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Keeping up with disruptions: Rethinking a human rights-based approach to new technologies in Africa.

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The surge of technological advancements in the last few decades has had major impacts on our society in an unprecedented manner. We see the effect in the transformation that is occurring in the shifts within healthcare delivery, access to education, coordination of protests, engagement in warfare and several other examples. In as much as we have come to see the disruptions caused by technologies, its rapidly evolving nature makes it challenging to have all the answers at present on its impact on human rights protection. There is a potential dark side to the technological innovations being witnessed today which begs the question: In what ways do technologies impact human rights protection in Africa?

For instance, there is a growing concern for the impact robotic innovations will have on the workforce as well as ensuring accountability during conflict and warfare. There is also documented evidence of how new technologies are impacting democratic development across the world while considering how artificial intelligence through facial recognition technologies is aiding the work of policing but concurrently fostering systemic bias. While we have achieved a more connected global world, we have also succeeded in compromising human rights protection.

As much as technologies provide opportunities to advance human rights protection, there is a need to have the difficult conversations that focus on responsible innovations and rights-respecting technologies that put human rights first.

The Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria as a leading human rights organisation in Africa that works on most of these issues in its capacity as a research, advocacy and academic department is, therefore, launching a yearlong campaign in 2020 that focuses on the impact of new technologies on different aspects of human interaction. The campaign will have a series of activities that look into technology in the following specific areas: business and human rights; democracy and digital technologies; children’s rights and new technologies; assistive technologies and persons living with disabilities; electronic evidence and strategic litigation and other key areas of human rights that intersect with new technologies.