The 17th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council takes place in Geneva from 30 May – 17 June 2011. In preparation a number of reports have been filed, including one from Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression Frank de la Rue.
The report [pdf] “explores key trends and challenges to the right of all individuals to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds through the Internet”. It covers both content and access, and also examines what “exceptional circumstances under which the dissemination of certain types of information may be restricted”.
The report states:
States restrict, control, manipulate and censor content disseminated via the Internet without any legal basis, or on the basis of broad and ambiguous laws, without justifying the purpose of such actions; and/or in a manner that is clearly unnecessary and/or disproportionate to achieving the intended aim
The Special Rapporteur is of the view that the arbitrary use of criminal law to sanction legitimate expression constitutes one of the gravest forms of restriction to the right, as it not only creates a “chilling effect”, but also leads to other human rights violations, such as arbitrary detention and torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Noting recent cases of imprisonment of bloggers, the report suggests that defamation be decriminalized globally and that only incitements to violence can be legitimately blocked. Additionally
the Special Rapporteur reiterates that the right to freedom of expression includes expression of views and opinions that offend, shock or disturb.
The report criticizes heavy-handed copyright protection schemes while noting that the most recent drafts of the ACTA agreement have dropped the ‘3 strike’ disconnection provisions.
It calls for universal access noting that a BBC global poll in March 2010 “79% of those interviewed
in 26 countries believe that Internet access is a fundamental human right”
The conclusions of the report are below: