[IRP] Thinking about how we use rights in our work on internet governance

Lisa Horner lisa
Thu Jun 18 12:01:03 EEST 2009

Hi all


Following on from our discussion about rights, I was reading a report last night that some colleagues of mine have done on whether human rights approaches make a difference in efforts to combat poverty.  They identified three main ways that human rights standards, language and values can be useful.  It set me thinking about whether it would be useful for us to define how and why we use rights language when talking about internet governance issues, aside from the straightforward reason of upholding basic standards of humanity.  


My stab at it is below, drawing on their categorisation.  I think the work on the APC charter spans categories 1 and 2, whilst attempts to uphold ?existing? rights in the UDHR might fall into categories 1 and 3.  Just some initial thoughts?could be useful?.




How do we ?use? human rights in internet governance?


1) Using human rights to think about the ethical dimensions of the internet - an analytical framework

?         A human rights approach highlights that poverty has multiple dimensions, including a lack of access to information and basic services.

?         Human rights enshrine legal and social entitlements ? how can the internet help us to realise those entitlements?

?         Human rights values include the dignity and autonomy of people, raising the question of what this means on the internet.


2) Using human rights to mobilise communities and alliances

?         Mobilise affected communities

?         Connect disparate actors for social change

?         Elevate the voice of people living in poverty/denied basic entitlements.

?         Using rights to reframe debate about the internet.


3) Using human rights as a framework for accountability 

?         Human rights provide benchmarks for measuring the ethical dimensions of the internet.

?         At international levels e.g. through civil society shadow reporting to international bodies as a tool for domestic justice.

?         Using legal process to realise rights and fight poverty.

?         Human rights as a framework for public service delivery.



From: Parminder [mailto:parminder at itforchange.net] 
Sent: 17 June 2009 16:50
To: Lisa Horner
Cc: anriette at apc.org; rights at lists.apc.org; irp
Subject: Re: [IRP] APC rights charter / Internet bill of rights


Hi All

First, a comment on the APC Internet rights charter. As is universally recognized, it is one of the most comprehensive work in this area. However, we think the time has come that we replace 'affordable' access to the Internet' to 'a right for all to a basic access to the Internet'. It is on the lines of UDHR's treatment of primary education, which is seen at a different level than higher forms of education. Access to primary education is considered as a right, to access free of charge if necessary, and if the context demands. 

In most other areas, civil society is supposed to lead in formulating new areas of rights and then often as a consequence of great amount of struggles these are incorporated in constitutional and legal systems. However in case of basic access to the Internet as a right, it is indeed unfortunate, and perhaps instructive of some structural issues with the civil society/ other actors active in this arena, that governments seem to have picked up this 'right' before civil society, and the latter is still ambivalent on this issue. EU/ CoE seem to have gone furthest but sentiments favouring basic internet access as a right are expressed by many in government circles, including in the US. Why cant we make up our mind on this. What really are our problems with seeking 'a right to the Internet' which starts with a 'right to basic access to the Internet' and will go on to include basic skills, content etc? I think we need to discuss this issue here. 

The second comment I will like to make is on this dichotomy between old and new right, something which I have never been able to understand. What could be the basis of freezing the political evolution of our societies as it was at a certain point in the middle of the last century. What if someone insists that the freeze should be applied at some much earlier point, when our societies were semi-feudal. I am not being sarcastic, I really have never been able to understand this 'lets stick to the existing rights' position. Any further clarification will be very welcome. 

Is is that if the WHO and others today get together to formulate a 'right to health' we will be against it as formulating a new right? Such a right apart from having an impact on development policies, can also have an significant impact on global regimes like of IPR in areas of essential drugs. What about disability rights, they are also 'new' in many respects? Are we against these new rights, including the path-breaking work done recently in negotiating a UN convention. 

I also cant understand this distinction between global legal human rights and national level political rights. All rights are political. And if anything a right, if instituted, is more 'legal' at the national level than at the global. 

Any freezing of the political evolution of our societies is a partisan political stand. And it is disrespectful of the numerous popular movements in the developing world that have used the language of rights to make new claims, to fight various kinds of exclusions and marginalisations.

> if we change the "rights" to "shoulds", whilst keeping each section under the UDHR rights... 

