The 42nd Universal Periodic Review took place across January - February 2023, with Gabon and Ghana being reviewed on January 24 and Benin on January 26. Uproar worked alongside partners Internet Without Borders, Paradigm Initiative and Human Security Research Centre Ghana to advocate for digital rights at the reviews of Benin, Gabon and Ghana respectively. Keep reading to find out the results of UPR42 and what digital rights successes have been made for these countries.
“We truly celebrate the recommendations made and hope the government of Ghana takes meaningful measures in realizing digital rights.”
Thobekile Matimbe, Senior Partnerships and Engagements Manager of Paradigm Initiative
Prior to Benin’s fourth cycle at UPR42, Uproar and our partners recommended that Benin must uphold its constitutional and international obligations to freedom of expression online and offline by ending internet shutdowns and amending the Digital Code. We lobbied for the following recommendations to be made:
- Guarantee access to the internet at all times by ensuring that the internet, including social media and other digital communication platforms, remain open, accessible, and secure across Benin including during elections. This includes removing unnecessary registration procedures for online media.
- Review and amend provisions of the Digital Code that unnecessarily restrict freedom of expression and digital rights, specifically sections that provide for prosecution and imprisonment for online content that is purportedly false.
- End intimidation, censorship and harassment of journalists and others exercising their right to free expression and hold to account those that violate journalists’ rights.
Subsequently, Benin received 16 recommendations on the issue of freedom of expression with 11 of those recommendations focused on digital rights from the following countries:
Australia recommends Benin review the impact of the Digital Code and the Electoral Code to ensure the protection of political participation.
Canada also recommends Benin review the Digital Code in order to protect the freedom of the press, particularly with regard to article 550 on harassment through electronic communications.
Costa Rica recommends Benin guarantee freedom of expression and opinion as well as reform the Digital Code to make it compatible with the right.
In Denmark’s opening statement, they acknowledge that Benin’s constitution guarantees freedom of expression under Articles 23 and 24 yet remain concerned that freedom of expression has been restricted online. As a result, they recommend Benin review and amend provisions in the Digital Code that restrict freedom of expression and rights online, specifically sections that provide for prosecutions and imprisonment of online content that is purportedly false.
Estonia recommends Benin revise the Digital Code, in particular Article 550, which unduly restricts citizens’ right to freedom of expression, notably by removing prison sentences for the offence of false information.
Lithuania recommends Benin to consider amending the Digital Code provisions that unnecessarily restrict freedom of expression and infringe on the rights of journalists.
Luxembourg recommends that Benin revise the Digital Code to align with international law and enable human rights defenders to work freely without fear.
Spain recommends Benin amend Article 550 of the Digital Code which restricts the right to freedom of expression as well as ensuring independence of the Higher Authority on the Audio-Visual Media and Communication.
Switzerland recommends Benin amend the Digital Code in order to guarantee the right to freedom of expression, including for journalists and HRDs so that it’s in line with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The United States recommends Benin allow their citizens and journalists to freely engage in discourse without any threat of harassment or arrest, including by revising the Digital Code, which unduly restricts the right to freedom of expression.
Uruguay recommends that Benin aligns the national legislation to guarantee the rights of LGBTQIA+ persons particularly the supplication of the Digital Sector Code and its implication for the freedom of expression of that group.
It was a great success to see so many countries put forward recommendations that we recommended ourselves,
Many of the digital rights recommendations highlighted the amendments to the Digital Code, which the Uproar team and partners had lobbied for.
In response to the aforementioned recommendations, Mr. Timothy Yabit, from Benin’s government delegation had the following to say:
“In line with its constitution, freedom of the media remains the rule. This is strengthened by the recent adoption of an organic law on the Senior Media-Visual Authority, an independent body which ensures respect of freedom of the press. This authority provides journalists with press cards, which is no longer under the ambit of the ministry of communication.
In regards to the digital sphere, the Digital Code has been a model for various countries in the sub-region as it reflects the vision of the government on universal access to the digital world. However, some individuals who rarely hold press cards make illegal use of the communications provided by the Digital Code and judges remind them of the legal provisions in place. Developments imposed by technology and digital resources will mean regular assessment of the quality of regulatory and legal tools to strengthen digital rights.”
