Hitting ‘Refresh’ on Digital Rights in the DRC — Livestreaming the UPR from Goma
After travelling to Geneva to try and put internet shutdowns and access on the agenda, Arsène Tungali tuned in to see whether the international community had been listening.
On May 7, 2019 the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was having its human rights record reviewed in Geneva as part of the Universal Periodic Review process (or UPR), but we were having trouble tuning in. The live-stream kept crashing, but usually came back after we’d hit the ‘refresh’ button a few times.
When the live-stream was working properly, we watched government officials — including the Minister of Human Rights, Mrs. Marie-Ange Mushobekwa — listening to recommendations from the international community about how to improve the human rights situation in the DRC.
In collaboration with Small Media and its partners, Rudi International is a member of the UPROAR coalition, which supported us to take part in advocacy and lobbying efforts to raise the profile of digital rights in the DRC at the UPR.
Although we’d traveled to Geneva to lobby diplomats at the UPR-Info pre-sessions in April, we weren’t able to go back in May for the actual review. So instead, we crowded into a meeting room in Goma to watch it all happen online.
But our unreliable connection meant this wasn’t easy. This experience clearly demonstrated why there’s such a need to support and expand high-speed connectivity across the country — it was just a frustration in our case, but on a larger scale this lack of connectivity undermines the rights of Congolese citizens to access information freely, to assemble, and to engage with core services.
Rudi International was specifically interested in following the recommendations put forward by a number of countries that we met with during the lobbying period in Geneva, to see whether they took our digital rights concerns seriously, and incorporated our suggestions into their recommendations.
Despite the fact that there are so many other pressing human rights issues in the Congo, and despite the fact that countries only have around two minutes to speak about their chosen issues, a number of them managed to touch on digital rights issues either as a component of their main recommendations, or as an advance question. This was such a great thing to hear!
Assessing Our Impact
Now that the UPR report has been distributed, we’re happy to share the outcome.
The good news is that two recommendations from Austria and Belgium now mention issues relating to internet freedom (focusing on internet shutdowns and freedom of expression online). These recommendations can be traced back directly to our meetings with human rights experts from the two countries’ missions.
Belgium — Withdraw all media closure measures and no longer resort to the practice of limiting or cutting off communications systems (such as the internet and sms), including during moments of tension or popular mobilization;
Austria — Ensure that perpetrators of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights violations, including against journalists, online media professionals, bloggers and human rights defenders, are brought to justice;
We also had some direct impact on a question made by the USA, which mentioned challenges around freedom of expression online and offline:
USA — “What steps is the new government taking to guarantee individuals’ rights to free expression and free assembly online and offline?”
Other countries we met with — including Czechia, the Netherlands, and Germany — also made recommendations or posed questions that are relevant to freedom of expression, even if they were not explicit in their treatment of “online” expression.
We have also engaged with a number of other countries via email, and shared our comprehensive advocacy document. The UK, France, and Estonia (who all received our briefings) all made broader recommendations relating to freedom of expression and the protection of media broadcasts and journalists.
Where We Go Next
It is worth to note that the DRC has been reviewed twice as part of the 2009 and 2014 cycles, but this cycle is the first time that digital rights have made it onto the international community’s agenda. At Rudi International, we’re happy to have contributed towards making this possible, through our work and advocacy.
It’s also worth noting that ALL recommendations are currently under consideration by the government of the DRC, and we don’t yet know which ones they will accept. The final decision on each of these recommendations will be made public around September 2019 — we hope they will all be supported, and call on the government to provide real support to digital rights!