Lisa, I understand that you are advocating that all  'rights' not mentioned in  UDHR  should be expressed  in the language of 'should' and not 'rights'. In that case, you would be against using the terms 'disability rights' and 'right to health'. I dont think many in the global progressive civil society will be ready to go with such a stance. I am laboring this point because I think this represents a difference which is very basic in how we see the emerging information society. People I work with see it as a new emerging social paradigm, with fundamentally altered social realities in many aspects, which often requires new social contracts, implying new rights. The basis of equity and social justice that underpins all rights frameworks remain the same, however. It is this framework that needs to remain unchanged rather their contextually derivative concepts of 'rights'. 



Lisa Horner wrote: 

Thanks for your detailed reply Anriette - it's really helpful to give the editing process a bit more context.
My personal take on the "new/old" rights debate is that the charter would still have popular appeal if we change the "rights" to "shoulds", whilst keeping each section under the UDHR rights...so it'd be a real translation of international rights standards for the internet age.  I think it wouldn't detract from popular appeal, would still be pushing the boundaries in terms of calling for maximum rather than minimum standards, and would also have the added benefit of bringing "new rights skeptics" on board!  I also think it would make the charter still stand as an important advocacy tool, but in addition would make a better platform for dialogue with business and government stakeholders. 
But as you say, any decision or discussion on this shouldn't alter the content/spirit of the work.
The inclusion of communication rights in the constitution of Ecuador (and Jaco's example in Costa Rica) is fantastic.  I was working with Agora Democratica in Ecuador recently and heard first hand about the work done by Valeria and others.  But the work is part of the process of translating international legal *human* rights into national civil and political rights. The provisions in the constitution are effectively translating the human right to FoE expansively and enshrining it in national law.  Basically, I think it's really important to distinguish between international human rights and national political rights.  As this is an international charter and we already have international legal rights, I think the focus should be on translating those to apply to the medium of the internet. 
But I'm not a lawyer either!  Maybe those on the list who are (and aren't!)could feed into the discussion.  Without of course distracting from the important process of defining the substance of the principles/rights, which is something I will get on to contributing to shortly!
All the best,
-----Original Message-----
From: Anriette Esterhuysen [mailto:anriette at apc.org] 
Sent: 15 June 2009 11:55
To: Lisa Horner
Cc: rights at lists.apc.org; irp
Subject: Re: [IRP] APC rights charter / Internet bill of rights
Dear Lisa
A few answers from me. Other colleagues from APC can add. We are all a
bit swamped right now as we are en route to board and staff meetings in
Argentina, finishing our audit, board reports and so on :)

	Sorry for joining this discussion so late, and thanks again to APC for
	inviting our participation in the review of the charter.  I just have
	a couple of questions to the folk at APC, and a couple of wider
	 APC - Would it be possible to give us a bit of background about why
	you?ve decided to review the charter? 

This is the second major revision of the charter. The charter was first
developed in 2000/2001, and revised in 2006. 
Because we tend to use the charter as a frame of reference in our policy
advocacy we are quite aware of its strengths, but also its weaknesses.
We have always assumed that it would need to be udpated from time to
time and work as a living document. But perhaps there is a different
route, and you kind of describe that below.
Conceptually however, because the APC charter is premised on the
're-interpretation of existing rights frameworks' in contemporary
contexts, it would need to be updated from time to time as these
contexts change.
On Fri, 2009-06-12 at 14:15 +0100, Lisa Horner wrote:
Hi all

	 I think that might help guide the editing process.  What was the
	process of creating the original charter, and are there any specific
	issues that you think now need to be addressed?

The charter emerged from two processes: (1) APC's first internet rights
project in Europe, dating back to 1999. This was a time when civil
society activists first realised that the internet was not going to
remain free and open. Who remembers Echelon?
(2) APC's regional ict policy monitor projects in Latin America and
Africa, which started in 2001 and focused not just on human rights on
the internet, but also access and affordability.
We needed a 'checklist' to help local organisations involved in policy
analyse and advocate from a rights perspective (a lot of new ICT
policies were being formulated at the time, particularly in development
countries, but also at regional level in Europe). 
We were part of earlier processes, notably Cees Hamelink's people's
communications charter, but we felt that we needed something new, and
internet specific. Not long after the APC IR charter came out CRIS also
drafted a charter, which we participated in.
But tactically APC decided to avoid the conflict between the 'old
rigths' and 'new rights' movements prevalent at the time.
Therefore our charter is rooted in the principle of re-interpreting
existing rights. You can read more about how we developed this approach
in a bottom-up way with our members in Asia, Africa and Latin America in
"Involving civil society in ICT policy" which APC co-published with CRIS
in 2003.

