The United Nations officially condemned the practice of countries shutting down access to the internet at a meeting of the Human Rights Council on Friday. A non-binding resolution passed Friday morning by the UNHRC’s 47 member-states calls for the international community to reject efforts aimed at blocking internet access, and reaffirms previous resolutions that state “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression.”
Although the council has previously advocated for extending human rights into the digital sphere with resolutions passed in 2012 and 2014, this week’s measure marks the first time that the group has officially spoken up against online censorship.
The resolution condemns violations including torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and gender-based violence enacted against anyone expressing themselves on the internet. Additionally, the HRC "condemns unequivocally" any attempt to intentionally restrict access to information online and calls on all nations to halt such practices.
Recently, Vietnam was caught blocking internet access amid political protests and during Obama's visit to the country. Other governments, including those of Russia, China and Turkey, have restricted the internet during times of political unrest or in an effort to block "scandalous" content. Turkey signed its name to today's resolution.
The resolution also notes that online privacy is essential to realizing the right to freedom of expression, and it recognizes the need to remove disparities in internet access between women and men. Particularly, it stresses "the importance of empowering all women and girls by enhancing their access to information and communications technology," promoting their digital literacy, and encouraging them to pursue careers in IT fields.