APC welcomes Human Rights Council resolution on human rights and the internet

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By APC (APC)
, June 2014

The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) welcomes the UN Human Rights Council’s (HRC) resolution on the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the internet (Updated from previous link to oral resolution). Adopted by consensus by 82 member states, the resolution affirms that the same rights people enjoy offline apply online.

The resolution is significant in that it recognises the impact of the internet on a broad range of human rights, including the right to education, privacy, freedom of expression, and the right of peaceful assembly and association. The resolution also addresses key internet issues like access to information, digital literacy, interoperability, and innovation, and recognises the global and open nature of the internet.

We are pleased to see the Council make a strong link between the internet and development, referring to the internet as an “enabler for development” and as a “vibrant force which generates economic, social, and cultural development”. The resolution also identifies universal access as an objective of national policies.

We also welcome the resolution’s framing of security concerns and human rights as complementary goals. It calls on States to respect their international human rights when security concerns are addressed and affirms the central obligations of States to act through national democratic transparent institutions, based on the rule of law. These are considered necessary conditions to ensure freedom and security online, so that the internet can continue to be a driving force for economic, social, and cultural development. 

The resolution calls on States to “consider formulating national internet-related policies through transparent and inclusive processes, with all stakeholders and adopting national internet-related public policies that have the objective of universal access and enjoyment of human rights at their core”. This marks the first time that the HRC has directly addressed internet governance, including a reference to the Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance (NetMundial), which acknowledged that human rights must underpin internet governance. 

APC supports transparent, democratic, and multistakeholder processes at all levels of internet policy making (not only at the national level), and as such, we are very pleased to see the reference to NetMundial. We have seen some governments consistently attempt to reject references to NetMundial at UN discussions, partly because of the multistakeholder nature of the event. We commend the HRC for breaking with this pattern. However, we regret that the term ‘multistakeholder’ was ultimately removed from the resolution. The reference to creating national policies that affirm the global and interoperable nature of the internet was also removed.

The resolution could also have been stronger in other areas. For example, universal access is indicated as a goal without stating the need for affordable and quality access, both critically important aspects of access that are sorely lacking for the majority of the world’s population. While the resolution references the “digital divide”, the importance of digital literacy and the right to education; it could have gone further by encouraging States to adopt policies to expand internet access to marginalized communities, women, and persons with disabilities. The resolution could have also included language on the need to promote access to knowledge and culture, and the need for specific follow-up action from the Council. 

APC deplores hate speech, but we were concerned to see China and other countries attempt to use references to hate speech as a way to dilute the resolution. The proposed text included “negative profiling” and other matters that are not within the definition of hate speech under international law. This amendment was ultimately voted on and failed. Instead, the compromise text stresses the importance of deterring hate speech, which serves to incite discrimination or violence on the internet, through the promotion of tolerance and dialogue. 

We commend the HRC for its emphasis on tolerance and dialogue in response to hatred, discrimination and violence online. Communities that experience violence and discrimination online are routinely marginalised in the development of prevention and response mechanisms to protect their rights. 

APC hopes that States will follow inclusive processes in the development of internet-related public policies in order to protect, promote and defend human rights online. We will be drawing on the resolution in our research on the impact of the internet on economic, cultural and social rights. We also encourage the special procedures and the Human Rights Council itself to continue their consideration of the impact of the internet and new technologies on human rights.

Update: The version of the resolution linked in this statement is now the official version.

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