the nation and citizens safe.”

In her remarks, Public Policy Manager, Africa of Facebook,  Akua Gyeke said, “Facebook is an important platform for political conversation in Nigeria, and we are happy to be a part of this. Facebook is dedicated to keeping people safe online, foster civility and responsible behavior and promoting free expression and sharing.”

Tolu Ogunlesi, who led the conversation on a proposed Digital Engagement Policy for Federal Government, said that his office was working hard on creating digital engagement standards that would guide all government offices in their use of digital tools to ensure effective communication with the public.

“There is currently no social media policy for the Federal Govt. This is understandable as social media use is relatively new in government circle. But this situation has led to inconsistency in the way government offices use digital media. We are currently working on creating a digital engagement policy for the federal government. It will provide guidelines on platforms to use, accounts administration, logo and naming standard, editorial policies, archival system, content process, and management, among other things”

Participants at the roundtable include Anselm Ozioko of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission representing the Acting Chairman of the Commission and the Acting Director of Defence Information Brigadier General John Agim, who provided perspectives from the national security and law enforcement side. Other participants are Chioma Okee-Aguguo representing the CEO of  National Information Technology Development Agency, Olufemi Fadare of the National Identity Management Commission, Olusola Teniola, President, Association Of Telecommunication Companies Of Nigeria (ATCON), Edet Ojo, Executive Director at Media Rights Agenda.

Discussing Digital Rights in an Era of Repression

By | Advocacy

By Sodiq Alabi and Boye Adegoke

As a sort of New Year gift to the online media community, Nigerian security agents arrested Tim and Daniel Elombah, the publisher and editor of elombah.com, for allegedly publishing a content the police hierarchy considered offensive. That would not be the first time a journalist or publisher would be arrested for publishing content online in Nigeria. In the last few years, several citizens have been illegally detained for online content some powerful individual or institutions found “offensive”. For instance, a popular blogger Abusidiqu was arrested in 2016 by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), a law enforcement agency in Nigeria. According to a source, Abusidiqu’s arrest was connected to his posts on EFCC Boss, Ibrahim Magu. According to the spokesperson of the Agency, Abusidiqu was arrested for offences bordering on cyberstalking.

The attack on free speech online is unfortunately not limited to Nigeria, too many other African countries are in the same boat of repression as Nigeria. From Egypt to The Gambia, from Cameroon to Kenya, citizens and journalists alike are not safe from the wrath of those in power when critical content is published online. Last February, Gambian police arrested a university lecturer and kept him in overnight detention for questioning the president’s ability to maintain national security in an interview. In April 2017, a Ugandan university teacher and social media critic of the Ugandan government, Stella Nyanzi was arrested and detained for insulting the President Yoweri Museveni. The list of victims of flagrant abuse of the right to free speech online is simply endless. While the digital space has democratized access to information and information dissemination means, governments and powerful individuals in Africa continue to put unnecessary hurdles in the way of progress.

In Nigeria and Egypt, the national governments have asserted its power to restrict access to websites they consider subversive without judicial oversight. This power that is unknown to the law, at least in Nigeria, was behind the restriction of access to some twenty websites in Nigeria, including the popular news site, naij.com, last year. Egypt is the clear leader in this department as it has permanently restricted access to over four hundred websites. Across the continent, we find obnoxious laws or policies that not only impact negatively on citizens’ rights but threaten the health of democracy and exchange of ideas. Tanzania, for example, recently introduced a regulation that would require bloggers to pay $900 every year as some sort of license fee. This regulation, if allowed to be implemented, will effectively shut down the country’s burgeoning online media space. A couple of days ago, Burundi Media Regulator suspended the online commentary column of Iwacu newspaper, for 3 months. According to the Director of the Newspaper, “the column is known to be a platform for criticism over government’s action, the country’s situation by Burundians irrespective of where they live.” Also, the online weekly newspaper Iwacu is said to be one of Burundi’s few remaining independent media outlets since 2015, when the country’s radio stations were shut down on President Pierre Nkurunziza’s orders.

