Southeast and South Asia: Justice sector actors play a crucial role in safeguarding human rights in the digital age

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) convened its inaugural regional judicial workshop on digital rights for 28 justice sector actors from eight countries in Southeast and South Asia to discuss responses to the most salient digital rights challenges in the region on 5 – 6 November.

The Regional Judicial Workshop on Human Rights Law and Technology-Mediated Expression in Southeast and South Asia brought together judges, public prosecutors, government legal advisers, and representatives from national human rights institutions and bar associations from across Asia.

The participants came from Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.

“We have to engage in more constructive dialogues between different systems and between different actors representing legislators, lawyers, judges, technology companies and digital managers to share our experiences in relation to the impacts of digital technologies on human rights in Asia. This will benefit the human rights community and legal systems through the progressive development of jurisprudence in the region,” stressed Justice Kalyan Shrestha, ICJ Commissioner and Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Nepal, in his keynote address.

The key thematic areas discussed during the workshop included:

  • Online freedom of expression and information under international human rights law;
  • Digital surveillance, right to privacy and its impact on free expression online;
  • Applying international human rights law to internet shutdowns;
  • The role and responsibility of social media companies in safeguarding online freedom of expression;
  • Baseline safeguards and best practices for intermediary liability;
  • Hate speech, social media and individuals from minority groups; and
  • The protection of human rights defenders in online spaces.

“The Internet is an instrument to defend fundamental rights. However, the only way for it to keep accomplishing this, while at the same time maintaining its democratizing potential, is that the decisions taken by authorities respect its global, open, and decentralized nature. Thus, human rights law and the devices of dialogical constitutionalism must be unavoidably incorporated to court proceedings,” underscored Professor Catalina Botero Marino, ICJ Commissioner and Co-Chair of the Facebook Oversight Board, during her presentation.

During the various group presentations and discussions, the participants affirmed the pivotal role that justice sector actors play in protecting and promoting human rights in the digital sphere, including through adopting rights-based interpretations of the law; reviewing and reforming laws to ensure their legitimacy and consistency with international law and standards; and strengthening the rule of law and independence of the judiciary.


Digital technologies provide new means to exercise the rights to freedom of expression, opinion and information, and for participating in public life. However, they are equally used to suppress, limit and violate rights.

The ICJ has been actively monitoring, researching and analyzing these contemporary trends in the digital age and advocating for the stronger integration of international human rights law and standards into the laws, policies and practices of countries.

The regional judicial workshop was organized with the purpose of helping integrate human rights standards that support internet freedom into jurisprudence, justice sector policy, and legal reform initiatives through constructive dialogue and discussions.

The speakers at the workshop were:

  • Ian Seiderman, Legal and Policy Director, ICJ;
  • Justice Kalyan Shrestha, ICJ Commissioner and Former Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Nepal;
  • Raman Jit Singh Chima, Senior International Counsel, Access Now;
  • Michael Caster, Asia Digital Program Manager, ARTICLE 19;
  • Professor Catalina Botero Marino, ICJ Commissioner and Co-Chair of Facebook Oversight Board;
  • Professor Park Kyung-Sin, Executive Director, Open Net and Professor, Korea University School of Law;
  • Dr James Gomez, Regional Director, Asia Centre; and
  • Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, Professor Emeritus of Law, Chulalongkorn University and UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia.


Daron Tan, Associate International Legal Adviser, e:

Further reading

The ICJ has produced several publications on the right to freedom of expression online in Southeast Asia, including its “Dictating the Internet” series of reports and briefing papers.

These publications have analyzed the situation of the right to freedom of expression in the digital sphere in Southeast Asia generally; and in Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Cambodia, and the Philippines.

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