Overcoming hostile Chinese amendment, Human Rights Council passes resolution affirming online rights

As the 26th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) nears its close, the Council today adopted a resolution on the “The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet,” spearheaded by Sweden, Brazil, Tunisia, Nigeria, Turkey, and the USA. As we noted in our HRC briefing note, this resolution follows up on the Council’s landmark resolution two years ago in affirming that human rights apply online as they do offline.

This year’s resolution recognizes the internet as “global, open and interoperable,” and reaffirms that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression.” Further, the resolution calls for states to address security concerns in accordance with international human rights obligations in order to protect freedom of expression, freedom of association, privacy, and transparency.

Access joined others in a statement led by Article 19 calling to strengthen these rights for users, in accordance with the Necessary and Proportionate Principles. We applaud this resolution and congratulate its drafters; this further articulation of how human rights apply online helps to ensure that the internet functions as a public good for the betterment of all. We hope all actors in the information society will continue the important work of putting the terms of this resolution into practice across the internet.

Unfortunately, the resolution did not pass without some controversy. The Chinese mission in particular sought to undermine the resolution, offering a hostile, oral amendment, which was supported by South Africa, Vietnam and Venezuela. The amendment proposed adding language about the “responsibilities” of internet users — in a resolution meant to enshrine their rights — as well as proposing a provision stating the “responsibilities of the State to police and punish online ‘extremism.’” Such language, which is transparently pro-censorship and incongruent with international human rights law, builds on Chinese rhetoric at this session to make the internet more “civilised and credible.”

Ultimately, the Chinese hostile amendment failed to pass, garnering only 15 votes in favour, 28 against, and 4 abstentions. The resolution was then adopted without a vote, a welcome outcome.