Reaffirming the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights of 1981, the Declaration of Windhoek 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, and the African Platform on Access to Information Declaration of 2011;
Emphasizing 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;
Recognizing the responsibility of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) companies to respect and protect the human rights of their users as consistent with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights;
Recognizing the roles being played by many African and international organizations including NEPAD’s e-Africa programme, the African Union Commission’s Information and Communication Directorate, and UNESCO’s Regional Informatics Network for Africa project in promoting the internet in Africa;
Affirming that in order to fully benefit from the potential of the Internet, the Internet must be accessible, available, and affordable for all;
Affirming further that the internet is a progressive space for the enjoyment and exercise of political rights and the promotion of open and participatory democracy;
Concerned 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;
Mindful of the efforts of international organizations and others to develop principles applying human rights to the Internet including the Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and the Internet of the four Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression of 2011; the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution on The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet; and the UN General Assembly resolution on The right to privacy in the digital age of 2013;
Convinced that it is of critical importance that all African stakeholders make a commitment now 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 below
Access to the Internet and Affordability
Access to information and knowledge is a fundamental right and is essential to the enjoyment of other universal human rights and fundamental freedoms that contribute to inclusion, empowerment, social justice and the democratic participation of citizens on the continent.
States, Internet Service Providers and other relevant actors should facilitate universal access to the Internet by making it widely available and providing adequate infrastructure for its efficient functioning, including access to electricity supply and sufficient bandwidths to enable all persons to utilize its potential for raising their voices, improving their lives and expressing their creativity.
States and Internet Service Providers should promote the best possible level of Internet connectivity at affordable and reasonable costs for all with particular initiatives for under-served areas and communities.
States should put in place regulatory mechanisms, including pricing regimes, universal service requirements and licensing agreements that foster unfettered and non-discriminatory access to the Internet.
In addition, States should have policies that are clear and ambiguous and that promote access to information and freedom of expression, including online, and they should further recognize that this will encourage investment.
Service providers should be provided with incentives and strongly encouraged to make internet access available to all at an affordable cost. States should provide direct support to facilitate Internet access by establishing necessary infrastructure facilities, such as community based ICT centers and tele-centers, libraries, community centers, clinics and schools.
The right to access the Internet should not be subject to any restrictions except those which are provided by law; are necessary and proportionate in a democratic society to protect national security or public order, or public health or morals, or the rights and freedoms of others; and are consistent with the other rights recognized in this Declaration, provided that any restriction may be applied only in accordance with the due process of the Law.
Cutting off or slowing down access to the Internet, or parts of the Internet, for whole populations or segments of the public can never be justified, including on public order or national security grounds.
Access to information on the Internet should be facilitated by states implementing the principles of open governance online.
Media and information literacy to empower all internet users in their accessing the internet should be promoted, including by institutionalizing programmes in schools.
Freedom of Opinion and Expression
States have an obligation to guarantee the right to freedom of opinion and expression on the internet including the right to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, regardless of frontiers.
The right to freedom of opinion and expression on the internet should not be subject to any restrictions, except those that are necessary for the respect of the rights or reputations of others, for the protection of national security or of public order or of public health or morals. However, any such restrictions must be proportionate, limited to those that are necessary in a democratic society, and must follow clearly defined processes as laid down by law.
The right to culturally and linguistically diverse content
States and other actors should recognize that linguistic and cultural diversity enrich the development of society by giving expression to a range of different values and ideas. They should accordingly develop and promote mechanisms for facilitating cultural and linguistic diversity on the African continent.
States should promote technological evolution and innovation; create and encourage the development of websites, online tools and software that enhance local and intercultural content exchange, technical development and simplify the exchange of information across language barriers. States should promote free or low-cost training opportunities and methodologies and materials related to using internet by ethnic communities, as well as preserve and promote the diversity of cultural expression through the creation of varied information content and the digitization of the educational, scientific and cultural heritage.
States should recognize the right of individuals and communities to use their own language to create, disseminate, and share information and knowledge through the Internet. Special attention should be given to promoting access for minority languages, including promotion of the technology and content required to access and use domain names, software, services and content in minority languages and scripts.
States should adopt policies which encourage the development of means for processing and enabling access to information resources in local languages such as standard character sets and language codes, dictionaries, online translation tools and application software.
