In a vote which held on July 1, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) agreed to affirm an expanded resolution on online rights.
It is debatable how far the affirmation of online rights will go to change attitudes of governments, in this case, African governments to the rights of citizens online.
This is because, the UN is not itself an enforcement body and often has to rely heavily on shaming countries into acting the right way or along their prescribed lines.
Prior to the UNHRC acceptance of the expanded resolution, Russia and China had tabled three amendments to the text but these were rejected by the sponsor countries who argued they were an attempt to dilute its focus. The resolution was directed towards; “the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet”.
It was submitted to the UN by Brazil, Nigeria, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey and the US. The current resolution is not the first online rights adopted by the UNHRC, it however goes further than previous resolutions to check things like Internet censorship — emphasizing the importance of an accessible and open Internet to the achievement of development goals, and calling for accountability for violence, detentions, harassment and other violations against people for expressing themselves online.
This affirmation by the UNHCR if it had the needed fire power, would halt incidences in Africa where internet or social media sites are shut down for events like elections. It would also reduce greatly the arrests or persecution of journalists or satirists who are critical of their governments.
Unfortunately however, apart from being a nod to the ‘needfulness’ of freedom online, the adoption of an online human rights resolution by the UNHRC doesn’t really change anything in practical terms.
The state of human rights online will no doubt continue to be a treacherous landscape, where any reckless move by unprotected individuals could be rewarded by a steep, negative price.