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UNHRC32: Support resolution on the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the internet

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 ofthe 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,

  1. ARTICLE 19
  2. Access Now
  3. Africa Freedom of Information Centre
  4. African Internet Governance and Open Government Data Research Foundation Institute
  5. Albanian Media Institute
  6. Algorithm Watch
  7. Amnesty International
  8. Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
  9. Association for Free Thought and Expression
  10. Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
  11. Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE)
  12. Bytes for All, Pakistan
  13. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  14. Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic
  15. Candid Concepts Development Agencies, Bahamas
  16. Center for Democracy & Technology
  17. Center for Inquiry
  18. Centre for Law and Democracy
  19. Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights
  20. Centro de Estudios en Libertad de Expresión y Acceso a la Información CELE de la Universidad de Palermo
  21. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  22. La Coalition Burundaise des défenseurs des droits humains
  23. Committee to Protect Journalists
  24. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  25. Digital Rights Watch
  26. Electronic Frontier Finland
  27. Electronic Frontier Foundation
  28. ENDA Tiers Monde (Environment Development Action in the Third World)
  29. European Center for Not-for-Profit Law
  30. Forum pour le Renforcement de la Société Civile – Burundi
  31. Foundation for Media Alternatives (Philippines)
  32. Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), Colombia
  33. Free Press Unlimited
  34. Global Forum for Media Development
  35. Global Integrity
  36. Global Partners Digital
  37. Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
  38. Human Rights Movement “Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan”
  39. Human Rights Watch
  40. i Freedom Uganda Nwtwork
  41. Imagining the Internet Center
  42. International Modern Media Institute
  43. International Center for Not-for-Profit Law
  44. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
  45. International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA)
  46. International Media Support (IMS)
  47. International Press Institute
  48. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  49. Internet Freedom Foundation (India)
  50. iRights, Germany
  51. IT for Change, India
  52. JasHim Foundation
  53. Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet)
  54. Korean Progressive Network Jinbonet
  55. Lawyers for Justice in Libya
  56. Media Matters for Democracy, Pakistan
  57. Media Rights Agenda
  58. National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders -Burundi
  59. Nazra for Feminist Studies
  60. One World Platform
  61. OpenMedia
  62. Pakistan Press Foundation
  63. PEN Bangladesh
  64. PEN Canada
  65. PEN International
  66. PEN Philippines
  67. PEN South Africa
  68. Public Knowledge
  69. Punto24
  70. Privacy International
  71. Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  72. Le Réseau des Citoyens Probes – Burundi
  73. Sinar Project
  74. Soroptimist International
  76. Universal Rights Network
  77. Unwanted Witness Uganda
  78. Urdu Internet Society & Internet Governance Forum of Pakistan
  79. Vietnam Committee on Human Rights
  80. Viet Tan
  81. World Movement for Democracy
  82. World Wide Web Foundation
  83. Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum


Human Rights Defender of the month: Apollo Mukasa

Apollo Mukasa’s journey into activism is deeply rooted in his commitment to advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities (PWDs). As the Executive Director of Uganda National Action on Physical Disability (UNAPD), Apollo is a driving force behind initiatives aimed at combating discrimination among PWDs. UNAPD was established in 1998 as a platform for voicing concerns of persons with physical disabilities to realise a barrier free environment where they can enjoy their rights to the fullest.