Thursday, June 9, 2011

How do we define "human rights"?

Having access to the Internet is important for me – there are times when it’s a crucial part of my communications inventory, especially as the job search continues, but do I consider it a human right? That’s the question being posed by a new report from the United Nations.

Entitled “Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression”, the report says that Internet access is a human right and puts it in the context of freedom of expression.

"Given that the Internet has become an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights, combating inequality, and accelerating development and human progress, ensuring universal access to the Internet should be a priority for all states," said the report from Frank La Rue, a special rapporteur to the United Nations.

A Special Rapporteur is an independent expert appointed by the Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. This position is honorary and the expert is not United Nations staff nor paid for his/her work.

La Rue says the Internet is one of the most powerful instruments of the 21st century for increasing transparency in the conduct of the powerful, access to information, and for facilitating active citizen participation in building democratic societies. Among his many observations in the report is the tendency of some countries, especially those with totalitarian governments to restrict Internet access either in whole or part for its citizens. Think about China, Cuba, Russia and other countries where Internet access is purely at the whim of the Politburo.

For me, the real question is whether defining Internet access in terms of a human right somehow diminishes other more tangible rights, such as those adopted and proclaimed on December 10, 1948 by the General Assembly of the United Nations as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Here are just a few.

• the right to life, liberty and security of person;
• no one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms;
• no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
• the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law;
• equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law;
• no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile;
• everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his/her rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him/her

Does adding access to the Internet to that list seem reasonable?

For example, in an interview today, La Rue said that he feels the fact that some Canadian northern communities do not have access to Internet services is a violation of their basic rights. I wonder if he really understands the standard of living in some of our northern communities?

As I said, I consider the Internet to be important to my current lifestyle, but I don’t think it’s anywhere close to those other rights.

If you’re interested, you can read the entire report by clicking here.

Do you think Internet access should be considered a human right?


Government Funded Blogger said...

"Internet access should be considered a human right?"
To do so would trivialize all the other rights in the Declaration.Rights which are ignored or violated by 90% of the member states of the UN.

Internet access is no more a human right than borrowing a book from a library is.
this comment could end up being a blog if I continue so i will curtail it.

Thanks for the posting VP

Wisewebwoman said...

In this technological age, I don't view this right as REPLACING any others but in addition to.
Essentially, the only way out of poverty is education. Particularly of women.
The internet is the 21st century key to this.
IMHO, of course.

ViewPoint2010 said...

GFB, I agree with you. My feeling is that to call internet access a "right" diminishes the others. No doubt that it's important, perhaps critical.

ViewPoint2010 said...

No question but that education is the key. I'm just not convinced when you have 10 people sleeping in a room with a bucket for a toilet and poor quality water, like in some of our northern communities, that internet access ranks up there with other rights. Also IMHO.