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U.N. Joint Statement: Experts Call For Centering Digital Rights In Pandemic Recovery On Eve Of RightsCon 2021

Access Now welcomes a timely new statement from U.N. Special Procedures emphasizing that digital rights are “a top priority” to rebuild civic space amid recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The nine experts are taking part in RightsCon 2021 (June 7-11), marking the third consecutive year that Special Rapporteurs have issued a statement in light of thematic discussions to be held at the global summit on human rights in the digital age.

The experts pointed to recent instances of digital repression including non-transparent content takedowns and manipulation — as the world is witnessing in Palestine, India, and Colombia — and called upon businesses to uphold their responsibility to respect human rights. They stressed that “the opacity that prevails in the ways content is moderated by Governments and companies reinforces global perceptions of discrimination, inefficiency and censorship. There is an urgent need for transparency.”

“The diversity and scope of issues addressed within the mandates of the nine U.N. experts speaks to the heightened role of technology — and the need to center digital rights — in the pandemic recovery. We are thrilled to have such a robust presence of U.N. Special Rapporteurs and members of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights in this year’s RightsCon program,” said Peter Micek, U.N. Policy Manager at Access Now. “The statement decries patterns of abuse accelerating digital inequalities and discrimination against users most at risk, reminding states and the tech sector to undertake systemic efforts to reach those most affected.”

“We look forward to continuing to engage with the U.N. experts at RightsCon and beyond to address the intersection of technology within their mandates through a human rights-centered and intersectional lens,” said Laura O’Brien, U.N. Advocacy Officer at Access Now. “As we recover from the pandemic, we cannot understate the value of civil society engagement with U.N. experts.”

The experts warned particularly “against using the pandemic as an excuse to rush forward ‘digital transformation,’ as exemplified in digital vaccine certificates, without prioritising foundational digital rights safeguards” — a call that Access Now emphasizes.

The nine Special Procedures and their mandates include: Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Clément Voule, the right to peaceful assembly and association; Olivier De Schutter, extreme poverty and human rights; David R. Boyd, human rights and environment; Gerard Quinn, the rights of persons with disabilities; Tlaleng Mofokeng, the right to physical and mental health; Irene Khan, freedom of expression; Mary Lawlor, the situation of human rights defenders; and the Working Group on Business and Human Rights — Dante Pesce, Surya Deva, Elżbieta Karska, Githu Muigai, and Anita Ramasastry.

See the 2019 statement, issued at RightsCon Tunis and signed by three experts, and the 2020 statement, issued at the first virtual RightsCon and signed by six experts.

Follow along for more news coming out of RightsCon 2021.

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