The United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution last week making access to web a human right. On June 1, the UNHRC denounced “measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online,” stating that they violate international human rights law. The resolution also said that the rights people have offline must also be protected online.
The resolution was opposed by India, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. India, like other nations opposing this resolution, wanted the UN to delete a passage in the resolution that condemned measures to prevent or disrupt access to dissemination of information online. Thomas Hughes, the executive director of Article 19, a charity working towards protecting freedom of expression, said, “We are disappointed that democracies like South Africa, Indonesia and India voted in favour of these hostile amendments to weaken protections for freedom of expression online.”
Extracts from the Resolution
- People have the same rights online as well as offline, “in particular freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice”.
- States are accountable for violations enacted against people for making their views known online are “condemned unequivocally”.
- Any measures to “intentionally prevent or disrupt access” to internet are “condemned unequivocally,” and all states should “refrain from and cease such measures”.
What does the UN resolution mean for India?
The resolution, aimed at “the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet”, is non-binding. However, it puts pressure on India to refrain from blocking the Internet, at least in case of minor issues. At the same time, it gives encouragement to digital rights advocates who have been calling for freedom of expression on internet.
To put it into perspective, internet shutdowns, which are frequent in India, will now go against formal UN policy.
It must be noted that the state governments often impose blanket ban on mobile internet in the wake of any protests. The ban is imposed under the pretext of ensuring national security. The recent incident of mobile Internet services being shut down in Jaisalmer and Barmer district of Rajasthan following the death of a person in police firing in Jaisalmer, was at least the 13th such ban in India since September 2015.
Internet shutdowns in India since September 2015
- June 17, 2016: Jammu (Jammu & Kashmir)
- June 4, 2016: Sonipat (Haryana)
- May 17, 2016: Azamgarh (Uttar Pradesh)
- April 18, 2016: Gujarat
- April 16, 2016: Jharkhand
- April 14, 2016: Kashmir
- February 28, 2016: Gujarat
- February 19, 2016: Haryana
- December 20, 2015: Rajasthan
- September 25, 2015: Jammu & Kashmir
- September 4, 2015: Manipur
- September 2, 2015: Gujarat
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