Connecting the dots: Human Rights and the Internet

Author: Emilie Di Grazia

Human rights are on everyone’s lips. From the eternal optimists to the perpetual skeptics, everyone has its opinion on them – and in the digital age, everyone’s favourite medium to voice them are on the internet.

However, human rights can (and too often do) remain pretty words on a piece of paper. The respect, protection and fulfillment of human rights need concrete actions (or, as we will see, nonaction). In the legal framework, these obligations fall upon the States.

Human rights international instruments have been written and accepted in a time where the internet still remain an utopian idea, along those flying cars that I’m still waiting for.

Vhs Flying Car GIF

Thankfully, the Mothers and Fathers of human rights did not disappoint and had foresight: human rights were thought in terms to include the new human and technical developments that would come in the future, particularly when it regards to Information and Communications Technology (ICT).

It is up to us, however, to make sure that human rights are “translated” for the digital world. In other words, connecting the dots between human rights and the internet.

Why should we connect them? There is a variety of reasons, but two stand out :

  1. We, meaning every human beings, without discrimination of any kind, have the same human rights online as we do offline.

“Rights”, like any legal system, even the bizarre international one, refers to freedoms and entitlements granted to individuals. Historically, rights have been linked to citizenship, in other words, whether you are a member of a State entity – The ground-breaking particularity of human rights is that it transcends all borders, and calls to one common link: our humanity. The principle of non-discrimination is perhaps the most fundamental of all human rights instruments, it is that, and let me make a dramatic quote of UDHR:

Article 2. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Powerful, isn’t it? Oh – and let us be reminded, these rights are unconditional. They apply to us all, without any obligation.

The relative anonymity and impunity for violations in the digital world creates serious challenges however to a free, safe use of the internet – from the States and private actors. It creates situations where people are evolving in a sphere where their rights can be violated.

2) Freedom to use communication mediums are an organic part of the right to freedom of expression.

Internet enables the freedom of expression in an unprecedented way, connecting the world in an interactive forum of sorts – it is part of the globalized world, whether we like it or not.

The question remains – how to translate human rights into the digital world?

This is what organizations such as APC and One World Platform are thriving for.

In order to fight for our rights, we need understand them. This is precisely what we will explore during this blog series.'

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