About the Initiative

About the Initiative

The African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms 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 is intended to elaborate on the principles which are necessary to uphold human and people’s rights on the Internet, and to cultivate an Internet environment that can best meet Africa’s social and economic development needs and goals.

The Declaration builds on well-established African human rights documents including 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, and the African Platform on Access to Information Declaration of 2011.

Our mission is for the Declaration to be widely endorsed by all those with a stake in the Internet in Africa and to help shape approaches to Internet policy-making and governance across the continent.

Introduction

A fundamental challenge in need of urgent resolution in the digital age is how to protect human rights and freedoms on the Internet, and the African continent is no exception. The African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms was developed in response to this challenge.

Access to the Internet is increasing rapidly across the African continent, with millions of individuals getting online and engaging on a wide range of issues on social media and in other digital platforms –including political matters, governance, and social and economic development, among others.

As in other parts of the world, many African countries are beginning to adopt policies, regulations or laws to regulate and, in some cases, control the Internet. In effect, many African countries are transitioning from a low regulatory Internet environment to what is fast becoming a heavily regulated environment.

Often, these laws and regulations not only fail to protect human rights but violate established human rights norms and principles without adequate safeguards.

It is therefore clear that many governments in Africa lack both the technical and legal resources to legislate appropriately and the political will to provide comprehensive protection to human rights in context of the Internet and digital technologies.

Much of the effort to regulate the Internet and online activities appears to replicate some practices from other countries which do not protect and promote human rights in relation to the Internet and digital technologies. The tendency has been for many African governments to take problematic laws from other countries or other regions and apply them with few or no changes. Invariably, the contexts and local conditions in the countries where such laws have been adopted are very different from those where the laws were originally developed.

In addition, the policy and legislative processes in most African countries lack meaningful mechanisms for inclusive participation, with the result that many critical stakeholders, particularly from civil society, are frequently excluded.

The consequence has been the adoption of instruments which tend to invade privacy, repress freedom of expression online and violate other rights, such as the right to a fair hearing in a court of law. An analysis of these instruments shows that they often impose sanctions to punish certain types of behaviour without the requirement for due process.

Although there is a legitimate desire by governments to curb criminal activities online, particularly financial crimes and terrorist activities, there are also clear instances where the pursuit of these apparently legitimate objectives has been used as a pretext to introduce provisions to curtail criticism of governments.

The African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms therefore seeks to promote human rights standards and principles of openness in Internet policy formulation and implementation on the continent.

The Declaration was motivated by the need to develop and agree on a set of principles which would inform, and hopefully inspire, policy and legislative processes on Internet rights, freedoms and governance in Africa. The principles are expected to have broad application at national, sub-regional and regional levels. In this way, the Declaration aims to cultivate an Internet environment that conforms to established human rights standards and can best meet Africa’s social and economic development needs and goals.

History

The African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms 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 is intended to elaborate on the principles which are necessary to uphold human and people’s rights on the internet, and to cultivate an internet environment that can best meet Africa’s social and economic development needs and goals.

The Declaration builds on well-established African human rights documents including 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, and the African Platform on Access to Information Declaration of 2011.

The idea for an African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms was agreed at the 2013 African Internet Governance Forum in Nairobi, Kenya. A broader meeting was subsequently convened in Johannesburg in February 2014 to commence drafting the Declaration.

A smaller Drafter’s Group – led by Edetean Ojo (Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda) and involving Anriette Esterhuysen, Stephanie Muchai, Alimi Adamu, Nnenna Nwakanma, Charles Vieira Sanches, Sulemana Braimah, Joy Liddicoat, Beryl Aidi, Emilar Vushe, Gabrielle Guillemin and Polly Gaster – developed the text of the Declaration, based on feedback from the wider group, from an online public consultation (hosted on this website), and from many eminent individuals and organisations from a range of African and international stakeholders.

The initial meeting at the 2013 African Internet Governance Forum in Nairobi, Kenya was attended by participants from the following organisations:

 

 

For more information about the initiative please contact:

Dixie Hawtin, Global Partners Digital
dixie@gp-digital.org

Emilar Vushe, Association for Progressive Communications
emilar@apc.org

Background Documents

A number of background notes, briefs and reports have been written about the Declaration by various authors and organisations. Below is a non-exhaustive list of documents that are available for download.