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“… the internet has transformed human rights movements… Bloggers and human rights defenders who legitimately exercise their right to freedom of expression continue to be arbitrarily arrested, tortured and unjustly sentenced to imprisonment on the pretext of protecting national security or countering terrorism. Some have had their lives threatened and been the subject of death sentences.

“We are dealing with very complex issues. However, these are not merely technical in nature, but have profound policy implications. Therefore, I would like to stress the importance of undertaking a human rights impact assessment whenever Internet policies are being deliberated.”
Ms. Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Is access to the internet a human right?

Access to the internet is multifaceted issue including access to physical infrastructure and access to content. Affordable, universal access to the internet is far from a reality. While some countries have enacted legislation that guarantees access, others are more hesitant, acknowledging the internet’s importance for development but wary of considering it a new human right.

In 2011 the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression annual report focused on the internet. The Special Rapporteur did not say that internet access is a human right. Instead, he emphasised that existing international human rights standards oblige states to take steps to ensure internet access for all. APC believes that the internet, with its potential for enabling democracy, development and knowledge-sharing, is a public good. Governments should take steps to enable affordable access for all citizens including access to content in local languages and access for disabled persons.

Is this about creating new rights?

No. At the recent Human Rights Council Panel on Freedom of Expression and the Internet Member States and civil society groups emphasised that the same human rights which apply offline apply online. Human rights defenders are asking all States to promote and protect all human rights and to take a human rights approach to internet governance and regulation.

Aren’t other issues more important? Isn’t this just an issue for developed countries?

All human rights violations are important and priorities must be determined in light of specific national contexts. Special attention is also needed to new and emerging issues that existing groups have not been able to focus on. The internet is one of these issues. Internet-related rights violations can compound existing inequalities and create new ones. Uptake of internet access in developing countries means that internet users in those countries outnumber those in developed countries. Human rights defenders from developing countries have been at the forefront of bringing internet-related issues to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

But this has nothing to do with women, right?

Wrong. Civil society groups in Brazil, for example, have expressed serious concerns that some conservative groups are attempting to block access to information on abortion. The difficulty is that information provided by civil society groups and others can be regarded as being in breach of criminal law as Brazil has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. And, in 2006 the UN Secretary General’s report on Violence Against Women called for more inquiry about the use of the internet and mobile phones in developing forms of violence. Emerging forms of technology mediated violence are being seen such as cyberstalking, digital surveillance, manipulation of personal information and images and sexual harassment that compromise women’s security and safety. Strategies are needed that empower women to use technology, including the internet, to realise the full range of their human rights, combat discrimination and protect themselves from violence.

Women’s human rights defenders have detailed evidence of technology-related violence against women and are participating in the UPR in their countries to raise these and other internet related women’s human rights issues.

What does this have to do with the UPR?

The Human Rights Committee has affirmed that freedom of expression includes internet based expression. UPR reports must include internet related human rights issues. Human rights and the internet are referred to other United Nations activities including the World Summit on the Information Society, Geneva Declaration of Principles and the Internet Governance Forum. UPR national reports must also take account of new developments.

The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression has called on States to:

  • Apply Article 19 of the ICCPR when developing internet related laws and policies
  • Ensure that limitations of online content are not arbitrary or unlawful
  • Develop plans of action for improving internet access

What is happening during UPR13?

Friday 25 May 2012 1-2pm Room XXV.

Human rights defenders from Brazil, Ecuador, India, South Africa and the Philippines will be calling on States to:

  • Set national goals for improving internet access for all
  • Establish regular national multi-stakeholder internet governance processes
  • Adopt a rights-based approach to internet related laws and policies
  • Ensure cyber strategies and cybercrime laws comply with human rights standards
  • Develop national human rights indicators that are internet related
  • Protect and defend women’s human rights, including addressing internet-based violence against women

Connect Your Rights! Internet Rights are Human Rights

More information:
Ms. Navi Pallay’s interview:
Women’s human rights issues and the internet: