Mali, Botswana and Burundi were reviewed at the 43rd Universal Periodic Review which took place during May 2nd-4th 2023. Uproar worked with partners CyberSmart Botswana and Internet Society of Mali to lobby for digital rights during the reviews. Keep reading to find out the results of UPR43 and what digital rights successes have been made for these countries.
“The amount of recommendations on freedom of expression online and off made during the 43rd session is incredibly significant. As detailed below, the recommendations made are set to make a positive impact on legislation in Mali, Botswana and Burundi, setting up all three countries for a more optimistic future for human rights. Clearly, our partners' hard work and enthusiasm in Geneva has paid off.”
Hannah Machlin, Advocacy Manager of Uproar
Although freedom of expression is guaranteed under Article 4 of the current 1992 Constitution, various laws and regulations restrict it, the most significant being Law 056-2019, commonly known as the Repression of Cyber-criminality Law.
Uproar and our partners put forward the following recommendations on digital rights for Mali, prior to their review on May 2, 2023:
- End the practice of internet shutdowns and blocking of social media platforms and ensure that restrictions to the internet are consistent with fundamental human rights norms.
- Revise and amend Law 056-2019, on suppression of cyber-crimes and Press Law 046-00 by repealing obsolete provisions like criminal defamation.
- Enact a comprehensive access to information law, in line with Mali’s international legal obligation.
Mali received 7 recommendations on the issue of freedom of expression with 1 country highlighting digital rights and a further 3 countries mentioning freedom of expression in their opening remarks:
Denmark’s opening remark states they are deeply concerned about the shrinking of civil spaces through censorship, self censorship and reprisals. They recommend Mali to guarantee a civic space without reprisals and freedoms of opinion, expression, peaceful assembly and association as enshrined in the ICCPR.
Luxembourg recommends Mali to protect civic space through guaranteeing the full enjoyment of freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association for all, in particular civil society, human rights defenders, journalists and political parties and groups, especially from the opposition.
Mexico recommends Mali ensure the professional rights of journalists, activists and human rights defenders.
In Norway’s opening statement, they acknowledge that freedom of expression is under severe pressure and therefore recommend Mali to uphold the right to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression and ensure the safety of journalists, human rights defenders and activists.
Spain highlighted digital rights, recommending Mali to guarantee freedom of expression in order to prevent harassment and intimidation against dissident voices and they also must revise the press law including decriminalisation of defamation and the cybercrime law.
Sweden acknowledges in their opening statement that freedom of expression has been curtailed and recommends Mali to ensure freedom of expression as well as allow journalists to work in an unhindered manner.
Finland recommends Mali guarantee freedom of expression and opinion, peaceful assembly and association and end all forms of arbitrary arrests, detentions and disproportionate use of force, intimidation and harassment.
Ireland state in their opening remark they are deeply concerned by the deteriorating security and human rights situation in Mali including constraints of freedom of expression.
In their opening statement, Montenegro remains concerned with reported cases of violations of civil and political rights, pressure on freedom of expression and attacks on human rights defenders.
Poland highlights freedom of expression in their opening statement, expressing Mali ensure that fundamental freedoms, especially freedom of expression are respected and investigate the cases of killings of journalists.
Prior to their review on May 2, 2023, Uproar recommended that Botswana should uphold its international and regional commitments to human rights and refrain from digital rights restrictions and media violations.
Uproar and our partners put forward the following recommendations on digital rights:
- Revise legislation and repeal provisions in the Penal Code, Cyber Crimes Act and Related Crimes Act that arbitrarily interfere with the exercise of free expression, both online and offline.
- Enact a comprehensive Freedom of Information law inline with Botswana’s constitutional and international legal obligations.
- End intimidation and harassment of journalists and others exercising their right to free expression both online and offline and hold to account those that violate journalists’ rights.
- Fully respect, protect and promote the right to privacy of persons through effective implementation of laws.
Botswana received 10 recommendations on the issue of freedom of expression:
Czechia recommends Botswana ensure freedom and plurality of media.
Germany recommends Botswana guarantee the protection of politicians, journalists and dissidents and investigate intimidation and threats against them, and eliminate from legislations all provisions that undermine freedom of press and the media.
Ghana recommends Botswana revise national legislation that might unduly restrict the right to freedom of expression.
Italy recommends Botswana strengthen efforts to ensure freedom of expression as well as independence and freedom of media; and guarantee a safe and enabling environment for journalists and human rights defenders.
Kenya recommends Botswana continue with efforts to promote rights to freedom of opinion, expression, peaceful assembly and association for all.
The Netherlands recommends Botswana contribute to the safety of civil society, including human rights defenders and journalists, by refraining from using criminal charges to obstruct freedom of expression and information.
New Zealand recommends Botswana to eliminate from legislation or provisions that undermine freedom of the press and independence of the media.
Spain recommends Botswana fully ensure freedom of opinion, expression, peaceful assembly and association.
Switzerland recommends Botswana guarantee freedom of the media and freedom of expression and information, and take measures to protect media professionals against attacks, harassment and intimidation, especially as the upcoming elections approach.
