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UN Human Rights Council Confirms that Human Rights Apply to the Internet

Published on July 23, 2012        Author: 

Dr. Matthias C. Kettemann, LL.M. (Harvard), is a teaching and research fellow at the Institute of International Law and International Relations of the University of Graz, Austria. He blogs at http://internationallawandtheinternet.blogspot.com.

Was it a “victory for the Internet“, as Carl Bildt, foreign minister of Sweden, called it in a New York Times op-ed? Or, rather, a victory for all Internet users and those two thirds of the world population that do not yet have access to the Internet?

Most likely, it was a bit of both: On 5 July 2012, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted by consensus a key resolution on promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet (UN Doc. A/HRC/20/L.13). Presented by Sweden, the Resolution enjoyed broad international backing from more than 70 HRC member countries and non-members from all regional groups, including China, Brazil, Nigeria, Ukraine, Tunisia, Turkey, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Centrally, the Resolution affirms that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online” and should thus put to rest the tedious debate about whether we need ‘new’ human rights for the Internet age, motivated chiefly by states not wishing to ensure the ‘old’ human rights in an online environment.

Although the Resolution’s approach is sound, I will take issue with a number of points, identify remaining problems and discuss priorities for the international political process, including chiefly the need to prioritize international discussions on how international law protects human rights online.

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