Posted by Dan Bross
Senior Director, Corporate Citizenship, Microsoft

Yesterday in Washington, D.C., The George Washington University Law School kicked off its “Global Internet Freedom and Human Rights Distinguished Speaker Series,” which presents a range of timely topics addressing critically important areas of free speech and civil liberties.

Microsoft is sponsoring the series as part of our ongoing work to advance freedom of expression, privacy and human rights, and our belief in the importance of the “rule of law” in finding sustainable solutions for this issue. Our work with GW Law in this area also includes support for the law school’s litigation before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights later this year in a case aimed at finding justice for a reporter who was abused and forced into exile by the government of Colombia in 1996.

The inaugural speaker of the GW Law series was Dunja Mijatovic, Representative on Freedom of the Media, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), who succinctly sums up her organization’s role by noting, “there is no security without free media and free expression and, no free expression and free media without security.” The OSCE, which serves as a forum for political negotiations and decision-making in the fields of early warning, conflict prevention, crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation, recognizes that long-term security is not possible without respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Ms. Mijatovic talked about how, in the age of the Internet, protecting an individual’s freedom of expression takes on a new and more powerful meaning. Governments, working with other governments around the world, must guarantee this freedom.

This is a weighty charge, but a fundamentally important one for corporations and governments to responsibly address. That is why Microsoft is proud to be a co-founder of the Global Network Initiative (GNI), an organization dedicated to advancing Internet freedom, along with other leaders from industry, human rights organizations, academics, and socially responsible investors. A key part of our work with the GNI is to promote the rule of law and the adoption of laws, policies and practices that protect and respect freedom of expression and privacy.

Ultimately, GNI is striving for these policies to be consistent with the internationally recognized laws and standards for human rights on freedom of expression and privacy set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (“ICESCR”). While there is no single panacea to protect free expression and human rights, GNI is an important and positive step forward, and one we will continue to support as part of Microsoft’s broader efforts to address these issues.

But this is not a problem that industry alone can solve; governments have the ultimate responsibility to ensure that the human rights of their citizens are respected, protected, promoted and fulfilled. We share GNI’s belief that governments, through treaty-based organizations, are a key part of the international human rights system and that to truly achieve lasting freedom of expression, formal legal channels are needed. This will help thwart efforts by governments to enlist companies in acts of censorship and surveillance that go beyond the law or internationally recognized human rights laws and standards.

The importance of the rule of law extends even more broadly beyond these issues – it plays a critical role in creating safe, healthy communities and promoting economic opportunity for people. Microsoft is a financial supporter of the World Justice Project (WJP), which is leading a global, multidisciplinary effort to strengthen the rule of law for the development of communities of opportunity and equity.

We look forward to the interesting perspectives on this topic that are sure to come from GW Law’s speaker series. For more on the series and future lectures, please visit:
http://www.law.gwu.edu/News/20112012events/Pages/SpeakerSeries.aspx