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As part of the Christof Heyns African Human Rights Moot Court Competition, which takes place from 25 to 30 July 2022, at the Faculty of Law, the British University in Egypt, in Cairo, Egypt, a one-day International Human Rights Conference will also be held on 28 July 2022. 

The Conference will deal with the three main themes on which the hypothetical case for the 2022 Moot is based. These themes are: (i) human trafficking in Africa; (ii) social media regulation in the context of AI-powered content moderation and (iii) climate justice. The working languages of the Conference are English, French, Portuguese, and Arabic with simultaneous interpretation provided. 

Interested authors are invited to submit papers on any of these topics (with a focus on aspects elaborated under each theme, below). Abstracts have to be submitted to yusuf.sayaad@up.ac.za  and ibrahim.sabra@bue.edu.eg by 30 June 2022.  

Download Call for Papers

Background and aim of the conference 

Human Trafficking in Africa: The Boundless Conundrum 

According to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children (Palermo Protocol), supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, trafficking in persons refers to the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons—by force, coercion, fraud or some other form of deception—for the purpose of exploitation. Global estimates of human trafficking suggest that about 40 million people live in modern-day slavery. Many of the practices associated with trafficking are prohibited under international human rights law; for example, human rights law forbids debt bondage, slavery, servitude, child sexual exploitation, forced marriage, and enforced prostitution. 

An estimated 23% of global human trafficking takes place in Africa, involving 9.2 million victims. On the African continent, as virtually everywhere in the world, there are a myriad of forms of human trafficking, and victims include adult men and women, as well as children of all ages. While the most common forms of human trafficking vary by country and region, some of the more common forms in Africa include exploitive child labour (in street begging, mining and industry, fishing, agriculture), child 

(slaves to the Gods) in Ghana, Wahaya (fifth wife) in Niger, Ukuthwala (kidnapping girls for marriage) in South Africa, female genital cutting, and belief in witchcraft. In addition, aspects of vulnerability to trafficking are linked to discrimination based on tribe or other ethnic, religious or socio-economic factors. Many traffickers are known to the victims and include close family members, relatives and friends. Other traffickers may be members of organized crime. 

While most countries in Africa are parties to the Palermo Protocol and its Amendments, national laws and practices are not necessarily fully harmonized in terms of the broadest definition of human trafficking and/or with respect to articles on prevention, protection of victims and collaboration. Key elements in State laws may differ, including in relation to victim and witness protection, victim services, the decriminalization of crimes committed as a direct result of trafficking (e.g. overstaying visas, prostitution, etc.), compensation (and fund 

ing for compensation) of victims, and temporary or permanent residency for victims. Criminal penalties also differ between countries, as does the definition of ‘exploitation’. Some countries refute the crime of trafficking if ‘consent’ was given and then revoked. In addition, due to lack of resources or will, as well as other factors, including corruption, investigation and prosecution typically lag behind the law.

In its annual Trafficking in Persons Report, the U.S. Department of State provides a tier ranking (1, 2, 2 watch list, and 3) that correlates to efforts to combat human trafficking in terms of prevention, protection of victims, prosecution and collaboration. A Tier 1 rank is the most positive result. In the 2021 Report, on the continent of Africa, only Namibia enjoys a Tier 1 rank. Tier rankings from the 2021 Report are shown below.

Aside from international organizations (e.g. IOM, ILO, UNODC and others) that address trafficking globally, there are a number of regional bodies that work to protect human rights and address human trafficking. These include the African Union, the Khartoum Process (an EU/Horn of Africa Migration Route Initiative), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). One pertinent legal instrument in Africa is the African Union Convention on Cross-Border Cooperation 2014, which stipulates the areas of cooperation, which include, but are not limited to security, crime prevention, and socio-economic development. 

The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights has jurisdiction over cases relating to this instrument and is in a position to facilitate meaningful and proactive regional cooperation against human trafficking. “It can step in when African States are unwilling or unable to investigate, prosecute and punish human trafficking effectively at the national level. States may also be able to avoid retaliation and obstruction of justice in the forms of bribery and intimidation carried out by traffickers.” “Aside from these general issues, another important aspect of the exercise of criminal jurisdiction by the African Court is corporate liability. In addition to individual and organized criminal groups, corporate entities such as employment agencies as well as local, national and international businesses may be involved in the trafficking process one way or another by exploiting victims.”

