IGF 2023 WS #386 Safeguarding the free flow of information amidst conflict

Tuesday, 10th October, 2023 (05:00 UTC) - Tuesday, 10th October, 2023 (06:30 UTC)
WS 2 – Room A

Human Rights & Freedoms
Rights to Access and Information

Organizer 1: Chantal Joris, ARTICLE 19
Organizer 2: Tetiana Avdieieva, Digital Security Lab Ukraine
Organizer 3: Brigitte Andersen, ARTICLE 19

Speaker 1: irene khan, Intergovernmental Organization, Intergovernmental Organization
Speaker 2: Tetiana Avdieieva, Civil Society, Eastern European Group
Speaker 3: Khattab Hamad, Civil Society, African Group
Speaker 4: Rizk Joelle, Intergovernmental Organization, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 5: Jason Pielemeier, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Chantal Joris, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Online Moderator

Brigitte Andersen, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Chantal Joris, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Round Table - 90 Min

Policy Question(s)

1. What obligations do States have during armed conflicts - under international human rights and humanitarian law - to respect the free flow of information and freedom of expression and where can gaps be identified? 2. How do these obligations apply to requests to ICT companies including to (i) limit connectivity; (ii) enable surveillance; (iii) data access requests; and (iii) censorship requests (e.g. website blocking/content takedown)? 3. What obligations apply to ICT companies according to the UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights and as non-State actors under international humanitarian law when responding to such demands?

What will participants gain from attending this session? First, participants will have the opportunity to hear from experts from countries affected by recent international armed conflicts (Ukraine) and non-international armed conflicts (Sudan), as well as a representative from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). These experts will discuss the contemporary threats to freedom of expression during conflicts. Participants will be encouraged to share their perspectives on the key threats to freedom of expression in these and other conflicts. Second, participants will be able to engage in interactive discussions and working groups that aim to determine the extent to which existing rules cover the threats to freedom of expression and identify any gaps in international law that require new regulations. The discussion will feature contributions from experts representing various sectors, including the private sector, freedom of expression advocates, and humanitarian actors.


Protecting freedom of expression and access to information are crucial during armed conflicts. Civilians need unhindered access to information to receive potentially life-saving information on the security situation, to access safe passage or humanitarian assistance, and to contact their loved ones. Freedom of expression also allows journalists to disseminate accurate information about the conflict to the public and report on crimes committed by the warring parties - key to counter a culture of impunity. While internet shutdowns, censorship requests and and disinformation campaigns - amplified by digitalisation - have taken on an increasingly central role in both international and non-international armed conflicts, there is still a lack of understanding as to what legal standards under international humanitarian law and international human rights law apply to these and related issues. The role of businesses, such as internet service providers or social media companies, and the extent of their responsibilities during armed conflicts, is also underexplored. The panel discussion will address the following topics: (i) threats to freedom of expression and the free flow of information during armed conflicts, (ii) the extent to which protective principles and recommendations can be derived from international humanitarian law and international human rights law, and (iii) identifying gaps requiring further guidance and elaboration.

Expected Outcomes

The session aims to create a concise working document outlining the main threats to freedom of expression discussed by participants; identifying existing protections under international human rights law and international humanitarian law that should guide actions by States and ICT companies, while also highlighting potential gaps. These insights will inform ARTICLE 19's upcoming report, providing policy recommendations on freedom of expression in armed conflicts and shaping ARTICLE 19’s future work in this area. Additionally, the session and subsequent efforts by ARTICLE 19, the ICRC, and other stakeholders in the field of freedom of expression, digital rights, and armed conflicts might eventually contribute to the development of a guiding document similar to the Tallinn Manual on Cyber Warfare, which identifies how international law applies to cyber conflicts and cyber warfare

Hybrid Format: During the session, the on-site moderator will closely collaborate with the online moderator to gather input from online participants via the chat function and facilitate oral contributions. The session will be divided into two parts. In the first part, on-site and online participants will engage in an interactive discussion, featuring case studies of international and non-international armed conflicts. These case studies will highlight the primary threats to freedom of expression during conflicts and their impact on civilians. The second part will involve breakout groups, conducted both online and offline. These groups will identify the key rules that apply to States and ICT companies in conflict situations, while also pinpointing any existing gaps that need developing. At the conclusion of the session, each online and on-site breakout group will present the main discussion points from their respective groups. The on-site moderator will then summarize the main conclusions and potential action points.