Association & Assembly in the Digital Era

Globally

Cybercrime laws, internet shutdowns, and social media taxes are a few tactics governments use to restrict fundamental freedoms online. In his June 2019 report, UN Special Rapporteur Clement Voule explains how these practices violate the rights to association and assembly. Technology has become integral to the exercise of these rights: it serves as both a tool for collective action and philanthropy, as well as a space to assemble and associate, especially where groups face severe restrictions to operating in physical places.

ICNL worked closely with the UNSR to explore these issues. We conducted research and facilitated consultations with civil society in Africa and Latin America, deepening the UNSR’s understanding of the sector’s needs. The meetings examined opportunities and challenges around digital civic space.

The report found that states are increasingly restricting digital civic space and that technology companies act as gatekeepers to the exercise of rights online. Activists are at risk of arbitrary content removal and account suspension due to company policies; the increasing use of algorithmic systems to enforce policies compounds challenges.

Fortunately, there is a framework to safeguard digital spaces. As UNSR Voule explains in the report, international law protects these rights, “whether exercised in person, through technologies of today, or through technologies of the future.” Existing norms and principles should dictate state conduct, as well as guide technology companies’ behavior.

ICNL’s research and the conversations with civil society allowed the report to reflect the sector’s experiences, as well as enabled the sector to contribute directly to international standard-setting on emerging trends that impact their work.

Published: December 2019

Clement Voule, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association speaking with civil society and the private sector at RightsCon 2019 about strategic ideas on implementing the report recommendations to protect these fundamental freedoms (photo credit: ICNL)
Clement Voule, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association speaking with civil society and the private sector at RightsCon 2019 about strategic ideas on implementing the report recommendations to protect these fundamental freedoms (photo credit: ICNL)

“International law protects assembly and association rights, whether exercised in person, through technologies of today, or through technologies of the future.

—UN Special Rapporteur Clement Voule

This story is from our 2018-2019 Annual Report. Each story in the report shows how our partners across the world help protect and, where possible, expand civic space.