The United Nations Human Rights Council has deemed that Internet access disruption by governments is a human rights violation.
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The UN Human Rights Council has passed a non-binding resolution which states that people have the same human rights offline than they have online. The non-binding resolution is entitled The Promotion, Protection and Enjoyment of Human Rights on the Internet and was adopted when 70 UN member states voted in its favour on Friday (01 July 2016). The particular human rights which come into play in the digital age can cover many, specifically freedom of expression, the rights to privacy, dignity, freedom of association, equality etc.
South Africa was one of the countries to oppose the adoption of the non-binding resolution. South Africa along with 15 other countries which was led by China and Russia and included Cuba, India, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, voted to have the following deleted from the resolution:
[C]ondems unequivocally measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online.
The non-binding resolution isn’t legally enforceable, but serves as a guidance to countries. The non-binding resolution signifies the UN Human Rights Council’s stance on human rights in the digital age in that it regards human rights to apply both offline and online. The UN also wishes to curb oppressive behaviour by governments like censorship and restriction of freedom of expression. By causing Internet access disruption, governments are violating numerous human rights and fail to fulfil many duties towards its citizens. The UN Human Rights Council stated in particular that:
[T]he same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice, in accordance with articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The non-binding resolution goes on to recommend, call upon and condemn various actions by member states, specifically recognising that deliberate Internet access disruption by governments is a human rights violation. The UN Human Rights Council calls upon member states to further bridge the digital gender gap and to provide equal access to technology and digital resources to girls and women.
You can read the full non-binding resolution HERE.