#UPR33: A Pressing Need for Digital Rights Recommendations for the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Rudi International’s Arsène Tungali sets out the case for the international community to make digital rights in the DRC a priority in the 33rd session of the Universal Periodic Review.

It’s time for countries planning to make recommendations on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to take a strong stance on digital rights issues.

395 recommendations were made to the DRC during the first (2009) and second (2014) Universal Periodic Review (UPR) cycles. The Congolese government supported more than 80% of the recommendations made. But none of these recommendations touched on human rights online.

In 2009 and 2014, human rights online may not have been priority issues in the DRC. But it’s now 2019, and so many human rights violations have happened online, hence the need for more attention on the state of digital rights in the Congo.

I am in Geneva this week and attended the UPR-info pre-session on the DRC on Tuesday April 2. There were six speakers on the stage, but none of them spoke about human rights in the online environment.

Some of the issues that were touched on included the fight against gender-based violence, the rights of minority groups including pygmies and the LGBTI community, and the protection of journalists and human rights defenders.

Of course, these are very important human rights issues that still require global attention too. Indeed, without free and open access to the internet, many of the human rights issues raised by the six speakers become even more imperilled.

Myself and Mr. Michal Dvorak, Human Rights Expert, Czech Republic

Human rights online are important!

At Rudi International, we believe that everyone should be entitled to the full enjoyment of their human rights everywhere, including online. And the situation of human rights online has been terrible in the Congo since the last UPR review nearly five years ago.

The DRC has tallied up a good number of internet freedom violations with communication disruptions (that include Internet and SMS shutdowns) topping the list. The most recent full shutdown of Internet and SMS in the DRC happened, on December 31, 2018, right after the recent general elections and lasted 20 days!

Lobbying for digital rights in Geneva

On Wednesday morning I had the opportunity to meet with the Congolese Ambassador and head of the DRC Permanent Mission at the UN in Geneva, Mr. Zenon Mukongo Ngay.

During this meeting I mentioned many of these issues and encouraged him to champion this cause and use every opportunity he has to encourage the Congolese government to adopt internet freedom-friendly actions.

A copy of the advocacy document that we developed was given to him with the four top recommendations and he promised to consider them as he gets his own report ready for the review that will be held on May 7th.

Ambassador Zenon and myself right after the meeting

Other violations that Congolese citizens are facing include the surveillance and interception of communications and the censorship of some online media outlets. These violations are preventing them from fully enjoying their digital life. For a country with nearly 15% of its population being online, there is much the DRC can do to encourage more people to go online.

Putting digital rights on the agenda

Throughout the week, I have had the opportunity to meet with a dozen diplomats from different countries who have made recommendations to the DRC in previous UPR reviews and they have mentioned their willingness to make more this year.

Many of them said they plan on evaluating how many of their past recommendations have been implemented (after being supported by the DRC government) and/or will make new ones covering new emerging issues. Our ask was that they make sure they include the online aspect when redrafting past recommendations and add new ones that touch on these important digital rights issues.

We are aware that recommending countries are limited in the time they have on the floor at the UPR to make recommendations, and that the Congo has many issues going on that need to be addressed. But we are hopeful that the countries I met, as well as those I didn’t get to meet here in Geneva, will consider championing and joining our fight for digital rights in the DRC.

We have until the DRC is reviewed in May to evaluate the results of our lobbying in Geneva this week! Stay tuned.