South Africa voted against Internet freedom: this is why

Internet kill switch

South Africa recently voted with countries like China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar to weaken a United Nations resolution that aims to protect Internet freedom.

The draft resolution was titled “The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet”.

Following the passing of the resolution, freedom of expression organisation Article 19 expressed disappointment with South Africa.

“Democracies like South Africa, Indonesia, and India voted in favour of these hostile amendments to weaken protections for freedom of expression online”, said Article 19.

Under the resolution, states are bound to refrain from “measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online”.

This includes measures to shut down the Internet or part of the Internet at any time, such as during an election or in the aftermath of a terrorist attack, said Article 19.

South Africa votes against Internet for all

A “human rights-based approach” was also included in the resolution, to provide and expand access to the Internet.

South Africa was one of 15 countries that voted in favour of an amendment led by China and Russia to have this section removed.

Other countries which voted with South Africa included Burundi, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela.

South Africa votes against human rights online

Another amendment aimed to remove references to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and language on freedom of expression from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

States voting in favour of the amendment included South Africa, Bolivia, China, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela.

While the resolution technically passed without a vote, South Africa explained why we would have voted against it before Russia announced that they would not be calling for a vote to oppose it.

Deputy Permanent Representative for the South African Permanent Mission to the UN and other International Organisations in Geneva, Ncumisa Pamella Notutela, delivered the explanation.

South Africa would like to make an Explanation of Vote before the vote on this draft resolution.

The South African constitution guarantees the exercise of the right of freedom of opinion and expression.

However, incitement to hatred is problematic in the context where we are having our domestic debates on racism and the criminalisation thereof.

The exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression is not absolute, and carries with it duties and responsibilities for right-holders.

The draft resolution does not make reference to acts of hatred propagated through the cyberspace, including cyberbullying, despite having extensive focus on Internet and information and communication technologies.

In this context, the main sponsors are certain that the exercise of the freedom of opinion and expression, on and offline, is not subject to limitations, is a false notion.

The draft resolution omits key provisions on the permissible limitations and prohibition of hate speech under international human rights law.

Finally, Mr President, we would like to implore the main sponsors to align their draft resolution with international law.

I thank you.

Notutela’s objections to the resolution are curious considering it contains wording which deals with hate speech and cyberbullying, such as:

  • “Affirms that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression.”
  • “Stresses the importance of combating advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination or violence on the Internet.”

A video of Notutela’s explanation is embedded below.

The full resolution is available on Article 19’s website.

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South Africa voted against Internet freedom: this is why

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