UNHRC: Reject attempts to weaken resolution on Human Rights and the Internet

UNHRC: Reject attempts to weaken resolution on Human Rights and the Internet - Digital

Customers in a space-age internet cafe.

ARTICLE 19 and more than 80 other organisations have called on states at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to support a resolution on human rights and the Internet, and to reject attempts led by Russia and China to weaken it. The resolution will be considered for adoption of 30 June.

The draft resolution on “the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet” (A/HRC/32/L.20) is the joint initiative of Brazil, Nigeria, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, and the United States of America.

The draft resolution reaffirms that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online”, a fundamental principle that has formed the basis of two previous HRC resolutions adopted by consensus (A/HRC/res/26/13, June 2014; A/HRC/res/20/8, June 2012).

The draft resolution goes further than its predecessors, including by stressing the importance of an accessible and open Internet to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as in calling for accountability for extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions and other violations against people for expressing themselves online.

Four amendments to the draft resolution, tabled by the Russian Federation and China, seek to substantially weaken the resolution, including by stripping key language, taken from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on the right to freedom of expression “regardless of frontiers” and “through any media of one’s choice”.

The resolution also unequivocally condemns “measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online”. This would include measures to shut down the Internet or part of the Internet at times when access to information is critical, such as during polling in an election, or in the aftermath of a terrorist attack.

Positive references are made in the draft resolution to recent reports of the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, which include specific recommendations to states to strengthen anonymity and encryption, and on the relationship between state and private ICT actors in promoting and protecting free expression online. It is important that future resolutions continue to draw upon the Special Rapporteur’s work, so that they establish more detailed UN standards on the protection and promotion of freedom of expression online.

We urge all delegations at the UN HRC to cosponsor the draft resolution, and urge HRC Member States to reject proposed amendments aimed at weakening it, and vote in favour of the resolution if a vote is called.

Download the draft resolution here.


Open Letter to Member and Observer States of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC)

Support resolution on the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the internet (A/HRC/32/L.20)

29 June 2016

Your Excellency,

The undersigned organisations working to promote and protect human rights online, call on your delegation to support the adoption of a strong and consensus resolution on “the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet” (A/HRC/32/L.20). The resolution is the joint initiative of Brazil, Nigeria, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, and the United States of America.

We urge all delegations to cosponsor the draft resolution, and urge HRC Member States to reject proposed amendments aimed at weakening it, and vote in favour of the resolution if a vote is called.

The HRC has affirmed twice by consensus that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online” (A/HRC/res/26/13, June 2014; A/HRC/res/20/8, June 2012). In the digital age, it is imperative that the HRC maintains consensus support for this fundamental principle.

The draft resolution, following the adoption of the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, is timely in identifying the vast opportunities the Internet presents for the promotion of human rights and the advancement of sustainable development. It also identifies challenges all states must address to promote and protect human rights online.

In particular, the draft resolution:

  • Recognises that a global and open Internet is a driving force in accelerating progress towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. In particular it calls for States to bridge the gender digital divide, requesting the High Commissioner to prepare a report to provide guidance in this regard, and to 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 civil society and the technical community as key stakeholders in the promotion and protection of human rights online;
  • Unequivocally 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;
  • Unequivocally condemns “measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online” and calls for States to refrain from and cease such practices.

However, four amendments to the draft resolution tabled by the Russian Federation and China (L.85 – L.88) would if adopted together, significantly weaken the resolution. This includes proposals that would:

  • Delete reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Article 19 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) language on the application of the right to freedom of expression “regardless of frontiers” and “through any media of one’s choice” (Amendment L.86). These elements of the ICCPR, a treaty widely ratified by states, are central to the Human Rights Committee’s interpretation of the application of the right to freedom of expression online. It is also consensus language unchallenged in two previous HRC resolutions on this topic. Additional references to the right to privacy in the draft resolution, also suggested in the amendment, should not come at the expense of detailed references to the right to freedom of expression or the UDHR.
  • Delete references to a “human rights based approach” in providing and expanding access to the Internet, including in relation to bridging various forms of digital divide (Amendment L.87). Underpinning the expansion of Internet access with a human rights based approach is essential to ensure the benefits of Internet access are universal, non-discriminatory, and facilitate the exercise of human rights online for all people. A human rights based approach requires addressing economic, social and cultural barriers to access, and respecting the right to privacy to ensure trust in technology.
  • Undermine the intended focus of the draft resolution on protecting human rights online, in particular freedom of expression, by adding additional language to the preamble concerning “hate speech” online (Amendment L.88). This suggested addition is not necessary as it duplicates in narrower terms existing language in the draft resolution stressing the importance of promoting tolerance and dialogue in combating “advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination or violence on the Internet”. The positive focus of the draft resolution is further diluted by attempts to add references to a separate HRC initiative on child sexual exploitation (Amendment L.85).

We therefore ask that your delegation cosponsor the resolution on the ”the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet”, oppose all four proposed amendments, and vote in favour of the resolution if a vote is called.

Yours sincerely,

ARTICLE 19
Access Now
Africa Freedom of Information Centre
African Internet Governance and Open Government Data Research Foundation Institute
Albanian Media Institute
Algorithm Watch
Amnesty International
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Association for Free Thought and Expression
Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE)
Bytes for All, Pakistan
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic
Candid Concepts Development Agencies, Bahamas
Center for Democracy & Technology
Center for Inquiry
Centre for Law and Democracy
Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights
Centro de Estudios en Libertad de Expresión y Acceso a la Información CELE de la Universidad de Palermo
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
La Coalition Burundaise des défenseurs des droits humains
Committee to Protect Journalists
DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
Digital Rights Watch
Electronic Frontier Finland
Electronic Frontier Foundation
ENDA Tiers Monde (Environment Development Action in the Third World)
European Center for Not-for-Profit Law
Forum pour le Renforcement de la Société Civile – Burundi
Foundation for Media Alternatives (Philippines)
Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), Colombia
Free Press Unlimited
Global Forum for Media Development
Global Integrity
Global Partners Digital
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
Human Rights Movement “Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan”
Human Rights Watch
i Freedom Uganda Network
Imagining the Internet Center
International Modern Media Institute
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law
International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA)
International Media Support (IMS)
International Press Institute
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
Internet Freedom Foundation (India)
iRights, Germany
IT for Change, India
JasHim Foundation
Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet)
Korean Progressive Network Jinbonet
Lawyers for Justice in Libya
Media Matters for Democracy, Pakistan
Media Rights Agenda
National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Burundi
Nazra for Feminist Studies
One World Platform
OpenMedia
Pakistan Press Foundation
PEN Bangladesh
PEN Canada
PEN International
PEN Philippines
PEN South Africa
Public Knowledge
Punto24
Privacy International
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Le Réseau des Citoyens Probes – Burundi
Sinar Project
Soroptimist International
SumOfUs.org
Universal Rights Network
Unwanted Witness Uganda
Urdu Internet Society & Internet Governance Forum of Pakistan
Vietnam Committee on Human Rights
Viet Tan
World Movement for Democracy
World Wide Web Foundation
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum

Read the open letter here.

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