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APC welcomes the invitation of the Human Rights Council's Special Procedures to reflect on the impacts of COVID-19 on the exercise of human rights offline and online. The current pandemic has posed challenges for human rights and, in some cases, responses by governments have revealed fault lines that challenge international human rights law. While we recognise that these are extraordinary times, this should not be the basis for human rights violations in online spaces. States’ responses to the crisis should be proportionate and avoid curtailing human rights.
Access to the internet is vital for an informed, cooperative and people-centred global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It plays a crucial role in enabling a flow of information and sustaining communities in times of crisis, and is integral to any disaster management plan. While devastating structural inequalities across the world are being laid bare by the virus, a sense of community and collective resilience are acquiring new meaning and importance. The internet is part of this emerging resilience. Because of this, it needs to be protected as a public good, and human rights must be upheld online in any response to the crisis.
APC's submission in response to the questionnaire addresses the following questions:
What challenges and obstacles has the pandemic highlighted in terms of access for all to the internet?
Has the recent situation given rise to increased violations of human rights, mobbing and bullying online? If so, how was this addressed?
What approach have the relevant authorities taken to monitor online information related to the pandemic? Have some contents been removed from the internet? If so, what criteria were applied to decide that the specific contents should be erased? Have specific measures been implemented against hate speech in cyberspace?
The submission ends with a set of recommendations for both the Human Rights Council and governments.