Social Media Regulation in the Context of AI-powered Content Moderation

Nowadays, our society is being driven by data and this allows artificial intelligence (AI) to play a major role in various sectors, particularly social networking platforms. Statistics show that the AI market value expects a five-fold increase from 22 billion U.S. dollars in 2020 to 126 billion by 2025 and a market size growth of USD 390 billion by 2025. So far, there is no unified definition of AI, but could generally be defined as “the science of making machines do things that would require intelligence if done by men” which could be witnessed in the capability of a human-developed computer system to perform, with some sophistication and autonomy, a particular programmed task in specific domains.

Numerous corporations such as Google and Meta are investing heavily in AI in an attempt to dominate the field. AI-based technology currently has a tremendous impact on our daily lives, starting with social media monitoring to facial recognition, in a way that shapes how people access, share and interact with information. This is well evidenced by the growing influence AI has in the information environment in various ways one of which is the massive deployment of AI by Social Media Giants in content moderation in order to filter user-generated content on their platforms and taking down what goes against their community guidelines. 

This has worrying ramifications on people’s fundamental rights which is a global challenge that “states, companies and civil society must work on ensuring that AI technologies reinforce and respect, rather than undermine and imperil, human rights”. 

Although AI might offer benefits in many areas, like spam filters, it still poses serious threats such as the exacerbation of hateful content online, unjust automated decisions, and entrenched bias, particularly due to an absence of “transparency, accountability and safeguards”. AI presents detrimental implications for a plethora of human rights, including freedom of expression, privacy, the right to reputation and protection against sexual exploitation and abuse. 

Due to the widespread global use of AI applications, several countries have adopted national and regional AI strategies and private companies such as Microsoft and IBM have formulated self-regulatory AI principles in addition to a number of academics, civil society organisations, researchers and technologists that have managed to set out AI guidelines such as the Toronto Declaration. Although these initiatives may underline the importance of using AI for human benefit and address some of the risks of AI, none offers a comprehensive framework fully addresses the serious ramifications of AI on people’s rights.

According to the United Nations (UN) and other regional organisations, human rights that people enjoy offline, such as freedom of opinion and expression, privacy, the right to reputation and protection against sexual exploitation and abuse, are protected online as well. These interdependent rights can be adversely affected by AI-powered content moderation tools deployed on social media platforms. Content moderation usually functions according to ambiguous rules that lack reference to human rights and are set by private actors. Furthermore, the European Union alongside several States such as China, Kenya and Honduras have also imposed pressure on social media platforms to use rapid automatic filters to attain more effective results in the fight against illegal content on the internet. 

Advertisers also influence online content moderation since they pay millions of dollars per year for online targeted ads. On the other hand, researchers, civil society groups and academics have continuously criticised social media platforms for content moderation related issues. 

Stakeholders who defend automated moderation argue that the sheer volume of online content far surpasses the human moderation capacity and thus employing AI tools in content moderation can mitigate this, especially that it is capable of achieving a higher accuracy rate compared to human moderation. Consequently, social media companies started employing AI moderation tools, including keyword filters, spam detection, natural language processing, hash-matching technology, and object and face recognition. The main task of these tools is to remove an extensive list of content such as child sexual abuse material, 

nudity, and hate speech. They are further used to remove inappropriate comments and posts, warn, suspend, or terminate user accounts in case of violations of the platform rules and block websites facilitating access to prohibited content.

While tech-companies claim that using AI to moderate online content is a promising solution, others argue that this view is fallacious as it fails to address the serious ramifications of automated content moderation and its direct impact on human rights online, which subsequently raises legal concerns.

Climate Justice: Saving the planet, saving humanity: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

Our planet has been subjected to intense weather patterns over the years leading to devastation of the environment and suffering of humanity. The adverse climate patterns have come in the form of heatwaves, drought, cyclones, storms and floods. The year 2019 was the second warmest year on record and signaled the end of the warmest decade ever recorded. Carbon dioxide levels and other greenhouse gases rose significantly in 2019. Climate change is affecting many countries globally and, in the process, disrupting economies and sustainable development, as well as destroying livelihoods. 

