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UN Human Rights Council urged to protect human rights online

63 civil society groups urged the UN Human Rights Council to address global challenges to freedom of expression, privacy and other human rights on the Internet. Centre for Internet & Society joined in the statement, delivered on behalf of the 63 groups by Article 19.

The 26th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is currently ongoing (June 10-27, 2014). On June 19, 2014, 63 civil society groups joined together to urge the United Nations Human Rights Council to protect human rights online and address global challenged to their realization. Centre for Internet & Society joined in support of the statement ("the Civil Society Statement"), which was delivered by Article 19 on behalf of the 63 groups.

In its consensus resolution A/HRC/20/8 (2012), the UNHRC affirmed that the "same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice". India, a current member of the UNHRC, stood in support of resolution 20/8. The protection of human rights online was also a matter of popular agreement at NETmundial 2014, which similarly emphasised the importance of protecting human rights online in accordance with international human rights obligations. Moreover, the WSIS+10 High Level Event, organised by the ITU in collaboration with other UN entities, emphasized the criticality of expanding access to ICTs across the globe, including infrastructure, affordability and reach.

The Civil Society Statement at HRC26 highlights the importance of retaining the Internet as a global resource - a democratic, free and pluralistic platform. However, the recent record of freedom of expression and privacy online have resulted in a deficit of trust and free, democratic participation. Turkey, Malaysia, Thailand, Egypt and Pakistan have blocked web-pages and social media content, while Edward Snowden's revelations have heightened awareness of human rights violations on the Internet.

At a time when governance of the Internet and its institutions is evolving, a human rights centred perspective is crucial. Openness and transparency - both in the governance of Internet institutions and rights online - are crucial to continuing growth of the Internet as a global, democratic and free resource, where freedom of expression, privacy and other rights are respected regardless of location or nationality. In particular, the Civil Society Statement calls attention to principles of necessity and proportionality to regulate targeted interception and collection of personal data.

The UNHRC, comprising 47 member states, is called upon to address these global challenges. Guided by resolutions A/HRC/20/8 and A/RES/68/167, the WSIS+10 High Level Event Outcome Documents (especially operative paragraphs 2, 8 and 11 of the Vision Document) and the forthcoming report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding privacy in the digital age, the UNHRC as well as other states may gather the opportunity and intention to put forth a strong case for human rights online in our post-2015 development-centred world.

Civil Society Statement:

The full oral statement can be accessed here.