In addition, States should encourage the development of computer applications such as “translator applications” to help individuals and communities receive information in local languages.
Right to Social, Economic and Cultural Development
The right to development includes the enjoyment of all rights related to the Internet as the Internet has a critical role to play in enabling citizens to achieve the full realization of economic, social, cultural and political development as recognized in the UN Declaration on the Right to Development, 1986.
The availability of diverse media content and languages, which are relevant and meaningful for all peoples and cultures, is imperative for the full enjoyment of human rights while the task of eradicating poverty, hunger and disease requires that citizens to be empowered through reliable and quality information as well as inclusive platforms which give them a voice in public affairs.
Information and communication technologies should accordingly be designed, developed and implemented in a manner that contributes to sustainable human development and empowerment.
In addition, developing the competencies of citizens in media and information literacy is essential in ensuring that consumers of media products have the skills to find, evaluate and engage with various types of information, including those relevant for their social, economic, cultural and political development.
States should accordingly adopt policies and create an environment which enable other actors to pursue initiatives in this regard.
States should respect the right of all people to use the Internet as part of their right to dignity, to participate in social and cultural life, and to respect their human rights. Special attention should be paid to the needs of marginalized groups including the elderly, young people and children, ethnic and linguistic minorities, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, sexual minorities and rural constituencies, which are especially important on the African continent.
Everyone has the right to privacy online including the right to control how their personal data is collected, used, disclosed, retained and disposed of. The right to privacy on the internet should not be subject to any restrictions, except under very limited circumstances, and where such restrictions are necessary for the protection of national security, or public order, or public health or morals, or to protect the rights and freedoms of others. However, any such restrictions must be proportionate, limited to those that are necessary in a democratic society, and must follow clearly defined procedures as laid down by law.
Personal data or information must be deleted when it is no longer necessary for the purposes for which it was collected. The public should be warned about the potential for misuse of data supplied. Government bodies and other organizations have a responsibility to notify people when the information has been abused, lost, or stolen.
Every individual has the right to communicate anonymously on the Internet, and to use encryption technology to ensure secure, private and anonymous communication.
Mass surveillance or indiscriminate surveillance of people and the monitoring of their communications is a violation of the right to privacy or a ‘disproportionate restriction on the right to privacy’. Mass surveillance should be prohibited by law.
Whenever it is necessary to monitor online communication whether upon reasonable suspicion of commission or involvement in the commission of a serious crime, appropriate safeguards, including strong parliamentary and judicial supervision and oversight must be put in place to prevent abuse, and such interference must follow clearly defined processes as laid down by law.
States should recognize the right of the individual to send and receive electronic communications free from fear of surveillance, monitoring, interception or any other violation of the rights to privacy and freedom of expression.
As called for by the UN General Assembly in November 2013 in its Resolution on the Right to Privacy in the Digital Age, all states should review their policies on surveillance and ensure mechanisms for adequate transparent and independent oversight.
Net Neutrality and Net Equality
States should protect and promote the architecture of the Internet as a vehicle for free, open, equal and non-discriminating exchange of information, communication and culture. There should be no special privileges for, or obstacles against, any party or content on economic, social, cultural, or political grounds. However, nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as preventing affirmative action designed at ensuring substantive equality for marginalized peoples or groups.
No one should be held liable for content on the Internet of which they are not the author. The State should not use or force intermediaries to undertake censorship on its behalf and intermediaries should not be required to prevent, hide or block content or disclose information about Internet users or remove access to user-generated content, including those that infringe copyright laws, unless they are authorized to do so under an order of a court. Censorship or surveillance measures where necessary, should never be delegated to a private entity.
Alternatives such as notice-and-notice procedures should be considered, instead of “notice and take down” procedures which currently encourage intermediaries to withdraw content rather than face possible legal action.
The extent that intermediaries operate self-regulatory systems, and/or make judgement calls on content and privacy issues, all decisions made should be in terms of international standards for what limitations may be legitimate. There should also be provision for appeal, and for adequate transparency.
Multi-Stakeholder Internet Policy
Everyone has the right to participate in the governance of the Internet. The development and implementation of Internet governance arrangements should ensure, in an open, transparent and accountable manner, the full participation of governments, the private sector, civil society, the technical community, the academic community, disadvantaged groups and other users, through an open inclusive processes, taking into account their specific roles and responsibilities.
