The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution last week on the “promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet” (A/HRC/20/L.13 ). This is a ground-breaking document in the history of digital rights because for the first time we have an international declaration that equates offline and online rights. The declaration is also noteworthy because it prompts governments to promote and facilitate access to the Internet. This has not only digital divide effects, but it also could be another weapon in the arsenal against three-strikes, graduated response, and other legal disconnection regimes.
The declaration reads:
“The Human Rights Council,
Guided by the Charter of the United Nations, […]
1.Affirms 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, in accordance with articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
2. Recognizes the global and open nature of the Internet as a driving force in accelerating progress towards development in its various forms;
3. Calls upon all States to promote and facilitate access to the Internet and international cooperation aimed at the development of media and information and communications facilities in all countries;
4. Encourages special procedures to take these issues into account within their existing mandates, as applicable;
5. Decides to continue its consideration of the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights, including the right to freedom of expression, on the Internet and in other technologies, as well as of how the Internet can be an important tool for development and for exercising human rights, in accordance with its programme of work.”
While this is a non-binding declaration, it can be used as an interpretation guide in future court decisions, particularly those in front of courts of human rights (eg. the Inter-American Court of Human Rights). The resolutions can also be used by the Council in case of a dispute on any abuse of human rights.
As Carl Bildt said in the New York Times, this is a victory for the Internet.