[governance] Freedom of Expression on the Internet Cross-regional Statement

Fouad Bajwa fouadbajwa at gmail.com
Tue Jun 21 08:28:43 EDT 2011

This may be of interest if you have not read it earlier:

Human Rights Council 17th session 10 June 2011
Carl Bildt, Minister for Foreign Affairs
(Jan Knutsson, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Sweden in Geneva)
Freedom of Expression on the Internet Cross-regional Statement


Freedom of Expression on the Internet Cross-regional Statement
Check against delivery.

Mr President,
I have the honor of addressing the Human Rights Council on behalf of

Austria, Bosnia, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia,
the Czech Republic, Denmark, Djibouti, Guatemala, India, Indonesia,
Israel, Japan, Jordan, Lithuania, fmr Yugoslav Rep of Macedonia,
Maldives, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Montenegro, Morocco, the
Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Palestine, Peru, Poland, Senegal,
South Africa, Serbia, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine,
the United States, Uruguay

Mr President,
The Vienna Declaration and Program of Action asserted that all human
rights are interdependent and interrelated. The positive potential in
that statement has been amply demonstrated by the incredible spread
and use of modern communication technologies. As was stated also in
this general debate in the Human Rights Council one year ago, these
technologies have enabled ordinary citizens in all corners of the
world, to disseminate their views and to communicate with others on a
scale that was quite unimaginable not long ago. Internet, social
media, and mobile phone technology have played, and should continue to
play, a crucial role as instruments for participation, transparency
and engagement in socio-economic, cultural and political development.

For us, one principle is very basic: The same rights that people have
offline - freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek
information, freedom of assembly and association, amongst others -
must also be protected online.

We were pleased to see the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression
endorse that same principle in his most recent report. That report,
based on wide-ranging global consultations, including two expert
meetings in Stockholm, is a timely contribution. But it will now be up
to us, as member states, to translate several of its key
recommendations into practical steps that will make a difference, as
part of our work in this field.

The Internet should not be used as a platform for activities
prohibited in human rights law. However, we believe, as does the
Special Rapporteur, that there should be as little restriction as
possible to the flow of information on the Internet. Only in a few
exceptional and limited circumstances can restrictions on content be
acceptable. Such restrictions must comply with international human
rights law, notably article 19 of the ICCPR. We consider
Government-initiated closing down of the Internet, or major parts
thereof, for purposes of suppressing free speech, to be in violation
of freedom of expression. In addition, Governments should not mandate
a more restrictive standard for intermediaries than is the case with
traditional media regarding freedom of expression or hold
intermediaries liable for content that they transmit or disseminate.

We call on all states to ensure strong protection of freedom of
expression online in accordance with international human rights law.

We also underscore the importance of privacy protection, which goes
hand in hand with freedom of expression in the use of new
technologies. Arbitrary or unlawful interference with anyone's
privacy, family, home or correspondence as well as unlawful attacks on
people's honor and reputation can undermine freedoms of expression,
association and assembly. This right to privacy also applies to online
communication and activities. With limited exceptions, individuals
should be able to express themselves anonymously on the Internet.

Recognizing the global nature of the Internet, we share the key
objective of universal access. Internet is a formidable force in
generating development and promoting economic, social and cultural
rights, and the present digital divide must be bridged to enable
participation of all.

We also want to preserve and promote diversity on the Internet, both
cultural and linguistic, and to promote local culture, regardless of
language or script.

All users, including persons with disabilities, should have greatest
possible access to Internet-based content, applications and services,
whether or not they are offered free of charge. In this context,
network neutrality and openness are important objectives. Cutting off
users from access to the Internet is generally not a proportionate

Decisions on Internet governance and policy issues, at global as well
as regional levels, should be consistent with international human
rights law, including protections for freedom of expression and the
right to privacy, and reached in multilateral, transparent and
democratic environments. In such environments, it is important that
the multistakeholder principle is respected and that governments, the
private sector, civil society, academic community and the entire
Internet technical community work together to build greater trust in
the ICT networks, including necessary cross-border co-operation.

As governments, we should encourage cooperative efforts by the private
sector to promote respect for human rights online. Such efforts can
address human rights impacts of action taken by the private sector and
can encourage respect for human rights. Yet, while adherence to human
rights principles by businesses has become essential to ensure online
freedom of expression, it cannot be a substitute for the
responsibility of governments to uphold human rights and the rule of
law in all Internet and telecommunication policy and regulation.

Mr President,

The Internet has expanded the reach of freedom of expression for
hundreds of millions of people around the world. We wish to join the
efforts to protect these advances, while also working to make access
to the new technologies affordable and universal.

We welcome all other states to associate themselves to this statement.

Thank you.
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