	 Did you have feedback from different people about what might make it
	more useful, and how do you envisage using the charter in the future? 

Both versions were developed in a rush. The first one perhaps more so
with the primary authors being APC staff who were not rights experts.
The second draft had some input from a human rights lawyer and on, e.g.
privacy, from a privacy expert.  But still most of the writing was done
by us.
In general we get extremely positive feedback from people working at
national level on the charter. They feel it helps them understand what
is meant when people talk about human rights on the internet. And it
helps them think about what kind of policies they want, or that they
don't want.
We were amazed by the spontaneous way in which APC members and partners
translated the document into multiple languages.. (22 or 23 now). We
felt the document still had loads of weaknesses, but for many people it
made a lot of sense.
We tried to bring it to the attention of the 'Bill of rights' group from
the outset, but it was only when Max took this on board that we

	 Finally, is there a timescale/deadline for this?

That is up to you and this group. The updating is now a collective
process. But always a good idea to set a timeline.

	IRP coalition members ? When the coalition name changed from ?bill of
	rights? to ?IRP?, there was a fairly large contingent of people who
	were keen to still work on an internet bill of rights.  But there
	haven?t been any responses to this invitation from APC to work on this
	charter.  Is there any reason for that?is this the kind of thing that
	people had in mind?  Or is it just a case of not having enough time?I
	know we?d all like more of that!


	Finally, I was wondering about the use of the term ?rights? in the
	charter.  I personally fall into the camp of people saying we don?t
	need new rights for the internet ? just that we need to interpret and
	apply the human rights that are already enshrined in international
	law.  I think that initiatives like this charter are an important way
	of doing that, and I realise that the charter explicitly says that
	that the new rights are rooted in the UDHR.  But for me, the
	statements in the charter are ?principles? that flesh out the meaning
	of our human rights in the context of the internet.  I think that a
	wider range of people might engage with the charter if we simply
	change ?all people should have the right to?? to ?all people should be
	able to? or other such language.

Yes, if we stick to the principle of reviving and re-interpreting
existing rights that would be the way to go.
Personally, my own perspective is rather open at the moment. 
As a human rights activist (not expert) I started working on the APC
Internet Rights Charter believing very strongly in not arguing for new
However, with recent success in Ecuador where APC and other
communications networks argued sucessfully for the inclusion of
information and communication rights in the new constitution I am
beginning to wonder if the anti-new rights stance does not make
political sense.
The truth is, as the purist human rights organisations who don't like
talk about 'new' rights know... the UDHR is not that widely respected,
or enforced. In many countries where governments are actively anti-human
rights one could potentially get further by adopting a 'new rights'
This is a question of strategcy and tactics, and does not mean we should
change the spirit of the charter... but it should be kept in mind.

	This may seem like semantics, but I think it might make a significant
	difference to how the wider human rights community and other
	stakeholders view the charter.  However, I?d still like to participate
	in this process if we stick with rights.  But I just wanted to open
	the discussion up to see what people think?

My personal wish for this process is one that I have had since working
on the first draft in 2001....  to strengthen the document so that it
has greater credibility and robustness in terms of existing rights
frameworks - but without losing its popular appeal.
I want the involvement of people that have expertise in international
law, in human rights law, that understand the mechanics of legal and
rights language, but that are also willing to accept that they can be
quite alienating in their approach and use of language.
My question is, I guess, if we can combine this approach with the kind
of popularisation of internet rights awareness that we have been fairly
successful in?  
We still need a charter that can contribute to building a global
movement, and that can be used on an everyday level at national level by
people who are still struggling for these rights.

	All the best,
	From:irp-bounces at lists.internetrightsandprinciples.org
	[mailto:irp-bounces at lists.internetrightsandprinciples.org] On Behalf
	Of karen banks
	Sent: 23 May 2009 08:48
	To: anriette at apc.org; Max Senges
	Cc: irp
	Subject: Re: [IRP] Right to Freedom of Movement: Partnering with APC
	to review the Internet Rights Charter
	hi all

		One quick question: should we use our mailing list as communication
		channel for discussions about changes or do you have a seperate list

	Or, just use the wiki?
	We do have a list setup - rights at lists.apc.org - which might be easier
	to use for discussion - as opposed to comments on charter revision..
	are people happy moving discussion to rights at lists.apc.org ?
	you can subscribe here:
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