Across the world, violations of internet rights and freedoms have been common ranging from internet shutdowns, disruptions and surveillance among others.
The right to Internet access, also known as the right to broadband or freedom to connect, is the view that all people must be able to access the Internet in order to exercise and enjoy their rights to freedom of expression and opinion and other fundamental human rights. This means that States have a responsibility to ensure that Internet access is broadly available and that states may not unreasonably restrict an individual’s access to the Internet.
Globally, there has been continuing efforts of international organizations and other stakeholders to develop principles that apply human rights to the Internet, particularly since; the Joint Declaration of 2011 concerning Freedom of Expression and the Internet by the four Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression including the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution of 2012 on The promotion, protection, and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet, the UN General Assembly Resolution of 2013 on The right to privacy in the digital age and the UN Human Rights Council Resolution of 2014 on The Internet and Human Rights.
While in Africa, these include the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the Johannesburg Principles on Freedom of Expression and National Security, the Right to Share Principles, the Necessary and Proportionate Principles, the Manila Principles on Intermediary Liability, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights of 1981, the Windhoek Declaration on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press of 1991, the African Charter on Broadcasting of 2001, the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa of 2002, the African Platform on Access to Information Declaration of 2011, and the African Union Convention on Cyber-security and Personal Data Protection of 2014.
Despite all the above instruments in place, African states continue to infringe on the internet rights and freedoms of their citizens, however, the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms were formulated; which is a Pan-African initiative to promote human rights standards and principles of openness in internet policy formulation and implementation on the continent. The Declaration elaborates on the principles which are necessary to uphold human and people’s rights on the Internet, and cultivate an Internet environment that can best meet Africa’s social and economic development needs and goals.
All African stakeholders, including regional and sub-regional bodies, national governments, civil society organizations, media institutions, and relevant technology and Internet companies, should: Formally endorse the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms and use it to develop a deeper understanding of how existing human rights apply to the internet. National governments in Africa, as principal duty-bearers, must respect, protect and guarantee the rights outlined in this Declaration by:
- Ratifying and giving effect to all relevant international and regional human rights treaties on human rights related to the protection of human rights on the Internet, through incorporation to their domestic legislation or otherwise; Adopting clear legal, regulatory, and policy frameworks for the protection of these rights, in full compliance with international standards and best practice, and with the full and effective participation of civil society and other concerned stakeholders at all stages of their development;
- Providing sufficient safeguards against the violation of these rights and ensure that effective remedies for their violations are available;
- Ensuring that national regulators in the telecommunications and Internet sectors are well-resourced, transparent and independent in their operations.
While having a meeting with government actors and Civil Society leaders on the AfDEC, Mr. Pius Mwinganiza, the Principle Information Officer with the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance said that the internet cannot stand alone, there are other factors that play along with the internet. He emphasized that the government is also concerned with the way the internet is being used and therefore a need to mitigate some of the cases that arise out of the misuse of the internet. This was in response to Mr. Gilbert Sendugwa’ s concern over the unlawful internet shutdowns in Uganda.
Everyone has the right to hold opinions without interference. Everyone has a right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds through the Internet and digital technologies and regardless of frontiers. The exercise of this right should not be subject to any restrictions, except those which are provided by law, pursue a legitimate aim as expressly listed under international human rights law (namely the rights or reputations of others, the protection of national security, or of public order, public health or morals) and are necessary and proportionate in pursuance of a legitimate aim.
It was also noted that one of Uganda’s challenges is policy implementation, calling upon all stakeholders to have an honest discussion around internet rights and how the internet can benefit all citizens. Africa Internet Rights, a Pan-African initiative to promote human rights standards and principles of openness in internet policy formulation and implementation in Africa, in one of their tweets, acknowledged that part of the implementation requires active civil society to monitor and identify loopholes in order to have a meaningful review of the policy.
Actors from the Ministry of ICT AND National Guidance ascertained that conversations are ongoing on issues regarding internet rights and freedoms in Uganda, however, they pledged to continue supporting and giving the audience to civil society on some of these engagements. It was recommended to AFIC that all laws regarding internet rights and freedoms in Uganda should be presented to parliament for amendment. This is a good step towards promoting human rights standards and principles of openness in internet policy formulation and implementation in Uganda