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ICANN takes one step forward in its human rights and accountability commitments

Posted by Akriti Bopanna and Ephraim Percy Kenyanito at Dec 17, 2019 01:55 PM |
Akriti Bopanna and Ephraim Percy Kenyanito take a look at ICANN's Implementation Assessment Report for the Workstream 2 recommendations and break down the key human rights considerations in it. Akriti chairs the Cross Community Working Party on Human Rights at ICANN and Ephraim works on Human Rights and Business for Article 19, leading their ICANN engagement.

The article was first published on Article 19 on December 16, 2019

ICANN is the international non-profit organization that brings together various stakeholders to create policies aimed at coordinating the Domain Name System. Some of these stakeholders include representatives from government, civil society, academia, the private sector, and the technical community.

During the recently concluded 66th International Meeting of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in Montreal (Canada); the ICANN board adopted by consensus the recommendations contained within the Work Stream 2 (WS2) Final Report. This report was generated as part of steps towards accountability after the September 30th 2016 U.S. government handing over of its unilateral control over ICANN, through its previous stewardship role of the Internet Assigned Names and Numbers Authority (IANA).

The Workstream 2 Recommendations on Accountability are seen as a big step ahead in the incorporation of human rights in ICANN’s various processes, with over 100 recommendations on aspects ranging from diversity to transparency.  An Implementation Team has been constituted which comprises the Co-chairs and the rapporteurs from the WS2 subgroups. They will primarily help the ICANN organization in interpreting recommendations of the groups where further clarification is needed on how to implement the same. As the next step, an Implementation Assessment Report has recently been published which looks at the various resources and steps needed. The steps are categorized into actions meant for one of the 3; the ICANN Board, Community and the ICANN organization itself. These will be funded by ICANN’s General Operating Fund, the Board and the org.

The report is divided into the following 8 issues: 1) Diversity, 2) Guidelines for Good Faith, 3) Recommendations for a Framework of Interpretation for Human Rights, 4) Jurisdiction of Settlement of Dispute Issues, 5) Recommendations for Improving the ICANN Office of the Ombudsman, 6) Recommendations to increase SO/ AC Accountability, 7) Recommendations to increase Staff Accountability and 8) Recommendations to improve ICANN Transparency.

This blog will take a look at the essential human rights related considerations of the report and how the digital rights community can get involved with the effectuation of the recommendations.


The core issues concerning the issue of diversity revolve around the need for a uniform definition of the parameters of diversity and a community discussion on the ones already identified; geographic representation, language, gender, age, physical disability, diverse skills and stakeholder constituency. An agreed upon definition of all of these is necessary before its Board approval and application consistently through the various parts of ICANN. In addition, it is also required to formulate a standard template for diversity data collection and report generation. This sub group’s recommendations are estimated to be implemented in 6-18 months. Many of the recommendations need to be analyzed for compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) such as collecting of information relating to disability. For now, the GDPR is only referenced with no further details on how steps considered will either comply or contrast the law.

Good faith Guidelines

The Empowered Community (EC) which includes all the Supporting Organizations, At-Large-Advisory-Committee and Government Advisory Council, are called upon to conceptualize guidelines to be followed when individuals from the EC are participating in Board Removal Processes. Subsequent to this, the implementation will take 6-12 months.

Framework of Interpretation for Human Rights

Central to the human rights conversation and finally approved, is the Human Rights Framework of Interpretation. However the report does not give a specific timeline for its implementation, only mentioning that this process will take more than 12 months. The task within this is to establish practices of how the core value of respecting human rights will be balanced with other core values while developing ICANN policies and execution of its operations. All policy development processes, reviews, Cross Community Working Group recommendations will need a framework to consider and incorporate human rights, in tandem with the Framework of Interpretation. It will also have to be shown that policies and recommendations sent to the Board have factored in the FOI.


The recommendations focus on the following four key areas as listed below:
1. Improving ICANN’s Documentary Information Disclosure Policy (DIDP).
2. Documenting and Reporting on ICANN’s Interactions with Governments.
3. Improving Transparency of Board Deliberations.
4. Improving ICANN’s Anonymous Hotline (Whistleblower Protection).

The bulk of the burden for implementation is put on ICANN org with the community providing oversight and ensuring ICANN lives up to its commitments under various policies and laws. Subsequent to this, the implementation will take 6-12 months.

How the ICANN community can contribute to this work

This is a defining moment on the future of ICANN and there are great opportunities for the ICANN multistakeholder community to continue shaping the future of the Internet. Some of the envisioned actions by the community include:

  • monitoring and assessing the performance of the various ICANN bodies, and acting on the recommendations that emerge from those accountability processes. This will only be done through collaborative formulation of processes and procedures for PDPS, CCWGs etc to incorporate HR considerations and subsequently implementation of the best practices suggested for improving SO/ACs accountability and transparency;
  • conducting diversity assessments to inform objectives and strategies for diversity criteria;
  • supporting contracted parties through legal advice for change in their agreements when it comes to choice of law and venue recommendations;
  • contributing to conversations where the Ombudsman can expand his/her involvement that go beyond current jurisdiction and authority