New Law in Uganda Imposes Restrictions on Use of Internet

By Rodney Muhumuza |

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has signed into law legislation criminalizing some internet activity despite concerns the law could be used to silence legitimate criticism.

The bill, passed by the legislature in September, was brought by a lawmaker who said it was necessary to punish those who hide behind computers to hurt others. That lawmaker argued in his bill that the “enjoyment of the right to privacy is being affected by the abuse of online and social media platforms through the sharing of unsolicited, false, malicious, hateful and unwarranted information.”

The new legislation increases restrictions in a controversial 2011 law on the misuse of a computer. Museveni signed the bill on Thursday, according to a presidential spokesman’s statement.

The legislation proposes jail terms of up to 10 years in some cases, including for offenses related to the transmission of information about a person without their consent as well as the sharing or intercepting of information without authorization.
Opponents of the law say it will stifle freedom of expression in a country where many of Museveni’s opponents, for years unable to stage street protests, often raise their concerns on Twitter and other online sites.
Others say it will kill investigative journalism.

The law is “a blow to online civil liberties in Uganda,” according to an analysis by a watchdog group known as Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa, or CIPESA.

The Committee to Protect Journalists is among groups that urged Museveni to veto the bill, noting its potential to undermine press freedom.

“Ugandan legislators have taken the wrong turn in attempting to make an already problematic law even worse. If this bill becomes law, it will only add to the arsenal that authorities use to target critical commentators and punish independent media,” the group’s Muthoki Mumo said in a statement after lawmakers passed the bill.

Museveni, 78, has held power in this East African country since 1986 and won his current term last year.

Although Museveni is popular among some Ugandans who praise him for restoring relative peace and economic stability, many of his opponents often describe his rule as authoritarian.

This article was first published by the Washington Post on Oct 13, 2022

Civil Society Organisations Call For a Full Integration of Human Rights in The Deployment of Digital Identification Systems

Press Release |

The Principles on Identification for Sustainable Development (the Principles), the creation of which was facilitated by the World Bank’s Identification for Development (ID4D) initiative in 2017, provide one of the few attempts at global standard-setting for the development of digital identification systems across the world. They are endorsed by many global and regional organizations (the “Endorsing Organizations”) that are active in funding, designing, developing, and deploying digital identification programs across the world, especially in developing and less developed countries.

Digital identification programmes are coming up across the world in various forms, and will have long term impacts on the lives and the rights of the individuals enrolled in these programmes. Engagement with civil society can help ensure the lived experience of people affected by these identification programs inform the Principles and the practices of International Organisations.

Access Now, Namati, and the Open Society Justice Initiative co-organized a Civil Society Organization (CSO) consultation in August 2020 that brought together over 60 civil society organizations from across the world for dialogue with the World Bank’s ID4D Initiative and Endorsing Organizations. The consultation occurred alongside the first review and revision of the Principles, which has been led by the Endorsing Organizations during 2020.

The consultation provided a platform for civil society feedback towards revisions to the Principles as well as dialogue around the roles of International Organizations (IOs) and Civil Society Organizations in developing rights-respecting digital identification programs.

This new civil society-drafted report presents a summary of the top-level comments and discussions that took place in the meeting, including recommendations such as:

  1. There is an urgent need for human rights criteria to be recognized as a tool for evaluation and oversight of existing and proposed digital identification systems – including throughout the Principles document
  2. Endorsing Organizations should commit to the application of these Principles in practice, including an affirmation that their support will extend only with identification programs that align with the Principles
  3. CSOs need to be formally recognized as partners with governments and corporations in designing and implementing digital identification systems, including greater country-level engagement with CSOs from the earliest stages of potential digital identification projects through to monitoring ongoing implementation
  4. Digital identification systems across the globe are already being deployed in a manner that enables repression through enhanced censorship, exclusion, and surveillance – but centering transparent and democratic processes as drivers of the development and deployment of these systems can mitigate these and other risks

Following the consultation and in line with this new report, we welcome the opportunity to further integrate the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other sources of human rights in international law into the Principles of Identification and the design, deployment, and monitoring of digital identification systems in practice. We encourage the establishment of permanent and formal structures for the engagement of civil society organizations in global and national-level processes related to digital identification, in order to ensure identification technologies are used in service of human agency and dignity and to prevent further harms in the exercise of fundamental rights in their deployment.

We call on United Nations and regional human rights mechanisms, including the High Commissioner on Human Rights, treaty bodies, and Special Procedures, to take up the severe human rights risks involved in the context of digital identification systems as an urgent agenda item under their respective mandates.

We welcome further dialogue and engagement with the World Bank’s ID4D Initiative and other Endorsing Organizations and promoters of digital identification systems in order to ensure oversight and guidance towards human rights-aligned implementation of those systems.

