Cameroon: Access Now & local civil society urge telecommunications companies to restore internet access
Following government-ordered internet shutdowns targeting Anglophone regions of the country, Access Now and local NGOs urged telecommunications companies to restore internet access. We invited Orange, MTN and Nexttel/Viettel to respond. Orange's response is below; we will indicate here whether MTN and Nexttel/Viettel respond. The story also includes statements by GNI, a company-membership organization.
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Global Network Initiative and Telecommunications Industry Dialogue Joint Statement on Network and Service Shutdowns
Author: Global Network Initiative
The Global Network Initiative and the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue are deeply concerned by the increasing number of government orders to shut down or restrict access to communication networks and related services around the world. Government-mandated disruptions of communications networks, network services (such as SMS), or internet services (such as social media, search engines, or news sites) can undermine security and public safety, threaten free expression, restrict access to vital emergency, payment and health services, and disrupt contact with family members and friends. In some countries, the orders frequently occur at politically sensitive moments, during unrest or in the lead-up to elections, restricting the free flow of information. Disruptions also negatively affect a broad range of economic activity, preventing financial transactions, stalling e-commerce and undermining business operations. Even temporary disruptions may complicate the provision of medical care and education, which increasingly rely on the sharing of digital information. “Government-ordered disruptions of communications networks and services are on the rise. The consequences of such orders can be as dire as the security threats they ostensibly target," said Mark Stephens, CBE, Independent Chair of the GNI Board. "They cut off citizens from essential information and contact with loved ones, impede the work of emergency and security services, and undermine economic activity,” he said.
Author: Global Network Initiative
The Global Network Initiative today launched a new report: “The Economic Impact of Disruptions to Internet Connectivity,” which highlights the significant economic damage caused when governments around the world deliberately shut down or disrupt Internet services. The report, which was prepared by Deloitte and made possible by funding from GNI member Facebook, lays out a framework for measuring the costs of shutdowns in terms of the daily gross domestic product lost in countries with varying levels of Internet connectivity. Based on this approach, the report estimates that an average high-connectivity country stands to lose at least 1.9% of its daily GDP for each day all Internet services are shut down. For an average medium-level connectivity country, the loss is estimated at 1% of daily GDP, and for an average low-connectivity country, the loss is estimated at 0.4% of daily GDP. “Governments should recognize the serious consequences of disrupting network access and see shutdowns through a human rights and development lens, not solely through a political or security lens,” said GNI Independent Board Chair Mark Stephens, CBE...“Shutting down the Internet undermines economic activity and chills free expression,“ said GNI Executive Director Judith Lichtenberg. “The economic and human rights harms of network shutdowns reinforce each other, and are of particular concern in developing countries, emerging and fragile democracies, and jurisdictions with weak rule of law.”
Resolution on the Right to Freedom of Information and Expression on the Internet in Africa - ACHPR/Res. 362(LIX) 2016
Author: African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (The Gambia)
Recognizingits mandate to promote and protect human and peoples’ rights pursuant to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter); Reaffirming the fundamental right to freedom of information and expression enshrined under Article 9 of the African Charter and other international human rights instruments; Further reaffirming the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, specifically Principle I(2) which provides that “everyone shall have an equal opportunity to exercise the right to freedom of expression and to access to information without discrimination” and Principle II(2) which provides that “any restrictions on freedom of expression shall be provided by law, serve a legitimate interest and be necessary in a democratic society;” Recalling Resolution ACHPR/Res.62 (XXXII) 02 on the adoption of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa...Further Recallingthe United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution HRC/RES/20/8 of 2012, which recognizes “the global and open nature of the Internet as a driving force in accelerating progress towards development in its various forms” and affirmsthat “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression...The Commission...calls on States Parties to respect and take legislative and other measures to guarantee, respect and protect citizen’s right to freedom of information and expression through access to Internet services; Urges African citizens to exercise their right to freedom of information and expression in the Internet responsibly...
Author: Amnesty International
The Cameroonian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release two civil society leaders arrested in the English-speaking part of the country, and lift the ban imposed on their organization, Amnesty International said...On 17 January the Minister of Territorial Administration banned the activities of the Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC) and the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC). The president of the CACSC, Barrister Nkongho Felix Agbor-Balla, and its Secretary General, Dr. Fontem Aforteka’a Neba, were arrested, sparking protests in the southwest city of Buea. On the same day both Agbor-Balla and Dr. Fontem Neba had signed a statement calling for protest activities to be carried out without violence. “These two men have been arrested solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression. This flagrant disregard for basic rights risks inflaming an already tense situation in the English-speaking region of the country and is clearly an attempt to muzzle dissent,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, [at] Amnesty International...According to the Minister of Territorial Administration, “all activities, meetings and demonstrations initiated or promoted by the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC), the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC), any other related groups with similar objectives or by anyone partisan to these groups, are hereby prohibited all over the national territory”. The government has accused the two groups of supporting a series of demonstrations that began in late October 2016 across several cities in the English-speaking region of Cameroon...“This worrying pattern of arbitrary arrests, detention and harassment of civil society members is entirely at odds with the international human rights law and standards that Cameroon has committed to uphold,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi.
Author: Global Network Initiative
The Global Network Initiative is deeply concerned by restrictions on Internet access ordered by the government of Cameroon. The Internet shutdown—in effect since January 17—has targeted Anglophone regions in Cameroon’s northwest and southwest, following protests against marginalization by the Francophone-led Government. “The shutdown in Cameroon appears to be calculated to target political speech,” said Mark Stephens, CBE., former President of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association and Independent Board Chair of the Global Network Initiative. “We urge the Government of Cameroon to immediately lift these restrictions.” In a recent landmark resolution, the United Nations Human Rights Council stated that it “Condemns unequivocally measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law.” The UN HRC specifically “calls on all States to refrain from and cease such measures." The GNI recently released a report, “The Economic Impact of Disruptions to Internet Connectivity,” highlighting the significant economic damage caused when countries deliberately shut down or otherwise disrupt connectivity.