Free speech online is not the only digital right that has been under attack in Africa. Access to internet service has been under severe attack. Cameroon has repeatedly shut down internet services in the Anglophone regions of the country in a futile bid to scuttle protests against the government. In fact, in 2017, the internet was off in parts of Cameroon for almost as many days as it was on. For many people on the continent, activities such as elections, public examinations and protest could mean comprehensive internet blackout. Ethiopia, Togo, Somaliland and Cameroon are just some of the countries that have shut down the internet in the last two years. Social media and messaging platforms including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Viber are currently blocked in Chad amid political tension. This is not the first time this year. Chad ordered an Internet shutdown in response to national protest action backed by trade unions and civil society organisations using social media. According to a report released by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) last year, Internet Shutdown has cost Sub-Saharan African up to US$237 million since 2015. This is to highlight the economic implications of the trend of digital rights violation in Africa.

The persistent attacks on digital rights and the poor policy framework for rights protection have led to civil society efforts geared towards resisting and ultimately correcting the sad situation. One of such efforts is the Internet Freedom Forum. For the last six years, Nigeria has hosted the pan-African forum, dedicated to conversations on internet freedom on the continent. The Forum is convened by Paradigm Initiative and supported by organisations including Microsoft, Google, Ford Foundation, Premium Times and The Guardian. The Forum brings together experts from various African countries to discuss the state of digital rights and internet freedom on the continent, and evolve effective solutions to problems confronting rights online. For instance, the 2014 edition of the Forum gave birth to a Digital Rights and Freedom Bill that was recently passed by the Nigerian legislature and is currently being studied in other countries for possible replication. The Internet Freedom Forum provides a veritable platform for Internet stakeholders in Africa and those whose work focuses on Africa to discuss and proffer solutions to the challenges. It is a meeting point for government, civil society, journalists, open web advocates and other Internet stakeholders.

The 2018 edition of the forum is scheduled to hold from April 24 to April 26 in Abuja. The Forum could not have come at a better time in 2018 as many African countries including Cameroon, Zimbabwe and Mali are preparing for elections. Election periods constitute a vulnerable period for digital rights as governments leverage the periods to curtail citizens’ rights online. The forum also comes at a time when the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal is at the centre of conversations globally and most importantly the revelations of the data analytics company’s attempt at shaping previous elections in Kenya and Nigeria. Clearly, delegates will have their hands full discussing better methods of protecting digital rights not only from the antics of government but also from businesses with less-than-ideal data privacy culture. All lovers of human rights must turn their attention to the Forum in Abuja as it is where African experts and advocates would have their say on issues confronting digital rights in Africa and evolving and strengthening Africa-led initiatives towards entrenching digital rights on the continent.

 

Sodiq Alabi and Boye Adegoke are digital rights advocates with Paradigm Initiative.

 

From April 24 to 26, Paradigm Initiative will host the Internet Freedom Forum 2018 in Abuja, Nigeria. Join the conversation.

Expert Condemns Abuse of Cybercrimes Law to Harass Citizens

By | #PINternetFreedom, Advocacy

 

A digital rights expert, Tope Ogundipe has condemned the abuse of Nigeria’s Cybercrimes (Prevention etc) Act to harass journalists and other citizens. She was speaking at the Research Methods Workshop for Internet Policy and Advocacy in Kampala Uganda organized by the Internet Policy Observatory at the Annenberg School for Communications, University of Pennsylvania.

Ogundipe, who serves as Director of Programs at the pan-African social enterprise, Paradigm Initiative, led a session on “Cybercrime, Digital Rights and Law Enforcement in Nigeria”.  She traced the origins of Nigeria’s Cybercrimes Act 2015 and its current use as the prime tool in the hands of the rich and powerful in Nigeria to facilitate the arrest and harassment of journalists, bloggers and ordinary citizens for comments made online.

She noted, “Since the passage of the Cybercrimes Act 2015, there has not been one incident where it has been used to prosecute a real cybercrime case. Instead, it has been used to arrest ordinary citizens for comments made online deemed offensive to the powerful in Nigeria

She also noted, “Journalists, in particular, have been at the receiving end of these arrests using the Cybercrime law because a large number of journalists have been arrested in Nigeria using sections 24 and 38 of the law”.

“Paradigm Initiative, in partnership with Media Rights Agenda and Enough is Enough Nigeria, in response to the use of the Cybercrime legislation in the arrests of citizens have challenged the constitutionality of sections 24 and 38 of the Cybercrimes law in court. The case has been in the courts since 2016. We lost at the court of the first instance and we are now at the Court of Appeal. Strategic litigation could be a long and drawn out process and as such patience and perseverance are required in this endeavour,” Ogundipe submitted.

