On 24 June 2020, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights published a report to the Human Rights Council on the impact of new technologies on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of assemblies, including peaceful protests.
The report notes as follows: “New technologies, in particular ICT, have a positive, transformative potential. These technologies enable people to exercise the right of peaceful assembly and related rights through their use: in mobilizing for and organizing peaceful protests; in forming networks and coalitions; and in becoming better informed about assemblies and the reasons behind them, thus driving social change. New technologies may also be useful in increasing transparency and accountability for violations and abuses that may occur during protests.”
The report also notes that, despite the positive developments, the use of technology has also enabled dangerous and hateful speech against certain groups, as well as gender-based discrimination, attacks and violence, including violence against women and girls. Such online violence has led many to self-censor or limit their online interactions, restricting people from exercising their rights, including the right to peaceful assembly.
According to the report, given the importance of the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly for democracies, states must ensure that this right can be enjoyed to the greatest extent possible. Furthermore, states should endeavour to fully understand the causes behind protests, including structural discrimination, restrictions on fundamental freedoms and socio-economic inequalities. In addition, more effort is needed from states to ensure accountability for human rights violations and abuses in the context of assemblies, and all victims should have access to a remedy.
With regard to new technologies, the report cautions that such technologies bring considerable risks to those wishing to engage in peaceful assemblies, including the potential use of such technologies to surveil or crackdown on protesters, leading to human rights violations. These new technologies are being developed at a rapid pace, and are often deployed without the application by states or companies of human rights due diligence and in the absence of a regulatory framework that is in line with human rights norms and standards. According to the report, this can result in the spread of surveillance, the reduction of online civic space and a chilling effect on the right to peaceful assembly.
The report concludes with recommendations for states regarding internet-based technologies as enablers; network shutdowns; surveillance; and facial recognition technology. The report also includes recommendations for business enterprises.
The report is accessible here.
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