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Human rights should also be applied online

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UN Human Rights Council Resolution (A/HRC/20/L.13, July 5, 2012)  “affirms the 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. “

Most governments and private companies are increasingly violating this resolution by perpetrating human rights violations online, either through content censoring, intimidation, denying access to information and selling individual’s private data. The reason why the Internet grew so fast is based on the fact that the libertarian engineers who created it thought governments were not going to control it. Currently Africa has an Internet penetration rate of 57 percent and it is predicted that by the year 2020 every African will have a mobile phone.

The recent Arab spring really caught most governments off guard in terms of realizing the power of Internet. As technology moves fast authoritarian governments are now investing a lot in trying to control the Internet rather than making the service available to every citizen. Governments are now using all methods of censorship in trying to limit freedom of expression on the Internet. The recent story of an Ethiopian blogger who was sentenced to 18 years in prison is just one example of how governments are working to suppress independent voices. The rise in Internet censorship calls for urgent action to broaden the constituencies involved in the promotion of human rights including media, communication, and human rights actors.

Civil society has a role to play through engaging governments to ensure that the same rights that people have offline are also protected online, in particular freedom of expression, which is being constantly violated. Liberalized telecommunications markets also play an important role through the provision of affordable Internet to people. Competition, independent ownership of infrastructure and liberalized telecommunications markets should be promoted to ensure an open, affordable and net neutrality.

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