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    Steps to Take in Response to Online Harms

    Module 7: Cybercrimes

    This section lays out practical approaches to dealing with various online harms.

    Actions taken by State actors

    • Tell the story and engage in advocacy.  While ensuring that the identity of the victim or survivor is fully protected, identify the online harms committed and brief the press and start an advocacy campaign.  Too often, reportage is limited in terms of the perpetration of online harms which enables these practices to grow.
    • Consider domestic legal challenges.  Many cybercrimes laws in Africa arguably breach fundamental rights and freedoms, especially in their vagueness and generality.  In such cases, recourse to the courts may provide relief, especially in constitutional democracies.  In cases where existing legislation does not cater specifically for crimes committed online, there may be an opportunity to apply or develop existing laws, such as those found with existing criminal laws.
    • Approach regional courts.  In cases where cybercrimes legislation is being used to unjustly violate rights and freedoms and domestic courts are not amenable, there may be recourse in regional human rights courts such as the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice, the East African Court of Justice, or the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, if jurisdiction can be established.  These courts have jurisdiction to determine State compliance with regional human rights agreements and related legal instruments.(1)

    Actions taken by non-State actors

    • Consider obtaining an interdict or harassment order.  A harassment order can be an inexpensive civil remedy useful in cases where the behaviour may not constitute a crime but may impact negatively on the rights of a person.  The order prohibits a person from harassing another person, and breaching it constitutes an offence, which is usually punishable by a fine or a period of imprisonment.  Many anti-harassment acts include bullying and cyberstalking.  Legal representation is usually not necessary, and orders can be applied for at the lower courts.(2)
    • Report behaviour to the relevant platform that was used.  Most social media platforms have mechanisms for reporting illegal or unethical behaviour, which may result in content being taken down or the offending user being blocked either temporarily or permanently.  It may help to revise the relevant platforms’ terms of use prior to reporting to identify the most salient term that has been violated.(3)

    Footnotes

    1. International Justice Resource Center, ‘Courts and Tribunals of Regional Economic Communities,’ (accessible at: https://ijrcenter.org/regional-communities/). Back
    2. Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, Protection from Harassment Act, 2011 (Act 17 of 2011 (accessible at: https://www.justice.gov.za/forms/form_pha.html). Back