Category Archives: thought, expression & association

UN Transitions from Peacekeeping to Governance, amid Crisis in Haiti

Security Council Considers Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace
Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

As oversight bodies call for restraint amid ongoing protests in Haiti, the United Nations is ending its 15-year peacekeeping mission in the country. [IACHR Press Release; UN News: Protests] On October 16, 2019, a special political mission, the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH), replaced the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH), shifting the UN’s focus from law enforcement to governance. [UN News: Security Council] The UN Secretary General appointed Helen Meagher La Lime, a citizen of the United States, as the Special Representative for Haiti to head the BINUH, which is charged with promoting and strengthening political stability and peaceful relations, good governance, and human rights. [UN Press Release] The MINUJUSTH and its predecessor, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), leave behind a mixed legacy, marred with controversies ranging from sexual abuse to a cholera epidemic. The new special political mission will begin its work in the midst of an economic crisis, fuel and food shortages, and ongoing violent protests against President Jovenel Moïse that have resulted in at least 30 deaths since September 2019. [Washington Post; UN News: Security Council]

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African Commission Finds Violations in Cameroon’s Denial of Broadcasting License

CAL representative addresses ACHPR
ACHPR in Session

ACHPR in Session
Credit: IJRC

On September 18, 2019, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) published a decision finding Cameroon responsible for violating the rights to freedom of expression, non-discrimination, and property of a media company and its director, when it failed to create an independent licensing authority that could grant the company’s radio station a broadcasting license. See ACommHPR, Open Society Justice Initiative (on behalf of Pius Njawe Noumeni) v. the Republic of Cameroon, Communication No. 290/2004, Merits Decision, 25th Extraordinary Session (2019). Drawing and elaborating on jurisprudence from other regional and international human rights bodies, the Commission concluded that the lack of independent and transparent licensing procedures limits diversity in broadcasting and is contrary to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter). See id. at para. 171.

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Inter-American Court to Address Gender-Based Violence Against Journalists in Conflict

Jineth Bedoya
Credit: CIDH via Flickr

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will, for the first time, address States’ obligations to prevent gender-based violence against female journalists in conflict zones, in the case of Jineth Bedoya Lima, a Colombian journalist who was kidnapped, tortured, and raped despite the State’s prior knowledge of threats against her due to her work as a journalist. [IACHR Press Release; CEJIL (Spanish only)] On July 16, 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) presented Bedoya Lima’s case to the Court because Colombia has so far failed to implement the IACHR’s recommendations in its merits report, which was issued in January 2019. [IACHR Press Release; CEJIL] The IACHR’s decision to refer the case to the Court marks the latest step in Bedoya Lima’s fight against impunity, and presents an opportunity for the Court to develop its jurisprudence on States’ obligations related to sexual violence against female journalists and restrictions on press freedom. [IACHR Press Release; CEJIL] The merits report is not yet available online.

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African Commission Seeks Input for Revised Freedom of Expression Declaration

ACHPR Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information
Credit: Lawrence Mute via Twitter

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) is revising its Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa to address new technological advances, online activity, and internet restrictions throughout Africa, and is requesting input from stakeholders. [ACHPR Press Release] The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa invites comments from civil society, States parties, and others on a new draft Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa. [ACHPR Press Release] The Draft Declaration, currently available in English, French, and Portuguese, follows from a series of resolutions adopted by the African Commission in 2012 and 2016, mandating updates that better address the impact of the internet and digital technologies on the right to freedom of expression and access to information. [ACHPR Press Release] Civil society submissions should be emailed to the Secretariat of the African Commission at by July 1, 2019. [ACHPR Press Release]

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Council of Europe Adopts Declaration on Artificial Intelligence and Personal Autonomy

