On 29 February 2012, at the 19th session of United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council, a Panel on Freedom of Expression on the Internet was held.
The discussions were highly animated, with states unwilling to let the discussion look into their own records on the matter. The Panel had an interactive format allowing interventions by panelists, states, and NGOs.
Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.In its opening statement, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay (right) noticed that the Internet has become an indispensable tool for people to receive information and, what makes the Internet unique form of mass media, to provide information, share views and opinions, exchange ideas, make voices and demands heard.
In particular, the Internet offers to human rights defenders capacities to document human rights violations and share them in real-time with a global audience. This led to the intensification of attempts to restrict access to online content or the Internet as such.
The High Commissioner stressed that bloggers and human rights defenders are arbitrary arrested, tortured, unjustly sentenced to imprisonment on the pretext of protecting national security or countering terrorism.
Navi Pillay underlined the need to ensure that any laws or measures that restrict access to online content are appropriate and necessary to effectively address genuine concerns and that methods used against criminals are not used to crackdown on human rights defenders, as well as the need to ensure that no restriction is arbitrary or excessive.
Frank la Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of opinion and expressionThe UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression Frank la Rue clarified that there is no need to introduce new standards regulating the freedom of expression on the Internet as all standards already exist, in particular in the article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Special Rapporteur stressed the importance of the Internet in promoting the respect of other human rights.
He also echoed High Commissioner´s concern about misuse of legislation designed to fight crime against those expressing critical voices.
INTERNET – A VOICE TO EVERYBODY
Frank La Rue called upon the necessity of the States´ commitment to ensure that the Internet is as free as possible and that restrictions on the access to the Internet content are proportional and immediately necessary, as well as backed by judicial decisions.
Sweden, main sponsor of the Panel, noted that the world is moving online very fast. Sweden, supported by the European Union, called upon the necessity to respect in relation to the freedom of expression on the Internet the following formula: the same human rights online and offline.
William Echikson, Google’s Head of Free Expression, External Relations, Communications and Public Affairs, also panelist, pointed out the role of the Internet of giving voice to everyone anywhere and in making information available to anyone just at one click.
Norway expressed its concern that today 60 States restrict the freedom of expression on the Internet to some extent. In addition, it noted a mobilizing role of the Internet in bringing changes into a society.
The Human Rights House Foundation addressed the Panel with the following statement (download on the right):
Find other statements made at the Human Rights Council discussion: panel on freedom of expression on the Internet:
- 19 HR Council HRHF statement (Freedom of expression on Internet)
- 19 HR Council – Freedom of expression on Internet concept note
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Azerbaijan’s reaction to HRHF’s statement
The Republic of Azerbaijan reacted to Human Rights House Foundation’s statement at the Council.
Azerbaijan’s delegation stated, in particular, that the Internet is totally free in Azerbaijan and there are no restrictions on the ground. It also declared that free use of Internet is an important indicator of freedom of media and expression.
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