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Human Rights & Internet shutdowns: a systematization of United Nations documents

Updated: Mar 18

Input by Facts and Norms Institute systematizes UN documents regarding Internet Shutdown from the Universal Periodic Review, treaty-based bodies and the UN Special Procedures.

The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet (A/HRC/47/22).

The Resolution entrusted the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) with a task: “to study the trend in Internet shutdowns, analysing their causes, their legal implications and their impact on a range of human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights.”

The Council further encouraged States and all stakeholders to present inputs on the subject. As a humble collaboration, researchers from Facts and Norms Institute (FNI) recently submitted a report to the UN.

The report systematizes past contributions within the complex UN framework. By using the Universal Human Rights Index, FNI researchers identified and summarized relevant documents from the Universal Periodic Review, the UN Treaty-Based Bodies, and the UN Special Procedures.

The Universal Periodic Review

In 2019, Australia recommended Ethiopia that the State ensure that civil and political rights, particularly freedom of association and freedom of expression, are upheld, “including by ending the practice of Internet shutdowns”.

In 2020, Brazil recommended Turkey that the State strengthen freedom of expression and privacy online and offline, including by refraining from blocking online content without judicial oversight and from resorting to Internet and mobile shutdowns.

In 2021, Argentina, Ecuador, New Zealand, Norway and Estonia issued recommendations to Belarus regarding the need for the State to fully respect freedom of opinion and expression, including online; to refrain from Internet shutdowns and blocking or filtering of services, including against independent media and opposition websites; to take action to ensure media independence and unfettered access to the Internet.

Treaty-based Bodies

In 2011, the Human Rights Committee expressed concern about the monitoring of Internet use and contents, blocking of websites by Iran.

In 2012, the Human Rights Committee manifested its concern about reports of the harassment and intimidation of journalists and human rights defenders and allegations that the State monitors the use of the Internet and blocks access to certain websites in Turkmenistan.

In 2016, the Human Rights Committee expressed concern about the blocking of social media, blogs, news sites and other Internet-based resources by Kazakhstan. The Committee also voiced concern with the powers given to the Prosecutor General to shut down or suspend a network or means of communication and access to Internet resources without a court order.

In 2020, the Human Rights Committee voiced concern with legislation regulating mass communication, information technologies and the use of the Internet unduly restricted freedom of expression in Uzbekistan.

Special Procedures

In 2017, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression noted with concern the many reports he received about the blocking of multiple websites and social media and search platforms in Tajikistan. Blocking measures in Takikistan were further examined by the Human Rights Committee in 2019.

In 2019, the cited Special Rapporteur also voiced concern with reports about attacks and blockings of accounts in Ecuador and complaints by civil society organizations, journalists and media outlets about the suspension or blocking of social media accounts.

In 2020, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, following a visit to Kazakhstan, indicated that her visit itself was affected by numerous Internet blockages. The Special Rapporteur was informed that several independent news outlets and social media services were temporarily unavailable in some parts of the country. The Report also documented, inter alia, governmental information regarding the removal of 317.000 web items in 2017 and 2018 by site administrators upon the request of the General Prosecutor.

In 2020, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association noted, regarding Sri Lanka, that blockings of social media platforms on various occasions were adopted by the State as a means to deter ethno-religious violence. While acknowledging that the State must to combat the use of the Internet for purposes of ethno-religious violence, the Special Rapporteur nonetheless recommended that the State refrain from shutting down the Internet, as blanket bans are disproportionate.

In 2020, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association referred to how social movements in Zimbabwe were using the Internet and social media platforms to organize themselves. These movements, however, reportedly met government harassment and repressive tactics, including Internet shutdowns and surveillance.


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