In a new declaration on the impact of the use of algorithms on democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers warns that artificial intelligence and other machine-learning technologies must not be used to unduly influence or manipulate individuals’ thoughts and behavior. See Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, Declaration by the Committee of Ministers on the manipulative capabilities of algorithmic processes, Decl(13/02/2019)1, 13 February 2019. The first of its kind, the declaration calls on States to take steps to ensure that technologies facilitating algorithmic persuasion, particularly those that “micro-target” individuals, do not interfere with people’s ability to enjoy their human rights and to make independent political, personal, and purchasing decisions. See id. at paras. 8, 9. The Declaration, which builds on ongoing study and analysis by Council of Europe organs, adds to the growing body of guidance and recommendations concerning the regulation of machine learning to safeguard human rights, including from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression. Read more

Human Rights Experts Condemn Continuing Internet Shutdowns in African Countries

ACHPR Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, Lawrence Murugu Mute
Credit: Lawrence Mute via Twitter

A number of African countries have drawn international criticism amid a wave of internet shutdowns aimed at restricting access to information and discourse on social, economic, and political issues. Between December 2018 and January 2019, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Gabon, and Zimbabwe cut off access to the internet in response to protests. [ACHPR Press Release: Shutdowns] Human rights groups and experts have condemned these moves as illegal acts of repression, citing violations of the rights to freedom of expression and access to information. [ACHPR Press Release: Shutdowns; OHCHR Press Release; Access Now Press Release] While the internet shutdowns in Africa contribute to a trend of increasing shutdowns around the world, the international response demonstrates that internet access is now recognized as essential to the exercise of human rights.

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European Court: UK’s Mass Interception of Online Communications Violated Rights

European Court of Human Rights
European Court of Human Rights

European Court of Human Rights
Credit: CherryX via Wikimedia Commons

On September 13, 2018, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that the United Kingdom’s bulk collection of online communications and its collection of data from communication service providers (CSPs) violated the rights to privacy and freedom of expression. See ECtHR, Big Brother Watch and Others v. the United Kingdom, nos. 58170/13, 62322/14, 24960/15, ECHR 2018, Judgment of 13 September 2018. Although the Court did not rule that mass collection is inherently a violation of privacy, disappointing many privacy advocates, the ECtHR held that such programs must have adequate safeguards to protect against abuse. [Sky News]

The decision is the first time that the ECtHR has reviewed the UK’s surveillance program since whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013, which revealed cross-border government surveillance efforts, including those by the UK intelligence agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) to intercept millions of private communications. [Guardian] The ECtHR did not consider the legality of the 2016 legislative amendments to the UK’s surveillance program, which followed the Snowden disclosures and are currently being challenged domestically. [Guardian] Read more

UN Experts, Civil Society Welcome FIFA’s New Complaint Mechanism

Michel Forst, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

On May 29, 2018, the international governing body for soccer, Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), launched a complaint mechanism for human rights defenders and journalists ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, garnering praise from United Nations experts and civil society members. [FIFA Press Release: Mechanism; OHCHR Press Release; CPJ Press Release; HRW: Daily Brief] The new complaint mechanism will accept complaints from human rights defenders and media representatives who allege that their rights have been infringed while engaging in work related to FIFA’s activities, which span around the globe. [FIFA Press Release: Mechanism] FIFA intends to address complaints through engagement with third parties, including State officials, using FIFA’s influence to prevent, mitigate, or remedy rights violations when they occur. See FIFA, Statement on Human Rights Defenders and Media Representatives (2018). The creation of this mechanism followed calls from civil society for FIFA to establish a process to address complaints from media and human rights defenders. [HRW: Press Freedom] The United Nations Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises called the mechanism “a very positive move.” [OHCHR Press Release] Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (Ruggie Principles), businesses such as FIFA have the responsibility to respect human rights, avoid complicity in human rights violations, and ensure that victims of human rights violations as the result of their business activities are adequately remedied. See Human Rights Council, Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, UN Doc. A/HRC/17/31, 21 March 2011, at 13, princ. 11. Read more

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