Human rights for Internet users: theoretical approaches vs realities in the region

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Alias: SEErights

Session description

There is a more and more widely affirmed principle according to which the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online. For example, this principle was affirmed in the United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution on “The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet” (adopted in July 2012). The European Parliament, in its recent “Resolution on the renewal of the mandate of the Internet Governance Forum” (adopted in February 2015), stressed that "fundamental freedoms and human rights are not negotiable and must be protected both online and offline". The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers stressed, in its “Recommendation to member States on a Guide to human rights for Internet users”, that “Council of Europe member States have the obligation to secure for everyone within their jurisdiction the human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights. This obligation is also valid in the context of Internet use.”

All these affirmations are laudable, but what happens in reality? Is the Internet really a concern from a human rights perspective? Are human rights equally respected in the offline and the online world? What is the reality in South Eastern Europe and the neighbouring area when it comes to upholding, respecting and implementing human rights for Internet users? How are the legally guaranteed human rights (such as the right to privacy and personal data protection – especially in the context of big data - , freedom of expression and freedom of the media, freedom of assembly, free access to information) respected and promoted in the online space by governments, private companies and regular Internet users? Are there violations of such human rights? Are there remedies available when human rights are violated online? Is there a need for new commitments, mechanisms and tools? What are the most pressing challenges stakeholders in this region face with regard to human rights for Internet users? How can they be addressed, in a multistakeholder, bottom-up approach, where the different interests and rights at stake are given equal consideration? How can countries in the region move from theoretical approaches to actual implementation when it comes to human rights for Internet users? Are there similar challenges faced in these countries? If yes, what are those challenges and what makes them common to the region? And could they be addressed in a coordinated manner? If so, how? Can the Council of Europe Guide respond to such a need for a coordinated/similar approach in the region and can it be used to help the domestic implementation of human rights online? If so, what actions can/should be put in place by governmental entities, the private sector and the civil society to actively support this? Moreover, can the Guide become a tool for online service providers in the exercise of their social corporate responsibility?

These are some examples of questions that will be raised during this session. As a starting point, an introduction would be given to the Council of Europe “Guide to Human rights for Internet users”. Participants will then engage into an interactive discussion that would be aimed at highlighting the realities in the region and at trying to identify possible approaches for a way forward.


human rights, Internet, online, offline, protection, realities, challenges


Short introductions by key participants, followed by discussions among all participants.


  • Keynote speaker (introduction to the Council of Europe Guide to human rights for Internet users): Elvana Thaçi, Council of Europe
  • Key participants:
    • George Dimitrov, Internet&Law Foundation, Bulgaria
    • Rade Dragović, Directorate for eGovernment, Ministry of Public Administration and Local Self-Government, Serbia
    • Bogdan Manolea, Association for Technology and Internet, Romania, member of the MAPPING project
    • Chris Sherwood, Allegro Group, Belgium
  • Moderator: Valentina Pellizzer, Oneworld - Platform for Southeast Europe (OWPSEE) Foundation, Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Remote moderator: Naser Bislimi, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
  • Rapporteurs:
    • Valentina Pavel, Association for Technology and Internet, Romania
    • Plamena Popova, University of Library Studies and IT, Bulgaria

Further reading


  1. Human rights apply online as well as offline, but we need to shift the discussion from the theoretical sphere into the practical one.
  2. We need to take into consideration the online protection of all human rights, not just privacy and access to information.
  3. The lack of awareness over Internet users' rights can be observed in all sectors, therefore we need to consider human rights compliance guidelines for all actors: industry, government, users.
  4. Jurisdiction represents an important element for human rights enforcement - states as well as business should have efficient and comprehensive mechanisms for human rights redress.
  5. Human rights compliance might have a snowball effect in the private sector – if some big companies adopt a human rights oriented conduct, they might set certain market requirements.
  6. Considering all these aspects, more focus should be awarded to finding modalities for connecting the theoretical approach with the practical realities (ex: through effective implementation and application of the law).

Video recording

The video recording of the session is available.