Judiciary Key to Protecting Freedom of Expression Online, Says UNESCO Panel  


UNESCO plans to empower judges in Africa to make informed rulings related to Internet issues, consistent with freedom of expression, by creating a new version of the massive open online course (MOOC) for the Africa region, according to Mr. Guilherme Canela, UNESCO Adviser in the Latin American region.

Mr. Guilherme Canela made this known at a side workshop organised by UNESCO and the Organization of American States’ Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, during the 11th Internet Governance Forum in Guadalajara, Mexico, December, 2016.

The workshop was attended by more than 80 participants at which discussions were made around UNESCO’s work in Latin America to improve the capacity of judicial officials on issues related to freedom of expression.

The Executive Director of the Centre for Law and Democracy, Toby Mendel opened the workshop by highlighting the key challenges facing freedom of expression with regards to the Internet. These include judges’ lack of understanding of the technical implications and the impact on freedom of expression of their decisions.

Another issue Mendel highlighted is the lack of knowledge of available options, leading to overbroad restrictions such as blocking access to different platforms to a disproportionate extent.

The Dean, Faculty of Law at the University of the Andes, Catalina Botero Marino also spoke via video message stating that “the Internet must remain an open, free, global and neutral network, and that judges should protect the conditions necessary for the Internet to provide access to information.”

Other speakers at the workshop spoke about the need for transparency in judicial decisions and also the challenges faced in dealing with the volume of cases related to Internet issues.

A specialized court on Internet issues was suggested, but unanimously rejected by the panelists since the range of issues spans many areas of existing law. Online dispute resolution and an independent administrative body were also proposed as potential alternatives to processing cases through the courts.

Concluding the workshop, UNESCO Adviser in the Latin American region Guilherme Canela explained that UNESCO plans to build the capacity of Judges through the MOOC in Latin America and by creating a new version for the Africa region. These, he said, would help them make informed rulings related to Internet issues, consistent with freedom of expression.