Civil Society Voices Must be Heard in the UN Cybercrime Convention Process

A new process to negotiate an international convention to counter cybercrime is due to start in  May 2021 in the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly. The Resolution 74/247 adopted by the General Assembly in December 2019 established an open-ended ad hoc intergovernmental committee of experts, to elaborate a comprehensive international convention on countering the use of information and communications technologies for criminal purposes. Their first meeting will discuss the working modalities for the ad-hoc committee hosted by the UN Office for Drugs and Crime. We welcome a process that is transparent and inclusive of civil society voices at all stages.  

This ad hoc committee comes at a time of dramatic change in the rate and diversity of crimes committed in the digital world. Attackers increasingly target critical infrastructure and essential services. 

During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, ransomware attacks against hospitals have doubled, leaving patients and healthcare workers victim to dire consequences. Such attacks are more easily perpetrated in the climate of distrust and uncertainty triggered by the continuous misuse of information and communication technologies. 

Focus on victim protection and accountability 

The exploitation of advanced technologies for illicit purposes, the links between state-sponsored and criminal activities and limitations in international cooperation have led to more suffering and a general feeling of impunity. Human-centric solutions, as advocated for by civil society organizations, need to focus on victim protection and accountability, thereby restoring security and trust in the digital world.  

Cybercrime remains ill-defined and adequate platforms for repair and redress are missing. Any discussion of an international convention to counter cybercrime has to include multistakeholder actors and to start with a human-centric vision. 

Previous processes have benefited from the inclusion of civil society actors. The UN OEWG held informal multistakeholder sessions and consultations throughout the group’s mandate in order to allow for non-ECOSOC organizations to voice their concerns and exchange views with national delegations. In the drafting of the second additional protocol to the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime, civil society organizations helped ensure that human rights are safeguarded and protected. 

On a regional level, the EU held a 14-week open consultation ahead of the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act proposals, allowing for citizen perspectives and NGO contributions on ways to enhance users’ online safety. 

These examples show some steps that have been taken to include multistakeholder actors in inter-governmental processes, however, the CyberPeace Institute believes that engagement with civil society should become an organizational norm.  

Civil society plays a key role in countering cybercrime 

Civil society organizations are uniquely placed to voice citizens’ concerns and defend fundamental rights and freedoms, especially those related to human security, dignity, and equity. They represent a key partner in countering cybercrime, based on their direct work with cybercrime victims, their expertise grounded in local realities and their capacity to advance humane solutions. 

In the new UN process towards an international instrument to counter cybercrime, the CyberPeace Institute calls for sustained engagement with civil society – in person and remotely.  

To address the impact of cybercrime on society as a whole, States need to work alongside non-governmental stakeholders to ensure legal consistency and complementarity with existing international legal and normative framework. Civil society engagement is key to ensure strong oversight and accountability and to avoid that geopolitical interests prevail. 

Where existing solutions fail to provide adequate responses, civil society can fill the gaps, by ensuring that information from the ground reaches the policy circles, victims’ experiences are heard and those responsible for harm are held accountable; imagining a way forward is a collective effort to which civil society has a lot to contribute.  

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