Democracies join authoritarians in rejecting civil society space


The United Nations Human Rights Council has passed a resolution for the “promotion, protection, and enjoyment of human rights on the internet” which condemns any country that intentionally disrupts the internet access of its citizens, according to reports:

The resolution stresses that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online” particularly with regards to the freedom of expression already protected by articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Though it was passed by consensus, the resolution was opposed by a small number of countries including Russia and China who wished to make a number of amendments, in particular aiming to delete calls for a “human rights based approach” for providing and expanding access to the internet and remove key references to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and language on freedom of expression from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“This resolution marks a major milestone in the fight against internet shutdowns. The international community has listened to the voices of civil society — many of whom have suffered under shutdowns themselves — and laudably pushed back on this pernicious practice,” said Deji Olukotun, a senior global advocacy manager at Access Now.

But rights advocates were disturbed that such democracies as Indonesia, Nigeria, India and South Africa sided with authoritarian regimes like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and China on the issue of freedom of expression online.

“Democracies like South Africa, Indonesia and India voted in favor of hostile amendments to weaken protections for freedom of expression online,” said Article 19, an organization dedicated to freedom of expression worldwide:

A “human-rights based approach” was also included in the resolution to provide and expand access to the internet, but South Africa voted against it. Led by China and Russia, South Africa joined the 15 countries that voted in favor of an amendment to have this section removed.

Burundi, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela were the other countries that voted for the removal of the “human-rights based approach”.

“The freedom of civil society to speak out, organize, and participate in public affairs is essential to democracy, development, and human rights. Democracies such as South Africa and Nigeria are in authoritarian company rejecting civil society space. It is a betrayal of their civil society, and of their international human rights commitments,” said Thomas Hughes, Article 19’s Executive Director.

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