Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada urges Zoom to abide by international human rights obligations

Zoom suspended accounts of human rights activists in response to request from government of China

Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada urges Zoom to abide by international human rights obligations

Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada has condemned Zoom Communications Inc.’s suspension of the accounts of human rights activists, calling it a breach of its responsibility to respect the rights to free expression, association and assembly.

A letter from Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada called upon Zoom to ensure that the communications of its users are not similarly suspended or disrupted in the future. The group urged Zoom to establish a company policy to clarify how it intends to adhere to its international legal responsibility under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The group also requested that Zoom refrain from blocking participation of users based on geography.

In June, Zoom suspended three accounts of activists based in the U.S. and Hong Kong in compliance with a request from the government of China, which claimed that the activists were trying to use Zoom to host meetings commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Zoom then reinstated the accounts and said that it would not in the future permit such requests to affect individuals outside mainland China.

Despite the reinstatement of these accounts, the lawyers’ rights group took issue with Zoom’s plans to develop technology that will allow it to remove or block participants based on their location in response to requests from local authorities claiming that certain activity on the platform is prohibited based on their country’s laws.

“All international businesses, including Zoom, must ensure that all their users can enjoy the rights and freedoms afforded to them under international law,” wrote Joey Doyle, a director of Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada and an author of the letter, in the organization’s press release. “This is particularly important in this present world where most communication takes place over online platforms such as Zoom.”

Zoom has an international law obligation to respect the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, the right to access information and the right to privacy, said Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, citing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as legal bases. The group also called attention to the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which recognizes the right of such defenders to advance the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Joshua Lam, another director of Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, and executive director Catherine Morris co-authored the letter, addressed to Eric S. Yuan, Zoom’s founder and chief executive officer, and Lynn Haaland, the company’s chief compliance and ethics officer.

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