Access Now’s digital rights agenda for the 32nd session of the U.N. Human Rights Council

Access Now is attending the U.N. Human Rights Council this week to bolster support for digital rights.

The 32nd session of the Human Rights Council begins today, as the HRC celebrates its 10th anniversary. The session opened with fireworks. The High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called out many governments for failing to protect human rights defenders (see this tweet) and cracking down on freedom of expression, as well as over his finding that “hate is being mainstreamed.” His full remarks are here. Many governments expressed condolences to the United States for the mass killing in Orlando, Florida this weekend that targeted LGBT individuals.

Below, we highlight some of the key priorities for this session of the Human Rights Council, which ends in early July. You can learn more in our joint blog post with the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), which provides a comprehensive list of the internet-related work the council will undertake this month.

In brief, we seek during this session reinforcement of the principle that human rights apply online as they do offline; a commitment to do further work to address the global pandemic of internet shutdowns; endorsement of pursuit of global business standards to defend free expression; and continued work to push states to meet their commitments on digital rights.

Affirm that human rights apply online as they do offline

First, we believe the HRC should renew its groundbreaking finding that human rights apply online as they do offline. Two resolutions — the first passed in 2012 — established this norm, and it is more important than ever to recognize. We hope the Council reaches consensus, as in past years, on this “internet resolution,” and we are already working with partners like Article 19, APC, and Privacy International to make that happen.

Address the global threat of internet shutdowns

The rash of internet shutdowns we have tracked this year represent a grave and growing threat to human rights. We believe the Council should address internet shutdowns directly, through the internet resolution, condemning shutdowns and calling for immediate action by governments. We will tell delegates that our campaign to #KeepItOn has global support from more than 70 organizations, who will continue pressuring for a red line against shutdowns. As a first step, the Council should address shutdowns via a renewed “internet resolution.”

Pursue global business standards to defend free expression in the digital age

Businesses have responsibilities to respect human rights and provide adequate access to remedy. This rule stands in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector just as it does in other industries. Private actors largely own and operate the infrastructure, and make decisions impacting our rights to freedom of expression and privacy. We welcomed the new report by Special Rapporteur on free expression David Kaye on corporate responsibilities and areas where private actors should protect and promote freedom of expression in a digital age. The Special Rapporteur will present the report this week, followed by a side event in which several tech and telecom companies participate. In addition, a new resolution on business and human rights could put attention on states for failing to provide access to remedy for victims of business-related human rights violations. We will pressure all stakeholders — including companies and governments — to develop and implement stronger standards for applying human rights online.

Push states to live up to digital rights commitments

Finally, we will meet directly with delegates of countries that we believe do not live up to their commitments, or the norms recognized by the Human Rights Council, to protect digital rights. We offer our expertise as they work to improve the situation of human rights defenders, extend connectivity, and widen the democratic space for civil society groups on the ground.

You can follow along with the HRC’s 32nd session on Twitter using the hashtag #HRC32 and view the proceedings here via webcast.

You can also follow Peter Micek, representing us this week at the United Nations, on Twitter here.