Fundamental rights based governance

The first day of the Fundamental Rights Forum focused on a ‘rights-based governance’. These are some of the interesting contributions by the many speakers that I took with me:

‘Real democracy allows people and civil society to ask questions about governance’ stated Ulrike Lunacek, Vice-President of the European Parliament. ‘The first thing we have to do is to admit we have failed to make a difference for the grassroot level’ said former human rights activist Valeriu Nicolae, now Secretary of State of Romania. Mr Nicolae continued to say that good governance is about using public money in an efficient and transparent way. The interventions by Aleksandra Stepkowski, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs in Poland on the other hand reminded us about the resistance that exist among some Member States to talk about their human rights compliance, and to adhere to an inclusive concept of marriage and families. Ms Lunacek ended with reminding that there is no ‘we’ and ‘them’, Member States is the EU, and has agreed on its fundamental rights obligation when joining.

James C Hathaway, Professor of International Law at University of Michigan spoke about how the refugee system has to be redone. The UN Refugee Convention provides protection but when refugees take us up on the offer we make it difficult or impossible for them. Another injustice is that for example U.K. spend more money on manage its asylum system than on the UN to look after 10 million refugees in the Global South. Mr Hathaway made the case that we provided for those seeking refugee during World War II so we should be able to do it now. I would add a point that Mr Hathaway missed, the need to address Islamophobia, xenophobia and racism as factors behind resistance in Europe to welcome migrants. Vincent Cochetel, European Director of the UN Refugee Agency pointed out the need for more legal pathways to also enable migrant women to seek refugee.

Stefan Hertmans, a Belgium author explained that terrorists from the area of Molenbeek in Brussels is a ‘glocal’ (both global and local) issue, and not about migration. It is about acknowledging the discrimination and social exclusion that third generation Belgian citizens experience, which is a part of why they turn to radicalisation.

The day also offered several workshop opportunities. I participated in one about human rights protection and rights online.

‘It took the radio 30 years to get 50 million followers, Facebook acceded one million users in a year’, said Laura Ferrara, Member of the European Parliament. Ms Ferrara spoke about online rights violations, such as game addiction, grooming, and isolation, and on the other hand positive aspects of digital rights, such as accessibility, freedom of expression, online protests, and innovation. Lee Hibbard from Council of Europe highlighted just like Ms Ferrara that technology is moving fast, faster than law making, and that we need to catch up to give users the ability to both exercise their rights and complain if violated.

Leon van de Ven from the Ministry of Interior of the Netherlands explained that in the United States digital human rights are a part of equal treatment and anti-discrimination law, while in Europe it is covered by the Digital Single Market. It has taken time for decision-makers to legislate as information and communication technology (ICT) was long considered too difficult. Mr van de Ven highlighted the Web Accessibility Act as a good example that obliges a feedback mechanism on websites so citizens can complain if online services are not accessed, and public bodies has an obligation to respond.

Ben Wagner from the Centre for Internet & Human Rights at Viadrina European University warned about algorithms on social media that most users are not aware of, for example when Facebook tested – without their users knowledge – and proved that exposing them to happy status updates generated happier statuses and vice versa if exposed to sad statuses.

Among the solutions we discussed where the need to bring together different actors such as users, businesses, tech and human rights experts to raise awareness and identify tomorrow’s challenges and innovative solutions. As a participant said ‘I don’t normally meet human rights actors, I would like to see more of you in the Internet governance discussion.

Read  my blog from yesterday’s Fundamental Rights Hackathon and the opening reception of the Forum, and from the two last days.

Read also Jana Hainsworth, our Presidents take aways from the Forum and check out the many tweets at #rightsforum16