UNHRC: Strong resolution must be adopted on human rights on the Internet

ARTICLE 19 is urging states at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to adopt by consensus a resolution aimed at strengthening protections for freedom of expression, the right to privacy, and other human rights online. The resolution will be considered for adoption by HRC member states on 31 June.

It has been four years since the HRC pronounced in a landmark resolution that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression” (HRC res 20/8, June 2012). This was reaffirmed in a subsequent June 2014 resolution (HRC res 26/13). The 47-member HRC adopted both resolutions by consensus, with broad co-sponsorship from other states. 

At the 31st Session of the HRC, states will consider a follow-up resolution on “the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet” (A/HRC/32/L.20). It is the initiative of Sweden, together with a core group of Brazil, Nigeria, Tunisia, Turkey, and the United States of America. 

What does the draft resolution say? 

The draft resolution again affirms that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online”, and retains much of the language of its predecessor HRC resolution 26/13. This includes its call on all States to address security concerns on the Internet in accordance with their obligations to protect freedom of expression, privacy and other human rights online. 

Importantly, the draft resolution goes further, addressing a number of issues that will be a significant contribution to international freedom of expression standards. 

In particular, the resolution:

  • Condemns and calls on States to ensure accountability for all human rights violations and abuses committed against persons for exercising their human rights online, including for extrajudicial killings and arbitrary detention;
  • Condemns “measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online” (such as Internet ‘shut downs’), and calls for States to refrain from and cease such practices;
  • Recognises that a global and open internet is crucial to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular calling for States to bridge the gender digital divide and promote Internet access for persons with disabilities;
  • Stresses the importance of a human rights-based approach in providing and expanding access to the Internet, and recognises the technical community as a key stakeholder in the promotion and protection of human rights online.

The resolution also positively references recent reports of the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, which provide states specific recommendations to strengthen anonymity and encryption, and on the relationship between state and private ICT actors in promoting and protecting free expression online

Why does this resolution matter?

Violations of the right to freedom of expression and other human rights online are increasing in all parts of the world, as governments increase efforts to exert control over that space. 

Too many people in the world still lack access to the Internet. Killings of bloggers, arbitrary detention of social media users, arbitrary and unlawful surveillance, and the proliferation of laws to shut down legitimate online speech, are a growing concern.

It is therefore essential and urgent that the HRC, as the world’s pinnacle body for addressing human rights violations, addresses this issue. Adoption of the draft resolution will be a significant and global political commitment by states to protect human rights online, against which state authorities should be held to account.

What must states at the HRC do? 

ARTICLE 19 calls on all HRC member states to support draft resolution L.20 on “the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet”, including through cosponsorship and proactively resisting any attempts by States to weaken it prior to adoption. 

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