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Experts: Global cooperation is vital to human rights protection in digital times

The development of digital technology brings both opportunities and challenges to the protection of human rights, which calls for further global cooperation, scholars and officials attending an ongoing forum said.

The Forum on Global Human Rights Governance kicked off in Beijing on Wednesday. The two-day event has attracted over 300 participants from nearly 100 countries and international organizations.

Experts pointed out at the forum that the cause of human rights protection can benefit from technological advances. “Digital technology can help us to access different points of view,” said Zoon Ahmed Khan, a researcher at the Center for China and Globalization. “It can be utilized to promote our knowledge about each other and build consensus.”

China has leveraged the role of digital technology to ensure the protection of human rights in various fields, including poverty reduction, education, healthcare and justice, among others, according to Liu Huawen, vice president of the Law School of the University of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

“The rapid digital transformation including advances in artificial intelligence is reshaping our world, often outpacing the establishment of necessary human rights safeguards by regulators,” said Veronica Birga, Chief of Staff at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, at the opening ceremony of the forum.

Birga’s observations were echoed by scholars both from China and abroad, and they pointed out that technological progress can also pose new threats to the promotion of human rights.

People’s rights to privacy and equality have been challenged by the digital technology, said Shi Anbin, a professor at the School of Journalism and Communication, Tsinghua University, adding that such problems are not limited to a single country but faced by the world.

The internet can help people obtain information without boundaries, but sometimes it can be abused to prompt the spread of hate speech and defamation, thus undermining the protection of human rights, according to Noor Aziah Mohd Awal, Vice Chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia. She noted that children are especially vulnerable to online exploitation and should be protected from its harm.

In order to cope with the negative effects of digital technology on human rights, China has been taking a people-centered and law-based approach, said Ma Changshan, dean of the Digital Rule of Law Research Institute at East China University of Political Science and Law.

Ma also called for building “a community of digital civilization” with the aim of harnessing strength from all countries around the world to tackle future challenges facing global human rights governance.

Jointly hosted by the Information Office of the State Council, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the China International Development Cooperation Agency, the forum is themed “Equality, Cooperation and Development: The 30th Anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action and Global Human Rights Governance.”

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