The rise in sea levels threatens island and coastal nations, increase in ocean heat and acidification threatens biodiversity and the marine ecosystem. Increasing glacial melting has serious implications on the supply of fresh water. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been lost and normal lives disturbed by the climate crisis. The economic, social and cultural rights of many communities have been affected. Climate change has indeed become a real threat to human well-being and the health of the planet.

Climate change is making heatwaves more frequent and intense with India and Spain currently recording temperatures over 40 degrees, 15 degrees above average. In sub-Saharan Africa cyclones and floods have destroyed livelihoods, damaged schools, hospitals, roads, and killed and displaced many people in Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Several African states must deal with serious threats to food security and debilitating droughts. Other regions of the world likely to face the severe impacts of climate change include south Asia, south and central America, island nations and the Arctic. The marginalized, poor and vulnerable communities in these regions are disproportionately bearing the brunt of climate change as they do not have the requisite capacity to adapt and mitigate the effects of nature’s vagaries. 

It is therefore appropriate that goal number 13 of the SDGs calls for urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. 

More significantly the universally ratified 2015 Paris Agreement aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise of 1,5 degrees. The agreement also aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change, through appropriate financial flows, a new technological framework and an enhanced capacity building framework. 

The world needs concerted global action to save the planet and humanity and secure the future. Scientists and climate justice activists have advocated and proposed several interventions including replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy, reduction of greenhouse emissions, strengthening early warning systems, greater state commitments in addressing the climate crisis, more responsibility by business enterprises in the mining, motoring and manufacturing sectors in curbing gas emissions and adaptation strategies to deal with the impacts of climate change. 

Challenges such as lack of accountability, funding, weak leadership, weak institutional frameworks, high levels of poverty and inequality must be addressed if the world is to successfully save the planet and humanity. Saving lives, livelihoods and the environment requires urgent action. The world must come together and face these challenges to overcome the deleterious climate change impacts. Wealthy nations must honour their commitments towards climate financing and receiving nations must be accountable and transparent in how they use the grants and loans towards adaptation action. The IPCC February 2022 report titled Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability analyses the impacts of climate change, addresses some of the challenges and proposes solutions.

The Human Rights Conference in July, which forms part of the Christof Heyns African Human Rights Moot Court Competition, must raise greater awareness on the impacts of climate change and propose concrete adaptation action and what the world needs to avert further humanitarian and environmental damage. The 27th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 27) to the UNFCCC will take place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt from 7-18 November 2022. The country would work to make the conference “a radical turning point in international climate efforts in coordination with all parties, for the benefit of Africa and the entire world”. The July conference should therefore serve as a precursor to COP 27 and equip young African university students and activists from all over the continent with knowledge on climate change and develop their advocacy skills to fight for climate justice.

Submision Guidelines

The organisers invite abstracts by anyone inter­ested in presenting a paper at the international hybrid conference. The aim is to publish the pa­pers (in late 2022 or early 2023) at the Journal of Law and Emerging Technologies of the Faculty of Law, British University in Egypt UOLETS). Abstracts should be between 250 and 350 words, and should:

  • Have a clear and descriptive title;
  • Indicate the main question(s) to be adressed;
  • Identify the proposed methodology; d) Set out the anticipated findings; and
  • Present the recommendations.

In addition, the author(s) biographies should be sent along with the abstract. The author(s) should also indicate whether the participation will be in person or virtually, and in case of in­person participation, what is the possibility of securing fund.

Important dates

The process consists of 3 main steps: Communicating abstracts, then delivering a presentation and draft paper, and finally submitting a full paper.

Step 1

  • Abstracts should reach the organisers by 30 June 2022.
  • Abstracts will be reviewed by 5 July 2022
  • Selected abstracts will be announced on 6 July 2022 for presentation and draft papers submission.

Step 2

  • Presentations and draft papers should be sent to the organisers by 26 July 2022.
  • Presentations will be delivered in-person or virtually during the Conference Day, 28 July 2022.

Step 3

  • Fully developed papers should be submitted for publications by 31 August 2022.
  • Papers will be published in the October 2022 issue of JOLETS or April 2023 issue.

African Moot Conference 2022 partners