Pillay And Berners-Lee: Human Rights Must Always Be At Heart Of World Wide Web

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United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay today said at the outset of a meeting with World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee that human rights must always be at the heart of discussions about the Web, as it affects so many aspects of society.

Pillay made the remarks for Human Rights Day.

Below is the full transcript of Pillay’s remarks at a press conference:

Press Conference with Sir Tim Berners-Lee and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay

Human Rights Day 2013
Opening remarks by Navi Pillay

Good morning and welcome to you all, and in particular to Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

I am sure he does not need much of an introduction. I will just say that his invention of the World Wide Web and CERN’s decision to gift it to the world has brought huge benefits and challenges in the realm of human rights.

The World Wide Web has dramatically altered the human rights environment globally, boosting freedom of expression and freedom of information. These rights allow individuals to shape their own opinions and argue for their enjoyment of all other rights, whether that is the right to a fair trial, freedom of religion, the right to free elections, or to decent living conditions.

The Web has provided powerful new tools to human rights defenders for disseminating information and mobilising individuals around a cause. It has also given a global voice to victims of human rights violations and provided them with an immediate, vivid way of documenting human rights violations. Anyone with a cell phone camera bearing witness to human rights abuses can now share them with the world in a few seconds. Some of this material, when verified, can make a vital contribution to revealing what is happening — particularly in less accessible situations.

But of course, we have also seen how new technologies are facilitating Government crackdowns and reprisals against rights defenders. A Tweet or a Facebook post by a human rights defender can be enough to land him or her in jail.

The Web can also be a dangerous place for children and other vulnerable sectors of society due to cyber-bullying, paedophile predators, incitement to hatred and online human trafficking. And then there are the almost daily new revelations illustrating the undermining, or outright violation, of the right to privacy as a result of mass surveillance; the use of personal data by businesses; and the general blurring of lines between the public and private spheres.

What is clear is that human rights must always be at the heart of our discussions about the World Wide Web. International human rights law is as important to respect online as offline. The drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights had the foresight to accommodate today’s technological developments by stating, in article 19, that the right to freedom of opinion and expression applies “through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Sir Tim Berners-Lee has been working with the same vision, I understand, in his efforts to ensure that the World Wide Web is a global public good made freely available to all.

Sir Tim, we look forward to a rich discussion with you here and at the panel discussion this afternoon.


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