During the workshop, which held between from February 26 – March 3, over 35 researchers and practitioners from across Africa were gathered at Kabira resort Kampala Uganda for an intense week of study on research methods that underpin Internet policy and advocacy on the continent. The workshop participants were drawn from 16 African countries while the faculty were drawn from within Africa, Europe and the United States.

The Workshop ended with participants asking questions from the session leader, particularly on how best to conduct strategic litigation within their countries.

 

For more information on this statement, please contact the Communications Officer, Sodiq Alabi on sodiq.alabi@paradigmhq.org.  

Shaping Digital Rights Advocacy in Africa through Policy Intervention

By | #PINternetFreedom, Advocacy

By Babatunde Okunoye & Adeboye Adegoke

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948 (General Assembly resolution 217A), is the foundation for international human rights law. Its drafting shortly after the horrors of World War 2 by representatives from different legal and cultural backgrounds across the world sought to codify for future generations what rights humans all over the world should enjoy. Informed by the atrocities of Nazi Germany which only came to light in the final moments of the war, the UDHR was drafted as a part of a process that ensured that never it repeated itself.

In relation to digital rights advocacy, Article 19 of the UDHR has been fundamental. It states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. And although we are many decades away from the destruction of the Second World War, in the 21st century we are currently enmeshed in another type of war – the war on Cyberspace. In this Cyberwar, state actors, the private sector, civil society and individuals are caught up in episodes of local and cross-country cyberattacks, cyberespionage, illegal surveillance, arrests of bloggers, journalists and ordinary citizens. This is particularly true for Africa where state actors have sought to extend the control they had over traditional media to new media channels in a bid to choke the emergence of dissenting voices.

In light of the new reality that the battle for the defence of human rights has moved to cyberspace, on the 70th anniversary of the UDHR, Paradigm Initiative will work to ensure that the digital rights of people across Africa are protected. From our offices in Lagos, Abuja, Yaoundé and Blantyre, we will host workshops across the continent where local actors are trained on digital rights; we will convene the most important voices on digital rights in Africa at our Internet Freedom Forum and we will challenge the now perennial actions of governments which impinge on digital rights, amongst several activities.

Our work in 2017 has been rewarding. As the year wound to an end, news emerged that the digital rights and freedom bill we have worked on in coalition with partners across civil society, government and the private sector had passed 3rd reading at Nigeria’s House of Representatives and now only requires concurrence at the Senate and Presidential assent to become law. The effect of this positive bill of legislation, if passed into law, will be major for digital rights in Nigeria. This is the type of impact we hope to have in 2018, as we work to defend digital rights across Africa.

The Digital Rights and Freedom Bill is a positive rights legislation which replicates and builds on the objective that the Universal Declaration on Human Rights was intended to serve. More importantly, it provides direct safeguards to new realities brought about by the contested cyberspace of the 21st century. The need for African countries to replicate this process is urgent because several African countries have an abundance of laws or legislation which seeks to repress freedom. The various forms of digital rights violations experienced across several jurisdictions in Africa over the years have been made possible because of existing repressive laws. While we will continue to work with partners across the continent to engage policymakers to push for repeals of some of these existing laws, we will also work with local stakeholders to introduce positive rights legislation across the continent. Although this might be perceived as an attempt to correct the ills of the past, it must also be viewed as a proactive approach to prevent violations in countries with fewer records of Digital Rights violations.

The United Nations took an important step in June 2016 in recognizing Internet Rights as Human Rights in United Nations Human Rights Council resolution on the “promotion, protection, and enjoyment of human rights on the internet” which condemned countries which intentionally disrupt the internet access of its citizens. The resolution stresses that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online” particularly with regards to the freedom of expression already protected by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

It is now expected of Digital Rights organizations, Human rights Organizations and Civil Society across the continent to work and engage the local processes in each country to ensure this is reflected in National Laws. Paradigm Initiative is committed to this objective and we hope to train and partner with organizations in various African countries, offering our expertise, resources and time to make this possible, so that going forward, Africa will become a bastion and model for digital rights in the 21st century.

 

*Babatunde Okunoye is Research Assitant at Paradigm Initiative

**Adeboye Adegoke is the Program Manager (Anglophone West Africa) at Paradigm Initiative.

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