A vote carried out by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has agreed to affirm an expanded resolution on online rights.
The non-binding resolution that was passed by the UNHRC on Friday formally condemned countries which take actions to block or disrupt their citizens’ access to ther internet. The resolution entitled ‘The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet’ which effectively extends human rights held offline to the internet, was passed by consensus by the UNHRC’s 47-member council. The resolution primarily defends individuals’ online and offline rights, such as “freedom of expression” and choice of media deserve the same protections by calling for the international community to reject efforts aimed at blocking internet access.
Based on a 2015 Freedom of the Net report issued last year by rights group Freedom House, more than half of the world’s population lives in countries that have some form of restricted internet and media access (34% countries heavily restrict internet access and 23% countries partially restrict internet access), with internet freedom deteriorating for the fifth year in a row as of October last year. The report went on to relate how online surveillance was on the rise and even democratic nations such as France and Australia have authorized new surveillance in response to terrorism or the threat of it.
In addition, the digital rights group, Access Now, that applauded the passage of the resolution, has accounted for at least 15 internet shutdowns around the globe in 2015, and 20 in the first half of this year.
“This resolution marks a major milestone in the fight against internet shutdowns. The international community has listened to the voices of civil society — many of whom have suffered under shutdowns themselves — and laudably pushed back on this pernicious practice,” said Deji Olukotun, a senior global advocacy manager at Access Now.
“Shutdowns harm everyone and allow human rights crackdowns to happen in the dark, with impunity. Citizens can’t participate fully in democratic discourse during elections. The Human Rights Council’s principled stance is a crucial step in telling the world that shutdowns need to stop,” he said.
It is not the first resolution of its kind on digital rights adopted by the UNHRC, with the council having passed two previous resolutions by consensus on 5th July 2012 and 26th June 2014. However, this latest third resolution does seem to go further than the prior ones, with additional sections to focus on internet censorship; emphasizing the importance of an accessible and open Internet to the achievement of development goals, and calling for accountability for violence, detentions, harassment and other violations against people for expressing themselves online.
The resolution was submitted to the U.N. Council by Brazil, Nigeria, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey and the US, although first seeing several amendments to the text which had been tabled by China and Russia rejected by the sponsor countries who argued they were an attempt to dilute its focus, while another was withdrawn.
Among the key extracts in the resolutions are:
- That people have the same rights online as offline, “in particular freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice.”
- That human rights violations enacted against people due to making their views known online are “condemned unequivocally,” and states are held accountable for any such violations.
- Any measures to “intentionally prevent or disrupt access” to the internet are also “condemned unequivocally,” and all states should “refrain from and cease such measures.”
Source: Edward Snowden Twitter
Furthermore, this resolution also recognises the need to bridge the digital and gender divide, noting the need to remove disparities in internet access between women and men. Specificially, it stresses “the importance of empowering all women and girls by enhancing their access to information and communications technology”, to encourage digital literacy on top of supporting them to pursue careers in IT fields.
For further reading on the latest resolution, click here.
 Article 19
 The Hill
 Tech Crunch
 Voice of America
 Washington Times