Author: Kieron Monks, CNN
A crippling Internet shutdown is entering a third week in the English-speaking region of Cameroon. The government suspended services for Southwest and Northwest province after a series of protests that resulted in violence and the arrest of community leaders. The shutdown has proved particularly damaging in the city of Buea, the capital of Southwest that has been lauded as Cameroon's "Silicon Mountain," where dozens of successful start-ups have been launched. "(The ban) has affected us very badly," says Otto Akama, community manager of Activspaces, a tech hub and incubator that serves many of the city's young entrepreneurs. "We have empty offices all over the city. All tech companies are down. Most banks are down and ATM machines are not working so people don't have access to cash."...Residents of Cameroon's two English-speaking provinces have longstanding grievances against the largely-francophone central government, complaining of economic marginalization and the imposition of French legal and education systems upon them. "We have problems with water, roads and healthcare not being delivered," says Edna Njilin, secretary general of the opposition Cameroon People's Party. "We don't want our teachers delivering lessons in French."
Author: Human Rights Council (UN)
A United Nations expert has called on the Government of Cameroon to restore internet services to predominantly English-speaking parts of the country which have been cut off in “an appalling violation of their right to freedom of expression.” “I am particularly concerned at the tightening of the space for free speech at a time where its promotion and protection should be of the utmost importance,” said the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye. His call follows reports that Cameroonians in the northwest and southwest regions, which are predominantly English speaking, have been unable to connect to the internet since 17 January. It also comes against a background of widespread protests against government policies which have reportedly marginalized the country’s English-speaking population...A network shutdown of this scale violates international law – it not only suppresses public debate, but also deprives Cameroonians of access to essential services and basic resources,” said Mr. Kaye, urging the government to restore internet facilities immediately. In 2016, the Human Rights Council passed a resolution which unequivocally condemned measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law, and called on all States to refrain from and cease such measures. This followed the 2015 Joint Declaration of UN and regional experts in the field of freedom of expression, which stated that network shutdowns or internet ‘kill switches’ are measures which can ‘never be justified under human rights law’.
A United Nations expert has called on the Government of Cameroon to restore internet services to predominantly English-speaking parts of the country which have been cut off in “an appalling violation of their right to freedom of expression.”
“I am particularly concerned at the tightening of the space for free speech at a time where its promotion and protection should be of the utmost importance,” said the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye.
His call follows reports that Cameroonians in the northwest and southwest regions, which are predominantly English speaking, have been unable to connect to the internet since 17 January. It also comes against a background of widespread protests against government policies which have reportedly marginalized the country’s English-speaking population.
Author: Access Now & over 20 other Cameroonian & intl. NGOs
Dear MTN Cameroon CEO Philisiwe Sibiya, NextTel CEO Nguyen Duc Quang, and Orange Cameroon CEO Elisabeth Medou Badang, We write to urgently request your support in restoring internet access in the South West and North West regions of Cameroon. The internet shutdown in Cameroon’s anglophone regions has been continuing for a month and has significantly interfered with citizens’ daily lives. By blocking access to information and services, the disruption thwarts the exercise of human rights, including the freedoms of expression and association, and slows economic development...We estimate the shutdown has already cost more than US$1.39 million and grows daily...Research shows that internet shutdowns and violence go hand in hand.  Shutdowns disrupt the free flow of information and create a cover of darkness that allows repression to occur without scrutiny. In Cameroon, the internet shutdown coincides with the arrest of judges, lawyers, journalists, and citizens, who are taken to military court and charged with terrorism for voicing calls for more federalism...A growing body of jurisprudence declares shutdowns to violate international law...Businesses, too, have the responsibility to respect human rights, and mitigate or remedy harms they cause or contribute to. Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights...business enterprises “should avoid infringing on the human rights of others and should address adverse human rights impacts with which they are involved.”...We recommend that you: Publicly denounce the shutdown and the harm it has caused to your customers and your company’s economic and reputational interests...Jointly push back against the government demand...in order to restore internet access.
Author: Access Now
Imagine you woke up one day to find out your internet was off because of the language you spoke. Yet your neighbors, not far away, could access the internet just fine. For more than a month now, millions of people in English-speaking regions of Cameroon have been living that nightmare due to a government-ordered internet shutdown. Anglophone communities in the country have been protesting a lack of government services and the imposition of French-speaking officials into key administrative posts. In response, the government shut down the local internet, plunging everyone in the region — even French speakers — into darkness. The government’s response harms everyone’s human rights, and as tensions continue to heighten, the shutdown sets the stage for even further rights violations. UNESCO has stated that linguistic diversity is a cornerstone of the internet, and that “speakers of non-dominant languages need to be able to express themselves in culturally meaningful ways, create their own cultural content in local languages and share through cyberspace.”...That's why we, together with our partners at Internet Without Borders and the #KeepitOn coalition, are calling on local service providers — MTN, Orange, and NextTel — to push back against the government shutdown and help to #BringBackOurInternet. Take action now!
Author: Orange (France)
The answer provided to Access Now since the shutdown is still active, under a clear demand from the Cameroon Telecom Ministry and Presidency:
“Our Group operates in Cameroon through a subsidiary Orange Cameroun which complies with the local legislation and therefore obeys to any national security instruction received from the authorities in accordance with its Telecommunications License.”
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- This is a response from the following companies: Orange