IGF 2023 Main Session on Human Rights

Wednesday, 11th October, 2023 (05:00 UTC) - Wednesday, 11th October, 2023 (06:50 UTC)
Plenary Room


Upholding Human Rights in the Digital Age: Fostering a Multistakeholder Approach for Safeguarding Human Dignity and Freedom for All

Date and Time: Wednesday, 11 October 2023 from 14:00 to 15:30 Kyoto time

Human Rights and Freedoms

Digital technologies open new possibilities to promote and advocate for human rights, spanning civil, political, cultural, economic, and social domains. New digital tools reshape how information is accessed, opinions are formed, and discussions are catalyzed, thereby redefining the very essence of the "public square."  As observed in the IGF Messages 2022, they can, however, also be equally used by private tech companies and state authorities to suppress, limit and violate human rights, for instance through dis- and misinformation, hate speech, online harassment, censorship, internet shutdowns, surveillance, and manipulation. Particularly during critical periods of political unrest, elections, and power transitions at the local, national or international level, there is a heightened risk of human rights abuses that need to be effectively addressed. The misuse of digital technologies also tends to disproportionately affect marginalized individuals and groups, leading to inequality and discrimination - both online and offline.

This main session will shine a spotlight on the pressing need for global cooperation and governance to promote and safeguard human rights in the digital age, such as privacy, data protection, freedom of opinion and expression, including freedom of assembly and association, the right to life, liberty and security of person which is relevant for the prevention of hate speech, the right to education and work, and non-discrimination of individuals and marginalized groups. 

Global cooperation on digital matters plays a pivotal role in promoting transparency, accountability, and due diligence regarding human rights. To strengthen the monitoring and implementation of human rights on a global scale, we need robust international implementation and monitoring arrangements within the UN system. Multistakeholder engagement is key to formulating and implementing these monitoring arrangements, drawing on lessons learned from existing structures in digital development and rights, and other domains like climate change (IGF Messages 2022). This responsibility extends to all stakeholders, encompassing intergovernmental and international organizations, governments, the private sector, the technical community, civil society, and academia. The IGF has solid experience in multistakeholder engagement on which we can build. 

By adopting a human rights-based approach during upcoming negotiations on the Global Digital Compact and beyond, we can forge a path towards a digital future that is inclusive, peaceful, and based on human dignity and freedom for all. At the heart of this session lies the recognition that human rights should serve as an ethical compass in all aspects of internet governance and the design of digital technologies. By working together, we can create the internet we want that empowers people, aligns with recognized ethical standards, mitigates harm, and fosters positive societal impact for current and future generations. 

Policy questions:


  • How can the IGF further strengthen its role as a catalysing platform for fostering global cooperation and coordination among international organizations, governments, civil society, academia, and the private sector based on a global multistakeholder approach?
  • And specifically considering the negotiations of a Global Digital Compact:
    • What role could the IGF play to help prioritize human rights in the digital age in the development of future policies and institutions (e.g. the establishment of a human rights advisory body)? What partnerships should it try to establish? 
    • How could the IGF support the establishment of international mechanisms that build on multistakeholder engagement to ensure effective and transparent implementation, monitoring, evaluation, and compliance with human rights?

Session Agenda: Open Panel Discussion 


- Dr. Cameran Hooshang Ashraf, Human Rights Lead, Wikimedia Foundation and Central European University Department of Public Policy

- Dr. Eileen Donahoe, Special Envoy and Coordinator for Digital Freedom, US State Department

- Prof. G. Peter Kirchschlaeger, Director, Institute of Social Ethics, University of Lucerne

- Mallory Knodel, Chief Technology Officer, Center for Democracy & Technology

- Dr. Marielza Oliveira, Director, UNESCO Communications and Information Sector's Division for Digital Inclusion, Policies and Transformation, UNESCO

- Frederick Rawski, Head of Human Rights Policy APAC, Meta

- 'Gbenga Sesan, Executive Director, Paradigm Initiative and member of the IGF Leadership Panel


- Peggy Hicks, Director, Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures, and Right to Development Division, OHCHR


- Dr. Evelyne Tauchnitz, MAG Member


Human Rights & Freedoms
Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)
Human rights and human dignity constitute a minimal ethical standard and baseline. Human rights need to be place at the centre of any governance framework of digital technologies, including AI. Basically all risks and threats arising out of AI such as data privacy, manipulation, surveillance, freedom of expression and assembly, hate speech, dis- and misinformation, are in their core all human rights considerations.
Human dignity and personal freedom which lie at the core of human rights recognizes that all people – independent of their gender, nationality or religious or political beliefs – are worth of protection, that all people have something worthwhile to contribute and to share. We need to make sure that everybody has access to the negotiation table. This may require systemic change and effective tackling of gender based digital violence.
Call to Action (* deadline 2 hours after session)
Governments have the obligation to make sure that human rights are implemented in practice. For this, they need to invest in capacity building and training of policy-makers and judges to make sure that there is effective remedy in case of human rights violations. At the same time, governments also need to commit to not engage themselves in human-rights violating practices such as internet-shutdowns or mass surveillance of citizens.
Private companies have the responsibility to respect human rights in their daily business practices through careful risk assessment, continuous monitoring of their impact on human rights, and due diligence in their delivery and supply chains when designing, developing and using digital technologies, including AI. Effective Risk assessments are key. Respecting human rights fosters innovation as people can express their ideas freely.