Why South Africa voted against Internet freedom

South Africa recently voted with countries like China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar to weaken a United Nations resolution that aims to protect Internet freedom.

The draft resolution was titled “The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet”.

Countries opposed to the resolution were heavily outnumbered, and it passed without a vote.

However, before Russia announced it was not going to call for a vote to oppose the resolution, South Africa provided an explanation of why it would vote against the resolution.

Deputy Permanent Representative for the South African Permanent Mission to the UN and other International Organisations in Geneva, Ncumisa Pamella Notutela, delivered the explanation.

South Africa would like to make an Explanation of Vote before the vote on this draft resolution.

The South African constitution guarantees the exercise of the right of freedom of opinion and expression.

However, incitement to hatred is problematic in the context where we are having our domestic debates on racism and the criminalisation thereof.

The exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression is not absolute, and carries with it duties and responsibilities for right-holders.

The draft resolution does not make reference to acts of hatred propagated through the cyberspace, including cyberbullying, despite having extensive focus on Internet and information and communication technologies.

In this context, the main sponsors are certain that the exercise of the freedom of opinion and expression, on and offline, is not subject to limitations, is a false notion.

The draft resolution omits key provisions on the permissible limitations and prohibition of hate speech under international human rights law.

Finally, Mr President, we would like to implore the main sponsors to align their draft resolution with international law.

I thank you.

Notutela’s objections to the resolution are curious considering it contains wording which deals with hate speech and cyberbullying, such as:

  • “Affirms that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression.”
  • “Stresses the importance of combating advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination or violence on the Internet.”

A video of Notutela’s explanation is embedded below.

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Why South Africa voted against Internet freedom