Article 19 calls on U.N. to protect free speech
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Article 19 calls on U.N. to protect free speech

General view of the General Assembly, United Nations, New York. Photo: Contributed

Article 19, speaking on behalf of 63 civil society groups, has urged the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) to strengthen protections for freedom of expression, the right to privacy, and other human rights online.

Based in London, Article 19 promotes freedom of information worldwide. Its vision and principles are supported by the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC).

Article 19 noted that two years ago, the HRC pronounced in a landmark consensus resolution that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular, freedom of expression.” U.N. members are now considering a follow-up to this resolution, said the human rights group.

Article 19’s statement on behalf of the 63 groups recalled that the Internet is crucial for ensuring transparency and public participation and particularly for enhancing accountability and effectiveness of development outcomes.

The statement said that states must promote and facilitate universal, equitable, affordable and high-quality Internet access on the basis of human rights, the rule of law, and net-neutrality – even during times of unrest.

The organizations jointly stressed that much more is needed from the HRC to protect dissent online. Recent website blocking in Egypt, Malaysia, Pakistan, Turkey, Venezuela, and Thailand, demonstrates that the Internet is on the front line in the contest for civic space and freedom of expression, and requires urgent protection.

The groups called on the HRC to recognize that trust in the Internet is conditional on respect for rights to freedom of expression and privacy, regardless of users’ nationality or location. “It is therefore paramount that the HRC assert that any mass surveillance, including extra-territorially, is inherently disproportionate and a violation of human rights,” the statement said.

The statement points to the “Necessary and Proportionate Principles,” created by NGOs and legal experts around the world, for addressing the challenges to protecting freedom of expression and privacy online.

Together with the forthcoming report of the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights and U.N. General Assembly Resolution 68/167, they provide useful guidance for the HRC to protect of the right to privacy in line with international standards. States are urged to consider these principles ahead of the HRC panel discussion scheduled for the 27th Session in September 2014, Article 19 said.

Read the full joint oral statement here.

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