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Internet shutdowns: trends, causes, legal implications and impacts on a range of human rights - Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (A/HRC/50/55) [EN/AR/RU/ZH]


Human Rights Council
Fiftieth session
Agenda items 2 and 3
Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner
for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the
High Commissioner and the Secretary-General
Promotion and protection of all human rights,
civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights,
including the right to development


In the present report, submitted pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 47/16, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights provides an overview of trends in Internet shutdowns. It contains an analysis of their causes and the legal implications and the impact on human rights thereof, the roles of companies, the existing efforts to promote Internet connectivity and provide development aid, and the relevance of such efforts for detecting, preventing and responding to shutdowns, as well as a set of recommended measures for ending shutdowns and minimizing their impact.

I. Introduction

1. Hospitals being unable to contact their doctors in cases of emergency, voters being deprived of information about candidates, handicraft makers being cut off from customers, and potentially facing imminent economic ruin, peaceful protesters who fall under violent attack being unable to call for help, students missing entrance exams for academic programmes and refugees being unable to access information on the risks that they face owing to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic are just some of the situations confronted when an Internet and telecommunications services shutdown occurs. However, many Governments have ordered shutdowns, unaware of, or oblivious to, the harsh impacts that they can cause or calculating that the factors motivating the shutdown outweigh those harms. The dramatic real-life effects of shutdowns on the lives and human rights of millions of people are vastly underappreciated and deserve much greater attention from States, international organizations, businesses and civil society.

2. The present report is aimed at shedding much-needed light on the phenomenon of Internet shutdowns. It contains information on the circumstances in which they are carried out and their often unsettling consequences. It contains suggestions for reversing the current trend towards a greater frequency of shutdowns in some regions, given the inherent tension between shutdowns and international commitments to ensuring universal Internet access, and recommendations anchored in applicable human rights law, including the key principles of legality, necessity, proportionality and non-discrimination.

3. The report is submitted pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 47/16, in which the Council requested the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to study the trend in Internet shutdowns, analysing their causes, their legal implications and their impact on a range of human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights, through robust consultations with stakeholders. The report is built upon previous work, and reflects insights gained through a series of virtual stakeholder consultations and from 80 submissions received from States, international organizations and civil society organizations in response to a call for input. It is also aimed at contributing to the implementation of action points set out by the Secretary-General on ending Internet shutdowns, as identified in his report on a road map for digital cooperation and in his report, entitled “Our Common Agenda”.