This year, International Human Rights Day is commemorated under the theme: Recover Better – Stand Up for Human Rights! Paradigm Initiative joins the world to commemorate this day, reflecting on the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. Because everyone is human, they are entitled to inalienable rights such as the right to life, human dignity, and equality. During the COVID-19 pandemic which constituted most of the challenges faced within countries across the globe, lives were lost and the right to health and education became a priority for human rights protection. In Africa, many were left behind in accessing education and health care following the exposition of inefficient healthcare systems and technology deficient education sectors.
In a UN/DESA Policy Brief #61: COVID-19: Embracing digital government during the pandemic and beyond, governments were urged to deploy effective digital technologies to contain the outbreak. It was highlighted that the crisis has exposed the need for government leadership in the development and adoption of new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics to ensure an effective provision of public services. The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the importance of technology, but also the pivotal role of an effective, inclusive, and accountable government. The United Nations has highlighted that information and communication technologies have been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response. The crisis has accelerated the digitalization of many businesses and services, including teleworking and video conferencing systems in and out of the workplace, as well as access to healthcare, education, and essential goods and services.
According to PIN Community Manager, Thobekile Matimbe, as we reflect on our fundamental rights and freedoms, it is critical to highlight that digital rights are human rights. Digital rights are the rights that have enabled education in our African countries and provided a platform for the enjoyment of quality life. As we embrace the new normal, we urge African States to ensure better recovery from the effects of the pandemic by embracing technology and enabling internet access to marginalized communities and vulnerable groups, she added.
In ensuring that information relevant to human rights protection is accessible, PIN reminds African States to adhere to Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Principle 37 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa (the declaration) which provides that States shall facilitate the rights to freedom of expression and access to information online and the means necessary to exercise these rights. States are also called to recognize that universal, equitable, affordable and meaningful access to the internet is necessary for the realization of freedom of expression, access to information, and the exercise of other human rights. The declaration further states that in providing access to the internet, States shall take specific measures to ensure that marginalized groups have an effective exercise of their rights online as well as adopt laws, policies, and other measures to promote affordable access to the internet for children that equip them with digital literacy skills for online education and safety, protect them from online harm and safeguards their privacy and identity.
During the pandemic and beyond, it is pertinent that discrimination and inequalities are left behind in favor of a bridged digital divide and closed inequality gap. PIN is ever ready to partner with governments and the private sector to ensure we recover better during the pandemic.
To celebrate the day and bring the theme to life, PIN is launching a digital rights toolkit for human rights and other civil society actors. In a comment by PIN’s Executive Director, ‘Gbenga Sesan, “PIN and its partners are launching Ayeta, a Digital Rights Toolkit to prepare civil society actors for when their work puts them in harm’s way. The virtual launch will hold at 11 am GMT, on December 10, and you can join the event by signing up at https://bit.ly/AyetaLaunch. Recent events across Africa, some of which are captured in our upcoming Digital Rights and Inclusion 2020 Report, make this year’s Human Rights Day theme a lot more apt and I hope that Ayeta proves to be a useful tool in digital rights protection.”