Impact: Mainstreaming the right to privacy within UN human rights reporting mechanisms


PI and our global partners have been leading efforts to mainstream privacy issues within the Universal Periodic Review.

The right to privacy has often been side-lined and largely unaddressed within the UN human rights monitoring mechanisms, despite being upheld as a fundamental human right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Beyond the ICCPR General Comment No.16: Article 17 (Right to Privacy) in 1988 and the 2010 report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, the right to privacy was hardly referenced within the UN human rights mechanisms. The lack of attention to the right to privacy within these mechanisms was a poor reflection of the increasing threats towards upholding, protecting and respecting the right to privacy.

Supported by the private sector, in the name of national security and in the quest for innovations in policy and technologies to enable economic opportunity, governments across the world are taking measures that have adverse effects on the right to privacy. In order to stem this tide, we must be innovative and utilise all mechanisms available to us to alert and bring attention to the issues Privacy International and its International Network of partners, as well as other CSOs, are seeing emerging which had worrying implications for the right to privacy.

Interventions or actions taken by PI or partners or other CSOs:

To address the lack of attention towards the protection, promotion and respect of the right to privacy, since 2013, Privacy International has been engaging in various UN human rights monitoring mechanisms as a means of integrating references and recommendations on the right to privacy within these processes. One of these processes is the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) involves review of human rights records of all UN Member States, i.e. how each state respects their human rights obligations under the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, human rights treaties ratified by the state, as well as voluntary pledges and commitments. The ultimate aim of this mechanism is to improve the human rights situation in all countries and address human rights violations wherever they occur. The review is carried out by the UPR Working Group, composed of all 47 members of the Human Rights Council. The UPR Working Group meets in Geneva for three sessions a year with each session lasting two weeks.

As per the UPR process, our engagement has included submitting shadow reports which enable us to undertake targeted advocacy with UN Permanent Missions to convey our concerns. The objective is to convince targeted Permanent Missions to submit questions to Member States being reviewed prior to the UPR process and/or, more importantly, recommendations during the official review. Our targeted advocacy is complemented by engagement with other CSOs, both national and international, as well as the media to bring to their attention the opportunity to engage in these mechanisms and also share our concerns on the right to privacy.

Key result

Over the years, the advocacy work undertaken by Privacy International, and in some instances its partners, have led to the submission of recommendations on the right to privacy to various Member States.

Since 2013, recommendations on the right to privacy and related issues raised by Privacy International were submitted to 15 Member Countries. These included: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, India, Kenya, Paraguay, South Africa, Sweden, Tanzania, Tunisia, Turkey, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe. Almost all of the recommendations submitted called for Members States to review their policies and practices to ensure they comply with international human rights law and standards. The growing number of recommendations being submitted on the right to privacy and communications surveillance demonstrate Member States’ level of concern regarding policies and practices which unlawfully, unnecessarily, and disproportionally interfere with the right to privacy.

Engaging in such processes and increasing the number of references to the right to privacy and related issues in the Universal Periodic Review plays an important role in sustaining the discussion on the right to privacy in other UN mechanisms, including the UN General Assembly, the UN Human Rights Council, human rights treaty bodies such as the UN Human Rights Committee as well as the Special Procedures Mandates.

Furthermore, it provides an important opportunity for national civil society actors to expose themselves to other types of engagement and to explore new spheres of interventions. The submission of recommendations within these international human rights monitoring mechanisms contribute towards putting pressure on governments to review policies and practices which interfere with the right to privacy and can provide a strategic opportunity to support national efforts to ensure government policies and practices respect, uphold and promote the right to privacy.

Going forward

While we welcome the important steps taken within UN reporting mechanisms, we remain concerned that on many occasions our concerns remain unheard. Moving forward, Privacy International will continue to strategically engage with the diverse opportunities offered by these mechanisms to ensure that current failures of these countries to protect, uphold and respect the right to privacy are known and documented.

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