The South African government has yet again decided to side with repressive regimes such as Russia, China and Saudi Arabia by declining to sign the UN’s resolution for freedom of expression on the internet, an act that counters the country’s constitution.
The resolution which South Africa, among countries like India and Indonesia refused to sign, is designed to safeguard access to the internet as a basic human right and strongly encourages countries to expand access to the internet and urges them to avoid disabling internet connectivity under any circumstance, even for political or security reasons.
The resolution aims to achieve several goals, including:
- protecting the same rights online that people have offline, specifically related to freedom of expression and privacy
- recognizing the internet as “a driving force in accelerating progress” , including economic development
- preventing government harassment, including torture and imprisonment, for those who post controversial political opinions online
- requesting governments to investigate extrajudicial killings, attacks, intimidation, gender-based violence and other forms of abuse against those who post controversial material online;
- condemning government measures that intentionally prevent or disrupt access to, or dissemination of, information online; and
- requesting governments to address internet security concerns in line with their international human rights obligations.
According to www.fin24.com, South Africa voted against the internet freedom resolution for a number of reasons:
- South Africans already have a guarantee to the rights of freedom of expression and opinion, based on the constitution.
- Due to the ongoing racism debates and hate speech on the internet, South African’s do not have absolute freedom in this context
- The resolution does not cover acts of hatred online such as cyber-bullying etc.
Furthermore, South Africa was one of the 15 countries that voted against the provision and expansion of internet access in the country. This is a very disappointing move from Cape Town that has been under the watchful eye of the UN in the years following the end of apartheid.