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U.N. experts at RightsCon: digital rights violations enable and escalate violence during crises

Digital platforms and tools play an integral and growing role in crises, conflicts, and war.” 

As RightsCon 2022 — the world’s leading summit on human rights in the digital age — concludes, the work to drive global change continues. 

Access Now welcomes a timely U.N. Special Rapporteur joint statement that draws the world’s attention to digital rights in conflict and humanitarian crises, released at the conclusion of the 11th iteration of the global summit. 

The five U.N. Special Rapporteurs  — who actively engaged at RightsCon on June 6-10 — emphasize that digital rights violations enable and escalate offline violence, deepening conflict and humanitarian crises worldwide. In particular, they shone the spotlight on “shrinking civic space and rising digital authoritarianism through internet shutdowns, targeted surveillance, cyber and physical attacks on critical broadcast and communications infrastructure, the use of drones by domestic law enforcement, as well as disinformation and smear campaigns,” during such crises — where they ultimately stressed “the need for accountability under international law.” 

“Access Now commends the U.N. Special Rapporteurs for drawing attention to digital rights violations, particularly during this critical juncture in history,” said Laura O’Brien, Senior U.N. Advocacy Officer at Access Now. “Rising authoritarianism, climate change, and systemic injustice continue to attack  human rights both online and off. Joint efforts like this statement thrust some of the most pressing intersecting issues onto the international stage,  and remobilize political will at the U.N. and beyond, building momentum for worldwide action.” 

The U.N. experts also called attention to the radical impact of digital technologies on any humanitarian response. They highlighted the dependence on digital identity programs particularly the collection of sensitive biometric data as a condition to access humanitarian aid despite dangers to human rights.

“From Ukraine to Ethiopia to Myanmar, the international community needs to double down on efforts to combat the human rights violations these  U.N. experts raise,” said Felicia Anthonio, #KeepItOn Campaign Manager at Access Now. “World leaders, including the U.N., Member States, and the private sector, must listen directly to those impacted by the weaponization of the internet — including through deliberate internet shutdowns — that dismantles human rights, and provides cover for atrocities.” 

The U.N. Human Rights Council’s 50th session — which started this week — provides an opportune moment for such leadership and collective action. For more information on digital rights focused priorities at HRC50, stay tuned for Access Now’s Delegate Brief

For an in-depth dive into the issues unpacked at RightsCon 2022, visit  Access Now’s YouTube channel and explore the session videos now publicly available.

Read the full statement.