UPR43 Pre-Session in Geneva: Lobbying for Digital Rights in Botswana, Burundi and Mali

Uproar and partners CyberSmart Botswana and Internet Society of Mali attend the Pre-Sessions in Geneva

Dodo Wang, Uproar

August 29, 2023

Ahead of the latest 43rd Universal Periodic Review, Uproar and partners CyberSmart Botswana and Internet Society of Mali travelled to Geneva for Pre-Sessions 43 to lobby for digital rights in Botswana, Burundi and Mali.

This was held at the United Nations’ Geneva office Palais des Nations between 3-6th April 2023, with Botswana being held on the 3rd and Burundi and Mali being held on the 4th. As the Pre-Sessions were conducted online from 2020-2022, it has been great for the Uproar network to be able to attend in person again.

These Pre-Sessions were introduced during the second cycle of the UPR in 2012, allowing for National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to engage with representatives of the recommending States under Review (SuR) prior to UPR. It also offers an opportunity for permanent missions to learn directly about the human rights situation in the countries under review.

This empowers the Uproar network to engage directly at the UN, by lobbying policymakers in person in order to uphold digital rights and related legislation.

Hannah Machlin, Advocacy Manager of Uproar, travelled to Geneva along with our partners David Moepeng of Cybersmart Botswana and Malick Maiga of Internet Society of Mali.

The Internet Society (ISOC) is an American nonprofit advocacy organisation founded in 1992 with nearly 130 chapters and Special Interest Groups (SIG) and 88 organisation members spanning across 180 countries. The ISOC-Mali chapter was established in 1998 in order to promote and educate on Internet usage in Mali through means such as participating in conferences and training members, NGOs and the general public. They also support the State in the development of strategies such as the National ICT Policy and the Mali Digital Strategy.

Malick Maiga is a telecommunications engineer from Institut National des Télécommunications et des Technologies de l'Information et de la Communication (INTTIC) located in Oran, Algeria and serves as the officer of the Mali chapter.

Cybersmart Botswana is a CSO that aims to educate the public on cybersecurity by running awareness campaigns in order to promote safe practices and procedures online. Most recently, the initiative launched The African Cybersmart Network, a union of non-profit organisations working collectively to promote cybersecurity awareness throughout Africa. The aim of this network is to unite all similar organisations across Africa in order to share resources and work together, engaging in regional exchanges.

David Moepeng, Cybersecurity Awareness Specialist and lead coordinator of the African Cybersmart Network, also spoke on the panel discussion on Botswana, highlighting the importance of how digital rights are human rights.

Speaking on the experience of working with Uproar and attending the Pre-Sessions, this is what Moepeng had to say:

“In an era where, as society increasingly becomes digitalized, effective digital governance becomes a necessity, the UPR Process is a perfect platform for engagement on ways to advance human-centric digital policies. Coming from a country like Botswana, where despite the government aggressively driving digital transformation, the voice of civil society and other watchdog structures, has been silent, it was therefore ground breaking for Cybersmart Botswana and Small Media to bring to the fore, the effect of Botswana’s digital and media policies on human rights.

Participating in the UPR process and working with the Small Media Team also exposed me, as a digital rights activist, doing advocacy at the highest level at the UN, to best practice, not only in terms of the use of UN systems to advance human rights, but in the review of polices and presentation of arguments for change.”

Ahead of the 43rd Universal Periodic Review, these were the recommendations given for the aforementioned countries.

Mali was reviewed on May 2 at 14:30 - 18:00 CET / 13:30 - 17:00 GMT. We put forward the following recommendations on digital rights:

  • 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

Botswana was reviewed on May 3 at 9:00 - 12:30 CET / 8:00 - 11:30 GMT. We suggest the following digital rights recommendations:

  • 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 in line 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.

Burundi was reviewed on May 4 at 9:00 - 12:30 CET / 8:00 - 11:30 GMT. We suggest the following digital rights recommendations:

  • 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.

To see the results of UPR43 and what recommendations Mali, Botswana and Burundi received, read our blog post here.

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