A resolution at the United Nations – Countering the use of information and communications technologies for criminal purposes – was put to a vote and passed on November 18, 2019. The resolution is geared at creating an
“open-ended ad hoc intergovernmental committee of experts, representative of all regions, to elaborate a comprehensive international convention on countering the use of information and communications technologies for criminal purposes…”.Draft Resolution – Agenda item 107 – Countering the use of information and communications technologies for criminal purposes (link)
In plain-speak: the resolution could result in an eventual UN convention on cybercrime.
How they voted
There were 88 votes for the resolution, 58 against and 30 abstentions.
According to the note of the votes, 14 of the 15 full CARICOM member countries voted on the Resolution. This is the breakdown of CARICOM votes on the resolution:
YES: Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Jamaica, Suriname, Saint Vincent, Saint Kitts and Saint Lucia
ABSTAIN: Bahamas, Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti and Trinidad & Tobago
Why the Controversy?
The countries sponsoring the resolution were: Algeria, Angola, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bolivia, Burundi, Cambodia, China, Cuba, North Korea, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Kazakhstan, Laos, Libya, Madagascar, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Russian Federation, Sudan, Suriname, Syria, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.
A number of these countries are authoritarian regimes and/or enjoy a less than stellar reputation in respect of human rights violations.
The resolution has come in for criticism from the United States and the Europe Union as well as civil society bodies. The key points are:
- The language of the resolution appears to be very vague and, per APC’s open letter to the UN, “opens the door to criminalizing ordinary online behaviour that is protected under international human rights law.”
- There is already an existing, robust de-facto international convention on cybercrime – the Budapest Convention with just under 70 signatories.
- In the blunt words of David Ignatious “[Russia], the country that hacked the 2016 U.S. presidential election and various European campaigns is now leading the process to write international rules about hacking.”
The underlying fear of many of the resolution’s critics is that this proposed convention is an attempt to use an international law instrument to legitimize the repression of free speech online. Naturally, the question becomes: if this is the case, have the majority of CARICOM states unwittingly helped lay the foundation for the erosion of fundamental human rights online?