On Wednesday, May 15, India signed on to a new global anti-terror initiative that is spearheaded by France and Australia. Focusing on the spread of online terror, French President Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern created the Christchurch Call for Action. Even tech giants Facebook and Google have signed up. Notably, the US declined to join.
Formulated in Paris, the document’s signatories pledge to regulate content and take action against online extremism. Along with India, 26 countries including the UK, New Zealand, France, Canada, Ireland, Senegal, Indonesia, Jordan, and the European Union, have signed the Christchurch Call for Action.
What is the Christchurch Call for Action?
According to The Times of India, the initiative “outlines collective, voluntary commitments from governments and online service providers intended to address the issue of terrorist and violent extremist content online and to prevent abuse of the internet as occurred in and after the Christchurch attacks”.
The signatories promised to implement laws related to regulating terrorist content online and curbing the spread of extremism while maintaining international human rights laws.
The Christchurch Call for Action is a rare global pledge that involves both governments and the private sector. However, tech companies like Facebook and Google are becoming increasingly included in narratives on democracy, elections, privacy, and online terrorism.
How will tech companies contribute?
Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, Google, and Amazon all signed the agreement and committed to a nine-point plan.
The companies have also vowed to share technology with other industries, governments, and NGOs, such as data sets and open source content detection tools. They are working on establishing crisis protocols for future terror attacks like the Christchurch shootings, as well.
The companies also said they will increase public education and awareness about online extremist speech, support research seeking to understand the roots of terrorism, and support NGOs that are working against online bigotry.
“The dissemination of such content online has adverse impacts on the human rights of the victims, on our collective security, and on people all over the world,” said the Christchurch Call for Action. “All action on this issue must be consistent with principles of a free, open and secure internet, without compromising human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression.”
Social media platforms have decentralised communication in an unprecedented way, allowing for the spread of fake news and discriminatory or bigoted rhetoric.
Why did the US refuse to sign?
The US refused to sign the document saying it was “not in a position to join” because it needs to assure freedom of speech, adding that it supports the general idea of the agreement. However, the Christchurch Call for Action has already stated that it will not infringe on the freedom of expression.
“We continue to be proactive in our efforts to counter terrorist content online while also continuing to respect freedom of expression and freedom of the press… We maintain that the best tool to defeat terrorist speech is productive speech and this we emphasise the importance of promoting credible, alternative narratives as the primary means by which we can defeat terrorist messaging,” said the US, according to the BBC.
What had happened at Christchurch?
On March 15, four gunmen stormed two mosques in Christchurch, a city in New Zealand, and killed at least 49 people and injured several others, including children and senior citizens.
Shooters opened fire in Al Noor mosque on Deans Avenue and another at Linwood Avenue for a few minutes, indiscriminately killing Muslims offering prayers.
A witness at Al Noor told the BBC, “I saw that some people were running out through the room I was in—some people had blood on their body and some were limping… I managed to get out and hid behind my car. The shooting went on for six minutes or more, and I could hear crying and screaming.”
Schools in the area were also placed on lockdown. The Bangladeshi cricket team had a narrow escape after they decided to turn back from their journey to the Al Noor mosque that day.
The police learned that one of the main suspects of the Christchurch shooting is Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old white nationalist who posted a manifesto online calling non-white immigration an “invasion”. He said he was against non-white people “conquering” land and replacing white people.
Tarrant live-streamed himself entering a mosque and shooting Muslims. Facebook confirmed that it had removed the footage from its site and Instagram and was working to remove people applauding Tarrant. Twitter also suspended Tarrant’s account.
Other white nationalists, namely Norwegian Anders Breivik, American Dylan Roof, and Canadian Alexandre Bissionnette have violently murdered Muslims and Blacks and written manifestos on their extremist ideology.
The years-old story of India and Masood Azhar
India has been fairly active in conversations on global terrorism, ever since Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) took responsibility for bombing a convoy of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) soldiers in Pulwama and killing 40 of them.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said, “This heinous and despicable act has been perpetrated by Jaish-e-Mohammad, a Pakistan-based, and supported, terrorist organisation.”
After this attack, India renewed its efforts to register JeM Chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist as per the UNSC Sanctions Committee, which requires an individual or group to have links to ISIS or Al-Qaeda to be listed as global terrorists.
JeM has already been blacklisted as a terrorist organisation in 2001. But this was India’s third attempt to blacklist Azhar. In the previous two attempts, China had vetoed India’s proposal, claiming there was no concrete evidence against Azhar and no consensus within the UNSC to blacklist him.
Experts suggested a number of reasons for China’s veto—from deep political and economic ties with Pakistan to antagonism against the Dalai Lama who India had granted asylum.
In March, China had placed India’s bid on “technical hold”, saying it is working with all parties to resolve the matter.
However, in May, the resolution passed and the UNSC designated Azhar as a global terrorist with a small caveat: Azhar was listed as an individual terrorist, not as the mastermind of the Pulwama attack.
Experts suggest that this technicality was added to protect Pakistan from scrutiny and keep India’s success in check.
Regardless, Azhar’s assets can be frozen and seized, and he will be subject to a travel ban and arms embargo. India considers this a massive victory.
The G7 and G20 summits will also be discussing online terrorism.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius.
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