AfDec supports regional initiatives addressing impacts of COVID-19 measures on digital rights

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The Secretariat of the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms (AfDec) Coalition has launched a Rapid Response Fund to assist members of the Coalition reviewing national-level emergency response initiatives and policies aimed at COVID-19 prevention, containment and treatment, within the context of AfDec objectives and principles.

Governments across the continent have implemented different measures to address and combat COVID-19. These measures have proven to be repressive and have relegated human and digital rights – for example, the right to freedom of movement, the right to access to information and the right to privacy – to the sidelines.

The AfDec Coalition is concerned that these repressive measures might be the beginning of further and exacerbated violations of digital rights, particularly because they are being implemented in countries that have scant digital rights protocols. Given that history has shown that systems adopted to mitigate crises have remained in place after the mitigation of the crisis – for example, surveillance systems in the United States employed to address the 9/11 attacks – the AfDec Coalition recognises the importance of monitoring and documenting the impact of COVID-19 responses on digital rights.

The recipients of Rapid Response Fund grants, therefore, address and tackle some of the implications of COVID-19 responses on digital rights through audio and visual documentation, comparative analyses and research papers. While the different initiatives undertaken by the grantees are country-specific, the recurring underlying theme is an effort to enhance the protection of digital rights on the continent in line with the AfDec principles on internet rights and freedoms.

Below is a list of the initiatives that will be undertaken by the grantees under the Rapid Response Fund:

 

1.Promoting and defending digital rights during the COVID-19 pandemic

The Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), with the help of the Rapid Response Fund, aims to conduct research on the Ugandan government’s response to COVID-19 and its impact on digital rights. AFIC’s research methodology involves engagement with the Ugandan public on policy issues relating to the COVID-19 responses implemented by the government and video documentation of victims of repressive governance during the pandemic.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the government of Uganda has put in place different measures to help curb the virus, including contact tracing initiatives, curfews and partial lockdowns. While these measures are restrictive, within reason, they have also raised concerns about the violation of digital rights; for example, more than 5,000 individuals have been arrested for expressing their concerns and grievances through social media. Moreover, the government of Uganda has also passed a law criminalising the spread of “fake news” related to COVID-19. While this law might be well intentioned, there is a risk of infringement on people’s digital rights, in particular, freedom of expression, access to information, the right to privacy and personal data protection.

Therefore, AFIC proposes to reflect on the impact of the government’s response to COVID-19, focusing on key AfDec principles such as internet access and affordability; privacy and data protection; security; and stability and resilience of the internet.

 

2. Research on the impact of COVID-19 containment measures on digital rights in Senegal

The Association des Utilisateurs des TIC (ASUTIC) will be conducting research to measure the scope of the impact of COVID-19 containment measures on digital rights in Senegal. In its effort to combat COVID-19, the Senegalese government has declared a state of emergency and imposed a strict curfew. These harsh measures, while justifiable, have significant impacts on rights, both offline and online. ASUTIC will be monitoring the impact of the enforcement of the state of emergency on digital rights by collating information from the press and testimonials from individuals, in order to ascertain the impact that the government’s response to COVID-19 has had on digital rights during this period.

 

3. Analysis of COVID-19 regulatory frameworks and their impact on digital rights during and post the pandemic

Endcode, through the assistance of the Rapid Response Fund, aims to conduct a comparative analysis on six (6) African countries’ COVID-19 regulatory frameworks – both new legislation and amendments to existing legislation. This analysis responds to Endcode’s observance of digital rights violations under the auspices of laws enacted and enforced to combat COVID-19. Endcode thus aims to analyse and disseminate risks and violations to different online rights enabled by regulatory frameworks across the continent.

 

4. Mapping case studies that demonstrate trends of online gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic

The Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTAnet) will be publishing a mapping of case studies that show trends of online gender-based violence in Kenya during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the beginning of its curfew in response to COVID-19, Kenyans have witnessed a rise in state-mandated violence, both online and offline, and women have been disproportionately affected by it. Therefore, this publication will highlight issues related to AfDec Principle 13 on Gender Equality in an effort to advocate for the protection of women’s rights and freedoms both online and offline.

 

5. Respecting digital rights while addressing COVID-19 in Cameroon

PROTEGE QV’s key objective is to produce a research paper on the respect of digital rights during the COVID-19 pandemic in Cameroon. The government of Cameroon has put in place several initiatives and measures to address COVID-19 and is using the internet and social media as one of its main sources of communication. The government has been regularly updating its citizens on the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 through digital platforms. The main purpose of this paper, in line with AfDec’s objective of ensuring that national internet regulations and policy frameworks respect fundamental rights online, is to analyse the government’s use of internet resources while fighting COVID-19 within the context of the AfDec principles and the effect that this has on digital rights.

 

6. Monitoring human rights online in the Democratic Republic of Congo during COVID-19

Rudi International will be publishing a position paper on the theme of human rights online during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The main objective of this research paper is to educate the population on the current pandemic and how it affects online behaviours. Rudi International aims to gather information from different stakeholders, such as lawyers, journalists and activists, via a workshop that will reflect on and assess the use of the internet and human rights online during the COVID-19 pandemic.