The United Kingdom recommends Botswana take effective measures to address threats to democracy by strengthening media freedom, freedom of expression and transparency and accountability.
Uproar states that Burundi should adopt a robust personal data protection law and protect freedom of expression in accordance with international human rights standards.
We lobbied for the following recommendations on digital rights for Burundi prior to their review on May 4, 2023:
- Remove sanctions against media outlets and open all the remaining media houses closed since 2015 including IWACU press house.
- End intimidation and harassment of journalists and others exercising their right to free expression, amend all press laws that unnecessarily hinder media freedom and hold to account those that violate journalists’ rights.
- Enact a comprehensive data protection law in accordance with international normative standards, to protect the right to privacy online, and provide adequate funding to support its implementation.
- Ensure that the internet, including social media and other digital communication platforms, remain open, accessible, and secure across Burundi, and that the government refrains from any future internet disruptions, especially during elections.
Burundi received 17 recommendations on the issue of freedom of expression with a further 4 countries mentioning it in their opening statements:
Argentina recommends Burundi adopt measures to ensure freedom of expression and opinion peaceful assembly and association as well as the normal functioning of civil society and human rights defenders.
Belgium recommends Burundi expedite the amendment of the law on freedom of press and adopt amendments to bring an end to intimidation and prosecution of journalists and civil society who are carrying out their rightful functions.
Canada gave two recommendations to Burundi - firstly, to take all necessary measures to guarantee freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of association and expression, free of any intimidation, reprisals or discrimination. Secondly, to repeal all restrictive provisions applied since 2015 to ensure civil societies actors including media and journalists can perform their work freely and independently, free from fear of intimidation or reprisals.
Chile recommends Burundi accelerate review of the press law in line with standards on freedom of expression and approve a law on protection of human rights defenders.
Finland recommends Burundi to allow civil society activists, journalists and human rights organisations to carry out their work without any obstruction or reprisals including by lifting the legal and financial measures targeting them.
Ireland recommends Burundi ensure a safe and enabling environment for civil society, human rights defenders, journalists and other media workers to carry out their work without fear of persecution, intimidation and undue interference.
Italy also recommends Burundi ensure freedom of expression and association and create a safe enabling environment for civil society.
In their opening statement, Lithuania expresses concern that human rights defenders, journalists and media workers have become targets of violence, harassment and intimidation. As a result, they recommend Burundi take measures to ensure that human rights defenders, journalists and media workers can exercise their rights to freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association without fear of reprisals, prosecution or intimidation.
Luxembourg recommend Burundi expedite the amendment of the law on the press in line with norms on freedom of expression and adopt a law on the protection of human rights defenders.
Montenegro recommends Burundi provide a safe and enabling environment for civil society, human rights defenders, journalists and other media workers to conduct their work independently.
Norway recommends Burundi end reprisals against human rights defenders, journalists, members of the opposition and civil society.
The Republic of Korea also recommend Burundi ensure a safe and enabling environment where civil society, human rights defenders and media workers can exercise their rights to Freedom of expression and peaceful assembly without fear of reprisal.
Slovakia’s opening statement acknowledges efforts to improve the human rights situation across the countries including adoption of laws regulating the press, and end violations to freedom of expression and media freedom such as intimidation and physical attacks against journalists. They recommend Burundi put an end to measures that intimidate journalists and human rights defenders.
Spain recommends Burundi guarantee fully freedom of expression of the press and peaceful association and assembly, allowing free activities by all media without exception, lifting prohibitions on various human rights organisations and facilitating their return to the country.
Switzerland recommends Burundi continue with and finalise the adoption of a law to protect human rights defenders that is inline with international law, notably when it comes to protecting freedom of expression.
The United Kingdom recommends Burundi identify and implement policies which facilitates an active civil society and open media, and address in particular threats to journalists and human rights defenders.
Uruguay recommends Burundi step up efforts to amend laws regulating the press ensuring freedom of expression to meet commitments made at regional and international level.
In their opening statement, Côte d’Ivoire congratulates the government of Burundi on their efforts for promoting and protecting human rights including the law on the press and the adoption of the social protection code.
Georgia, in their opening statement, is alarmed by reports of violations of freedom of expression and media freedom and reprisals against human rights defenders and members of human rights organisations.
Philippines’ opening statement recognises steps taken by Burundi to strengthen its institutional framework on human rights, most notably, the adoption of a new constitution in 2018 that guarantees freedom of expression and right to privacy.
In Sudan’s opening statement, they commend the progress made by Burundi in legal reform that covered enacting laws on the rise of the protection of persons with disabilities and the regulation of the press and social protection, and the prevention and prohibition of cybercrimes as well as the creation of the truth and reconciliation commission among others.
The efforts of our partners lobbying, both in Geneva and locally, resulted in Mali, Botswana and Burundi receiving 7, 10 and 17 recommendations on freedom of expression respectively. Although these countries impede digital rights through restrictive practices like internet shutdowns, it is great to see so many countries highlighting freedom of expression in their recommendations at UPR43.
We implore that the countries of Mali, Botswana and Burundi focus on their digital rights situations and effectively implement these recommendations so that citizens, journalists, human rights defenders and activists alike may safely experience freedom of expression both offline and online.
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