US, EU recommend protections for human rights defenders online

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The U.S. State Department and the European Union released an approach for protecting human rights defenders from online attacks.

The U.S. and European Union issued new joint guidance on Monday for online platforms to help mitigate virtual attacks targeting human rights defenders.

Outlined in 10 steps, the guidance was formed following stakeholder consulting from January 2023 to February 2024. Entities including nongovernmental organizations, trade unionists, journalists, lawyers, environmental and land activists advised both governments on how to protect human rights defenders on the internet.

Recommendations within the guidance include: commiting to an HRD [human rights defender] protection policy; identifying risks to HRDs; sharing information with peers and select stakeholders; creating policy to monitoring performance metric basemarks; resource staff adequately; build a capacity to address local risks; offer safety tools education; create an incident reporting channel; provide access to help for HRDs; and incorporate a strong transparent infrastructure.

Digital threats HRDs face include target Internet shutdowns, censorship, malicious cyber activity, unlawful surveillance, and doxxing. Given the severity and reported increase of digital attacks against HRDs, the guidance calls upon online platforms to take mitigating measures.

“The United States and the European Union encourage online platforms to use these

recommendations to determine and implement concrete steps to identify and

mitigate risks to HRDs on or through their services or products,” the guidance reads. 

The ten guiding points laid out in the document reflect existing transatlantic policy commitments, including the Declaration for the Future of the Internet. Like other digital guidance, however, these actions are voluntary. 

“These recommendations may be followed by further actions taken by the United States or the European Union to promote rights-respecting approaches by online platforms to address the needs of HRDs,” the document said.