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Internet Governance

Towards Enhanced Cooperation on Human Rights

Some reflections on the IGF, the Internet and human rights

In a previous blog I argued how important it was holding the 2012 IGF meeting in Baku, as it provided an amplifier for discussing local and global human rights issues.

Further to the relevance of the IGF as a space to foster awareness and enhance discussions on human rights issues, the significant number of IGF sessions related to human rights at this year’s IGF and the diversity of stakeholders involved in those discussions also reflected an important trend towards considering online rights issues from a multi-stakeholder perspective. Human rights have traditionally concerned primarily Governments and civil society. However, this status quo is now changing with all actors of the Internet being fully sensitive towards human rights concerns. This further reflects an angle of enhanced cooperation that should not be taken lightly.

Technology fosters opportunities for expressing opinions and ideas on a global scale, but the same technical features can be used in ways that restrict or repress such expression. There are plenty of challenges for human rights online, also in countries with strong democratic traditions. Emin Milli, the Azeri blogger mentioned in my previous blog, as well as other local bloggers and activists made point that the issue is not only about restrictions of freedoms online, but also the risk of being persecuted following one’s online activities. This aspect was mentioned several times in Baku as the right for freedom of speech should not, fundamentally, stop at the level of expression, but should extend beyond expression, thus manifesting the importance of freedom “after” expression.

The respect of human rights in the online environment can be extremely complex and cover multiple dimensions, and the multistakeholder model is best suited to deal with complex issues. In this regard, the notion of enhanced cooperation within and between existing organizations of the Internet ecosystem is both relevant and pivotal in the context of human rights. Enhanced cooperation is about adopting shared approaches, it is about recognizing that each stakeholder has one piece of the puzzle and that we need to collaborate to complete the bigger picture. From this perspective, enhancing cooperation among relevant stakeholders reinforces human rights. To the extent, therefore, that human rights can be best promoted through a framework of enhanced cooperation, this can help inform more general discussions and frame new directions on the way enhanced cooperation should be interpreted within the wider Internet governance discussions.

The IGF is of course an ideal place to share opinions and best practices on human rights-related issues, providing a space for stakeholders to socialize and offering the opportunity to shed light on local challenges. It is essential, however, to extend and encourage cooperation beyond the IGF, and to identify new ways to collaborate and participate in other relevant processes (e.g. Human Rights Council, civil society and business initiatives, open standards development, etc.).

As we look forward to Bali for the next meeting of the Internet Governance Forum in 2013, let us use the year ahead of us to make progress in fostering a rights-respecting Internet.

– Markus Kummer