Governance of the Internet for Human Rights
The Internet and the communications system should be governed in such a way as to ensure that they uphold and expand human rights to the fullest extent possible. The process must be driven by principles of openness, inclusiveness and accountability, and exercised in a transparent and multilateral manner.
Right to Liberty and Security on the Internet
Everyone shall be protected against all forms of crimes committed on or using the Internet including bullying, cyber-stalking, people trafficking and misuse of one’s digital identity and data.
Everyone has the right to enjoy secure connections to and on the Internet including protection from services and protocols that threaten the technical functioning of the Internet, such as viruses, malware, phishing, and DDoS attacks.
Right to Due Process
Everyone has the right to due process in relation to any legal claims or possible violations of the law regarding the Internet. Standards of liability, including defenses in civil cases, should take into account the overall public interest in protecting both the expression and the forum in which it is made (i.e. the need to preserve the ‘public square’ aspect of the Internet).
In light of the above, we call 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 African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms
National Governments and Institutions of AU member states to:
- Take immediate steps to end acts of violence, harassment and other human rights violations committed against individuals because of the exercise of their human rights and fundamental freedoms on the internet
- Take immediate measures to stop unlawful interference with freedom of expression including in relation to internet
- To ensure that all internet-related laws and policies are clear, transparent and in line with the principles contained in this Declaration.
- Adopt data protection laws and specific laws to regulate digital surveillance, in line with human rights principles.
- Ensure that national telecommunications regulators are truly independent.
- Ensure transparency in the use of universal access funds.
- To incorporate digital literacy into the school curriculums and where practicable, ensure that school children have access to Internet enabled devices.
- Establish national and regional Internet Exchange Points
- Establish permanent, well-resourced, multi-stakeholder bodies at the national level to guide internet policy (using the Brazilian Internet Steering Group as a model)
The African Union, its Organs and Institutions as well as Other African Regional Organisations and Institutions:
- The Africa Union should encourage sharing of best practice among African states about how to improve internet access for all sectors of society.
- The Africa Union should lead on creating a common African Programme of Action on Internet Governance which will ensure that Africans rights on the Internet are promoted and upheld, and that African concerns are recognized in the global internet governance regime
- The African Union should develop programmes to build capacity of African institutions (including national human rights commissions and courts) to understand and protect human rights online.
- UNESCO should formally endorse this Declaration
- UNESCO should develop model laws on data protection,
- Promote the advancement of social and cultural rights on the Internet as well as the use of local languages and local content online.
- Civil Society should scale up internet advocacy as a fundamental enabler to free just and secure society by engaging international agencies, national governments, Internet and technology companies, among others, to redress the disparities of access that currently exist, violations such as surveillance and other forms of cyber insecurity
- Consider the issues raised in the Declaration and refer these to national authorities and institutions for consideration in their specific contexts
- Monitor the development and adoption of internet laws and regulations and assess their conformity with the principles outlined in this Declaration and other regional or international instruments.
- Highlight human rights and internet issues in their periodic reports to treaty bodies
- Communicate with the African Special Rapporteur on measures to uphold freedom of expression in relation to the internet
- Popularise this Declaration and the principles outlined in it.
- Undertake awareness creation activities across all sectors of the society, particularly among marginalised and disadvantaged communities, about the importance of the Internet as a tool for social and economic development.
Business Sector Companies and Corporations:
- African companies and other companies that are active in Africa should internatlize and apply the “Respect, Protect and Remedy” framework to fulfill their duties to uphold the internet rights of Africans.
- African companies and other companies that are active in Africa should issue transparency reports detailing government requests for user data and to remove content – and to work with civil society and academia to ensure that the transparency reports are constantly improving as an accountability mechanism.
- African companies and other companies that are active in Africa should invest in affordable access for all by building an Internet infrastructure that will deliver the highest possible speed to all, and support ICT literacy programmes.
- African companies and other companies that are active in Africa should operate ethically and in accordance with human rights principles.
- African companies and other companies that are active in Africa should invest in online tools, software and applications that enhance local and intercultural content exchange, technical and simplify the exchange of information across language barriers.