ICANN's Helsinki Meeting: an important milestone and the way forward

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25 Jul 2016


by Vidushi MardaProgramme Officer, Centre for Internet and Society

ICANN 56 in Helsinki was the first ”Policy Forum” to be held under the revised meeting format at ICANN. The intent behind this format is to have one meeting a year dedicated to developing policy in ICANN’s Supporting Organizations (SO) and Advisory Committees (AC), cross community engagement and outreach. This meant that sessions such as the opening ceremony, high interest topics and public forum were not held, but instead, sessions were dedicated to specific aspects of policy development and outreach.

This policy forum was held at an interesting time. As the IANA transition gets underway, the structure, function and policy of ICANN post transition, comes into focus. In the context of human rights, the commitment to respect human rights has been incorporated in the ICANN By-law but one critical task remains: determining what that bylaw text actually means. This will be done by developing a Framework of Interpretation (FoI) of this text in Work Stream 2 (WS2).

The Cross Community Working Party on ICANN’s Corporate and Social Responsibility to Respect Human Rights (CCWP-HR) has worked towards understanding and deconstructing ICANN’s impact and relationship with human rights over the past two years. At ICANN56, the CCWP-HR aimed at enhancing cross community outreach through various sessions and discussions in order to make our work more visible and integrate our efforts into wider ICANN processes looking ahead into WS2.  

Sessions and discussions

Given the new format, the first point of engagement was the Face – to - Face meeting of the Cross Community Working Group – Accountability (CCWG – Acct). Here, Niels Ten Oever, ARTICLE 19’s Head of Digital, laid out the intent and scope of the CCWP-HR, with an emphasis on developing the Framework of Interpretation. Multiple participants sought to clarify how the CCWP-HR intends to work within the ICANN context, and how our work would fit in with the CCWG-Acct process, as there were concerns that we would be duplicating work already being done. It was emphasized that the CCWP-HR intends to understand and scope out human rights within the ICANN context and work with the relevant CCWG subgroups to avoid duplication and ensure that the task of developing a Framework of Interpretation is achieved. 

Another session of interest was the Cross Community Session on the Review of all Rights Protection Mechanisms (RPMs) in all Generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs). Essentially, these RPMs are policies and processes within ICANN that have been developed in order to prevent cybersquatting, and misuse of trademarks with respect to gTLDs. Here, I brought into focus the CCWP-HR’s report on these RPMs, calling for human rights considerations to be explicitly considered in cases of perpetuation of rights holders’ monopoly and advantage over newer entrants with respect to new gTLDs.

The CCWP-HR also had a joint session with the Governmental Advisory Committee  (GAC) Human Rights and International Law (HRIL) Working Group, where we had fruitful cross community engagement surrounding our reports so far. The poster developed for this meeting was received well, scrutinized further and clarifications were also provided. I presented the report of human rights impact of gTLD Subsequent procedures which was met with much curiosity – particularly surrounding the methodology adopted for the report and also its place and intended impact in WS2.

In particular the issue of including “procedural fairness” as a human rights issue formed a bulk of the discussion with strong views both for and against such inclusion. This point of divergence was chiefly due to the fact that “procedural fairness”, while an important aspect of natural law, doesn’t find specific mention in human rights instruments like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). While discussants across the board agreed that procedural fairness is a critical aspect of realizing human rights, there was some hesitation in adopting it methodologically into the report.

Even though the CCWP-HR was not allotted a formal working session, the informal working session proved to be very productive as we evaluated internal working methods, strategized ways in which we could present our work in a more engaging fashion, and also chalked out deliverables for the next ICANN meeting to be held in Hyderabad.

Concluding thoughts

The CCWP-HR was able to enhance cross community engagement and policy discussion effectively through consistent participation in Working Sessions and Review meetings. It was unfortunate to not have a dedicated cross community session to discuss human rights, and the CCWP-HR has flagged this as an issue under the new format. Nevertheless, the informal working session and engagement through wider sessions proved to be useful and we hope to have a dedicated session at the next policy forum. Looking ahead, ICANN’s impact on human rights needs to be more closely understood, as we look forward to developing the Framework of Interpration and engaging in further discussion at ICANN57 in Hyderabad, November 2016.


ARTICLE 19 supported the participation of Vidushi Marda at ICANN56 in Helsinki,  27 – 30 June, 2016. Vidushi works as a Programme Officer at the Centre for Internet and Society, based in India, and is an active member of the Cross Community Working Party on ICANN’s Corporate and Social Responsibility to Respect Human Rights. At Helsinki, she engaged in policy discussions and debate through her work on human rights. 

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