International Human rights attorneySeveral years ago I wrote a post over at the International Business Law Advisor about internet freedom.

The post, The Great Firewall of China: How Lessons from the Apartheid Era Can Lift the Information Curtain, focused on China’s blocking of websites and censorship of search results for politically sensitive terms.

I mention this because last week the U.N. Human Rights Council’s 47 members states  passed a resolution and agreed that internet access is a basic human right and that access to the Internet should be guaranteed.

The resolution (PDF) also affirms that “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”.

“This outcome is momentous for the Human Rights Council,” said U.S. ambassador Eileen Donahoe, whose country co-sponsored the Swedish-led motion with countries including Brazil and Tunisia.

“It’s the first ever U.N. resolution affirming that human rights in the digital realm must be protected and promoted to the same extent and with the same commitment as human rights in the physical world,” she told reporters.

According to   Reuters, China’s envoy backed the motion but said Internet users, especially youth, also needed to be protected from harmful websites.

“The fact that they found a way to be part of this is a significant, important move in their thinking,” she told Reuters. “It must reflect an awareness that the Internet is here to stay, is an essential part of everyone’s economy and will be a linchpin of development for all countries and they have to be part of it.”

Due to its non-binding nature, however, the country will not have to make any changes to how it polices the internet. Human Rights Watch executive director Ken Roth told the New York Times that non-binding resolutions, such as these, are generally used to publicly shame the countries that don’t uphold those resolutions.