CIVCUS welcomes the adoption by the Human Rights Council of a new resolution on human rights on the internet, particularly the resolution’s focus on internet shutdowns.
The shutdown of internet access or access to social media has become a widespread tactic used by the authorities to quell protests or forms of online dissent. In the last year, the CIVICUS Monitor documented such tactics used in Bangladesh, Chad, Ethiopia, India, Myanmar and Palestine, among other countries. The shutdowns significantly disrupt people’s ability to seek, receive or impart information online; in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, this has prevented people from obtaining essential information and services during the crisis. Such restrictions on access to the internet cannot be justified on public order or national security grounds.
The adopted resolution strongly condemns the use of internet shutdowns to intentionally and arbitrarily prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online. It further mandates the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to study the trend in internet shutdowns and present findings to the Council next year.
Over the last year, as participation has moved online, new tactics of online restriction have subsequently developed. We welcome that the resolution calls upon all States to refrain from and to cease online censorship. Given the increasing use by repressive governments of online attacks against human rights defenders and activists, and online surveillance, we call on States to ensure that measures offline or online for the protection of national security, public order and public health are in full compliance with international law obligations and respect the principles of lawfulness, legitimacy, necessity and proportionality.
Given that the digital divide has proven one of the biggest challenges facing civil society participation over the past year, it is particularly relevant that the resolution calls upon all States to accelerate efforts to bridge digital divides while applying a human rights-based approach.