Gabon was also in their fourth cycle of the UPR at the 42nd session. Uproar and partners stated that Gabon must uphold freedom of expression and information offline and online by aligning its laws and practices to international standards and halting internet shutdowns during elections. We put forth the following recommendations ahead of their review:
- Amend the Communication Code in line with best practices for international human rights and in collaboration with stakeholders such as the press & media, local and international civil society and academia irrespective of their political affiliations.
- Implement a comprehensive and rigorous reform of the High Authority for Communication (HAC). Such reform should include a review of the established law of the authority to cure all loopholes that allow for repression of on and offline media and expression. Additionally, HAC officers should be trained in international human rights standards.
- Refrain from implementing internet shutdowns
Gabon received 13 recommendations based on freedom of expression with 6 of those focusing on digital rights from the following countries:
Belgium recommends Gabon protect and promote freedom of expression both online and offline as well as the independent work of journalists.
Brazil recommends Gabon encourage the government to consider adopting a law on access to information in accordance to human rights.
Estonia recommends Gabon uphold freedom of expression online and offline by refraining from implementing internet shutdowns.
Ireland expressed concern about reports on continued restrictions to freedom of expression in Gabon, including the use of digital surveillance during elections, and the subjection of media workers and journalists to intimidation and censorship and arbitrary practices.
Lithuania recommends that Gabon strengthen the protection of freedom of expression and access to information offline and online by aligning national laws with international standards and refraining from internet shutdown practices.
Namibia recommends Gabon guarantee the freedom to seek, receive and impart information by developing and adopting a law on access to information.
In response to this, Gabon calls on the support of different partners in implementing the recommendations that they will accept.
Ahead of Ghana’s fourth cycle on January 24 at UPR42, Uproar and partners stated that Ghana should reform its Criminal Offences and Electronic Communication Acts and implement a data protection law, to uphold its international commitments to ensure freedom of expression online and off. We put forth the following recommendations:
- Repeal Articles (1)185 and (1)208 of the Criminal Offences Act,1960 (Act29) and Article 74 of the Electronics Communications Act, 2008 (Act 775) which criminalise false news in order to better protect the freedom of opinion and expression of individuals online and offline.
- Take steps in line with the Data Protection Act, 2012 (Act 843) to safeguard personal data and to prevent data breaches in violation of the right to privacy.
- Take necessary legislative measures including implementing security sector reforms in order to safeguard journalists from harassment, intimidation, and physical attacks.
Ghana received 12 recommendations on freedom of expression with 2 recommendations highlighting digital rights from the following countries:
France recommends Ghana maintain efforts with regard to freedom of the press by pursuing effective implementation of the law on right to information.
Paraguay recommends Ghana adopt necessary measures to guarantee access to information and reduce the digital divide in particular with regard to women.
Although Ghana may not have received as many digital rights recommendations as Benin and Gabon, there is no doubt that our lobbying efforts have paid off with 12 recommendations regarding freedom of expression and 7 countries commending Ghana’s Right to Information Law.
Furthermore, UPR42 is a key milestone for enhancing human rights in Ghana as this was the first time the Ghanaian Parliament participated in the Universal Periodic Review!
In this regard, on the 15th of March 2023, Uproar followed up Ghana’s review with an engagement with 17 Members of Parliament from the Select Committee on Communications where we reviewed the UPR process and discussed the outcome. In this meeting, we also highlighted Ghana’s decline in freedom of expression, falling 30 places to the 60th position, in the latest Reporters Without Borders index. The MPs showed concern and pledged to revive the country’s operational environment for both on and offline rights through legal reform.
"We hope these results will improve the digital rights situation for citizens and journalists alike in these countries as we await to see how the respective governments will take note and effectively implement their recommendations."
Cathy Anite, Director of Uproar
The tireless lobbying of our partners, both locally and in Geneva, resulted in a positive step for digital rights at UPR42, with Benin, Gabon and Ghana receiving 11, 6 and 2 recommendations respectively. This is a step in the right direction in putting digital rights at the forefront of the UPR process.
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