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] – World


Human Rights Council
Fiftieth session
Items 2 and 3 of the agenda
Annual Report of the United Nations High Commissioner
for Human Rights and reports of the Office of
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 this 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 legal implications and their impact on human rights, the roles of companies, existing efforts to promote Internet connectivity and provide development aid, and the relevance of such efforts to detect, prevent and respond to outages, as well as a number of recommended measures to end closures and minimize their impact.

I. Introduction

1. Hospitals are unable to contact their doctors in emergencies, voters are deprived of candidate information, handicraft makers are cut off from customers and potentially risk imminent economic ruin, peaceful protesters victims of a violent attack cannot ask for help , students who fail entrance exams to academic programs and refugees who are unable to access information about the risks they face due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic are alone some of the situations they face when there is a blockage of the Internet and telecommunication services. However, many governments have ordered closures, either unaware of the harsh impact they can cause or calculating that the factors motivating the closures outweigh those damages. The dramatic real effects of the closures on the lives and human rights of millions of people are vastly underestimated and deserve much greater attention from states, international organisations, businesses and civil society.

2. This report aims to shed much needed light on the phenomenon of Internet outages. It contains information about the circumstances under which they are performed and their often disturbing consequences. It contains suggestions for reversing the current trend towards a higher frequency of closures in some regions, given the inherent tension between closures and international commitments to ensure universal access to the Internet, and recommendations anchored in applicable human rights law, including 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 asked the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to study the trend of internet outages, analyzing the causes, legal implications and their impact on a range of human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights, through intensive consultations with stakeholders. The report builds on previous work and reflects insights gained through a series of virtual stakeholder consultations and from 80 contributions received from states, international organizations and civil society organizations in response to a request for input. It is also intended to contribute to the implementation of the action points set out by the Secretary-General to end internet disruptions, as identified in his report on a road map for digital cooperation and his report, entitled “Our Common Agenda”. .