Press Release Endorsed By:

  1. Access Now
  2. AfroLeadership
  3. Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (ADC)
  4. Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)
  5. Derechos Digitales
  6. Development and Justice Initiative
  7. Digital Welfare State and Human Rights Project, NYU Law School
  8. Haki na Sheria Initiative
  9. Human Rights Advocacy and Research Foundation (HRF)
  10. Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business (MCRB)
  11. Namati

Centre for Human Rights and CIPESA Conduct Study on Civil Society in the Context of the Digital Age in Africa

By Center for Human Rights and CIPESA |
The study on Civil society in the digital age in Africa: identifying threats and mounting pushbacks was undertaken by the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria and the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) to explore the extent of state-sponsored digital challenges that the civil society in Africa is faced with. It illustrates the challenges faced by civil society organisations and the importance of digital security measures.
Considering the digital threats contributing to the shrinking civic space on the continent, the study highlights the international and regional framework governing the activities of civil society. It further maps the national legislative and policy threats against civil society in selected African countries: Egypt, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zambia. The study shows how these digital threats not only limit the operations and existence of civic society but also impede the enjoyment of human rights such as the freedoms of association, assembly and the right to freedom of expression.
Based on the findings of the study, it is argued that civil society organisations are significant players in the democratic development and protection and promotion of human rights and thus, their operations and rights should be safeguarded. The study, therefore, calls on African governments to respect their obligations under international human rights law and adopt measures that enable civil society to perform their mandate in promoting good governance, accountability and respect of human rights on the continent, especially in the context of the digital age. The study also recommends the civil society to devise methods of countering digital threats. This could be done through the development and implementation of human rights-sensitive organisational data protection, digital security policies and enhanced organisational understanding of how they can harness digital technologies for digital security purposes. Further, the study encourages the private sector and funders to support and complement the efforts by the civil society in advancing digital rights and opening up the civic space.

Civil society in the digital age in Africa: identifying threats and mounting pushbacks


Civil society in the digital age in Africa identifying threats and mounting pushbacks

This report documents the threats to civil society in the digital age by examining the legislative and regulatory framework, as well as state action in four countries in Africa: Egypt, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zambia. The recommendations emanating from the research call for the states to revise and repeal identified restrictive laws and align them with international standards.
Download the full study here.

Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum

The Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum (DRIF) is an arena where tough topical global issues around Internet rights, especially in Africa, are discussed between civil society, technology companies, government, academia and other stakeholders. For the first time ever, the Forum will focus considerable time and energy on digital inclusion, after organising six editions that focused heavily on digital rights.
For more information on the event, click here.

African Civil Society Urged to Take Active Role in ICANN

By Marilyn Vernon |
Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are a key player in the multi-stakeholder model of internet governance. However, civil society has been absent from discussions on the technical coordination of the internet domain name system (DNS) mechanisms.
Accordingly, on January 8, 2016, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) organised a workshop in Nairobi, Kenya to encourage more African civil society participation in the organisation’s work.
At the workshop which was attended by over 50 participants from private sector, academia, civil society, and the technical community, Adam Peake, ICANN’s Civil Society Engagement Manager, noted that at the core of ICANN’s functions was the bottom-up community based consensus which promotes inclusive engagement from the global community to keep the internet open, secure and inter-operable. This gives rise to many critical issues relating to human rights online, including privacy, access to information, freedom of expression, transparency and accountability, areas in which CSOs have extensive expertise.
Peake called for more meaningful CSO participation in ICANN processes and for their increased contribution to internet governance discussions and the development of solutions to align technical processes to government accountability and public interest.
Some of the critical issues for civil society engagement in ICANN came to the forefront during ICANN’s 50th meeting held in London in June 2014. At the meeting, the Council of Europe raised concerns about ICANN’s policies and procedures regarding global public interest and the protection of human rights. The Council cited states’ awareness of their responsibility to protect the human rights of their citizens including the right to freedom of expression; states’ attention to vulnerable groups; and the need to strike a balance between economic interests and other objectives of common interest, such as pluralism, cultural and linguistic diversity. As a result, recommendations were made for developing an ICANN human rights review process and reporting.
Since then, the Cross Community Working Party (CCWP) on ICANN’s Corporate and Social Responsibility to Respect Human Rights has been created. The party aims to address several concerns, including the inclusion of a reference to human rights in ICANN’s Bylaws; defining public interest objectives; and developing a mechanism to safeguard human rights.
While recognising that CSO participation in ICANN processes is critical, participants at the Nairobi workshop highlighted various challenges. For Africa in particular, there is limited knowledge of the operations of the domain name industry. There is also limited awareness of the role and responsibilities of governments in the ICANN policy development process that cuts across national policy areas such as internet security, development, and freedom expression.
Dr. Bitange Ndemo, the former Permanent Secretary in the Kenya ICT Ministry, said the exclusion of African CSOs from internet governance policy making process limits regional and international cooperation, decreases dialogue at the national and regional levels, and discourages strategic stakeholder partnerships. As a result, an environment in which stakeholders suffer from a lack of understanding and mistrust is created, which undermines citizen-centred socio-economic public policy development.
African civil Society engagement in public policy frameworks to support the evolution of the internet takes place in various platforms. These include the African Network Information Centre (AFRINIC), the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), and the Internet Society (ISOC). Other platforms that enable civil society contributions to Internet Governance include regional Internet Governance forums like the East African IGF which, Kenya, Burundi and Uganda have hosted in the past.
In order to transform the DNS and internet industry in Africa and provide regional support, ICANN launched the Africa Strategic Plan (2016-2020). Participation in ICANN is facilitated through advisory committees, supporting organisations and working groups such as the At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC), which is structured by region and serves the African region through the African Regional At-Large Organisation (AFRALO), Non-Commercials Users Constituency (NCUC), Non Commercial Stakeholders Group (NCSG), and the Not for Profit Operational Concerns Constituency (NPOC).
Currently, there are 41 African civil society groups participating in the AFRALO, 80 members in the NCUC, two members in the NCSG executive committee, and additional African representation in the various supporting organisations and advisory committees of ICANN.
To learn more about ICANN engagement and its community-based policy making process, you can visit the ICANN resources page and the Beginner’s Guides to ICANN processes.