HRC42: Council action needed on internet shutdowns


ARTICLE 19 delivered the following oral statement on internet shutdowns at the 42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council during the Item 2 General Debate on the update of the UN High Commissioner.

This Council has condemned unequivocally measures to prevent or disrupt individuals’ ability to seek, receive or impart information online, and called on all States to refrain from such practices.

Today is the 39thday of a complete communications blackout in Indian-administered Jammu Kashmir which followed the revocation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution on 5 August. The government has cut off access to the Internet, text messaging and phone calls, and cable and Kashmiri broadcasts, banned peaceful assemblies and arbitrarily arrested and detained journalists, human rights defenders, protesters and other perceived opponents. The legal basis for the blackout remains unclear, with access to effective remedies seemingly obstructed. It is the 53rdblackout in the region in 2019.

Five UN Special Rapporteurs have characterised the Kashmir blackout as an act of collective punishment without even the pretext of a crime – we reiterate their call for its immediate end.

Such shutdowns are, de facto, a disproportionate infringement on freedom of expression. They also interfere with individuals’ economic social and cultural rights, including the right to health, and have a severe economic impact across society.

We are gravely concerned by the ongoing internet shutdown in Rakhine and Chin States in Myanmar that began on 20 June continues to affect 4 townships. The deliberate disruption to conflict-affected communities’ access to online information is emblematic of the government’s efforts to restrict the flow of information in and out of conflict areas.

Internet shutdowns not only obstruct journalists and defenders monitoring and reporting on the conflict, but facilitate grave violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law to continue, out of sight. We further deplore that authorities in Bangladesh recently shutdown mobile internet for Rohingya people in refugee camps, who have fled persecution at home. States in this Council must call for an end to the shutdowns in Myanmar and in refugee camps outside the country.

In Iran, there have been at least four internet shutdowns since this Council last met in June. Claims that the shutdown was a consequence of events external to Iran should be viewed sceptically, in particular given past shutdowns during protests.

Internet shutdowns are increasing globally, whether in response to protests in West Papua Indonesia, as well as in response to protests in Cameroon.

ARTICLE 19 urges States at the Human Rights Council to increase its attention to this issue, and seek an end to the practice of deliberate communications black outs worldwide, and to address the growing number of violations of freedom of expression online at the 74th UN General Assembly.