Inputs are being sought from Internet stakeholders from around the African continent and beyond into a draft “African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms” which outlines a set of principles that could inform internet laws, regulations and governance in Africa.
The public consultation is open until August 4, 2014 to receive feedback on the draft Declaration, which is available at: www.africaninternetrights.org. Thereafter, the text of the Declaration will be finalized ahead of the formal launch of the Declaration.
The initiators of the idea are Media Rights Agenda (MRA) in Nigeria; the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) in Ghana; the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) in South Africa; the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC); and the UK-based Global Partners Digital, which is supporting the project.
Organizations and institutions participating in the project now include: the Africa Center for Media Excellence (ACME); the Africa Centre for Open Governance; Article 19; the World Alliance for Citizen Participation (CIVICUS); Collaboration on Internet ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa; the Commission on Human Rights and Good Governance; and DotAfrica.
Other institutions and organizations are Eduardo Mondlane University; Institute for Social Accountability; Internet Society Ghana; Kictanet; Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA); Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN); Protégé QV; South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC); Support for Information Technology Center; and Web We Want Foundation.
Explaining the rationale behind the initiative, MRA’s Executive Director, Mr. Edetaen Ojo, said: “the Internet is having a tremendous impact on freedom of expression and other human rights across the African continent. But as a highly complex and fast-changing environment, the Internet also brings with it its own challenges. Many of these challenges are playing out in a unique way across Africa, where we are witnessing growing threats from governments and businesses to exercise greater control over the Internet, including, most recently, through extensive surveillance mechanisms.”
He noted that “As access to the internet increases across the continent, the broader African political leadership seems to either be learning or replicating international worst practices, or a mutual agreement to diminish the civic spaces through a series of national level pieces of legislation,” adding that “it is in this context that we have initiated this idea of developing an African Declaration on Internet Rights.”
The preamble to the draft Declaration acknowledges a number of relevant instruments and documents which seek to promote human rights in Africa, particularly freedom of expression, and the free flow of information.
It emphasizes that the internet is an enabling space and resource for the realization of all human rights, including the right to freedom of expression, the right of access to information, the right
of freedom of assembly, the right to freedom of opinion, thought and belief, the right to be free from discrimination in all forms, the right to education, and the right of access to socio-economic services.
It stresses that in order to fully benefit from the potential of the Internet, the Internet must be accessible, available, and affordable for all; but expresses concern at the increasing use of the internet by state and non-state actors as a means of violating the individual’s rights to privacy and freedom of expression through mass surveillance and related activities.
The Preamble also underscores the view that it is of critical importance that all African stakeholders make a commitment to invest in creating an enabling and empowering internet which truly serves the needs of African citizens through the adoption and implementation of the principles outlined in the Declaration.
The draft Declaration proceeds to outline a set of 13 “Key Principles” touching on: Access to the Internet and Affordability; Freedom of Opinion and Expression; The right to culturally and linguistically diverse content; Right to Social, Economic and Cultural Development; Marginalized Groups; Privacy; and Surveillance.
Other principles relate to: Net Neutrality and Net Equality; Intermediary Liability; Multi-Stakeholder Internet Policy; Governance of the Internet for Human Rights; Right to Liberty and Security on the Internet; and Right to Due Process.
The Declaration calls on all African stakeholders, including regional and sub-regional bodies, national governments, civil society organizations, media institutions, relevant technology and internet companies, to formally endorse the Declaration.
However, it also contains specific and targeted calls on a variety of stakeholders, sectors and interest groups, including: national Governments and institutions of African Union (AU) member states; the AU, its organs and institutions as well as other African regional organisations and institutions; the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); Civil Society; the Media; and business sector companies and corporations.
The drafting of the Declaration was preceded by a two-day meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, which brought together civil society stakeholders from across Africa to discuss the initiative and agree on a broad outline for the Declaration as well as the process for developing it.
The meeting also acknowledged that several important sectors, stakeholders and points of view were not represented at the meeting and agreed to embark on a wider public consultation process both online and in physical meetings across the continent to get further input which will inform a stronger Declaration.
The public consultation will be followed by another meeting in Johannesburg early in August 2014 to finalize the text of the Declaration, after which it will be formally launched at the global Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Istanbul, Turkey, early in September 2014.