I was surprised to see many people over the internet excited about the UN Human Right’s Council’s resolution to, among other things, denounce intentional internet blackouts a human rights violation. But, HRC32 is a largely unimportant clarification of the previously outlined Universal Declaration of Human Rights, (UDHR) and merely extends articles to the realm of the internet.
As with all human rights in the UDHR, the new resolution acts only as a guiding or customary principle. The UN may condemn egregious and wide-spread internet blackouts, but they’re not going to speak out against anyone’s internet service provider because they provide poor service. Just as Article 19 (right to freedom of opinion and expression) is often cited in library policies, so too will this new article be used to show support of equal and persistent internet access for all people.
I do find it interesting that the focus was on one specific item of the resolution, number 10 in a list of 15, when there are so many other equally interesting affirmations, calls, encouragements, condemnations, requests, and so on. That said, again, most of the statements are a reiteration of original rights from the UDHR, primarily Article 19 (freedom of expression), but also others like 1 and 2 (free and equal, and anti-discrimination) or even 5 (against torture). Some interesting items include: 6: bridging the gender digital divide, 7 bridging the disability digital divide, 8 addressing security/privacy concerns, 11 “combating” hate speech (possibly infringing on freedom of expression, but they emphasize promoting tolerance), and 12 using transparent and inclusive policies to expand internet access. The central theme throughout is to provide equal access to all persons, with many mentions of various digital divides.
The statement that got the most interest online is number 10:
[The Human Rights Council] condemns unequivocally measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law and calls on all States to refrain from and cease such measures
This is one of the more direct and strongly worded condemnations (compare to number 12, “Calls upon all states to consider …”). It also codifies what everyone innately realized: that intentional media/internet blackouts are an instrument of control and oppression. If there was anything but condemnation against the governments of Turkey and Egypt for blacking out their internet I didn’t hear it. This resolution provides citations to people angry at the prevention or disruption of access/dissemination of information, but not actual ammunition against the practice.
This statement, like others in the resolution, would work just as well as footnotes to Articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The original document can be found here (just click on the E under “Documents” in the rightmost column).
The document after oral revisions can be found here.
The Fact Sheet for the entire 32nd UNHRC session can be found here.
Ken Sawdon is a Footage Curation and Metadata Specialist at Dissolve Ltd., a startup stock footage and photo company. He is a recent MLIS graduate from the University of Alberta, where his activities included co-chair of the Forum for Information Professionals student conference and community activist and blogger for the Future Librarians for Intellectual Freedom. He has been a volunteer librarian for the Aero Space Museum of Calgary as well as a Collections Assistant at Fort Calgary. He loves wading through policy and legislation, especially intellectual property issues and professional association rhetoric. You can find and connect with him at @kainous on Twitter.