Human Rights Come First: a Constitutional Moment for Internet Governance Council of Europe

27 September 2011 - A Workshop on Internet Governance for Development in Nairobi, Kenya


The 1st phase of the World Summit on the Information Society ended in 2003 with the enunciation of the Geneva Declaration of Principles. Since then, there have been various initiatives in different parts of the world and by different actors to affirm some of the fundamental guiding principles for Internet policy-making and Internet governance. The Leaders of the Group of Eight acknowledged at the end of May 2011 some key principles in relation to the Internet, including openness, transparency and freedom of the Internet and underlined that their implementation must be included in a broader framework. The Council of Europe is currently working to finalise a set of ten Internet governance principles which place emphasis on human rights, democracy and rule of law as well as on the basic tenets of the Internet communities, including multi-stakeholder governance, decentralised management and others. The Vice President of the European Commission Mrs Neelie Kroes proposed recently, in June of this year a Compact for the Internet, which should include the Internet’s imperative features that must be preserved, i.e. the Internet essentials. The OECD members agreed in June 2011 on a number of basic principles for Internet policy-making as a step in ensuring that the Internet remains open and dynamic.

Over the last years there have also been bottom-up and multi-stakeholder initiatives such as the IRP Dynamic Coalition’s 10 Internet Rights and Principles and the Charter of Human Rights and Principles for the Internet. The Brazilian Internet Steering Committee has agreed in 2009 on Principles for the Governance and Use of the Internet.

The Internet governance dialogue seems to be entering a new phase, in which the central question is not who should govern the Internet and in which process, but what are the core values of Internet governance, what are the high level principles of the Internet. Ideas, principles and values of what seems to be a progressive and future-looking movement are gaining support, being scrutinised by stakeholders and becoming part of the political agendas. Is this the start of a “constitutional moment” for Internet governance and policy-making? What are the fundamental values that should inform Internet policy-making and that should constrain Internet governance arrangements?

The objective of this workshop is to promote an understanding of Internet governance based on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms and basic values of democracy and rule of law. Similarities and differences of approaches and perspectives will be discussed.

Which of the five broad IGF Themes or the Cross-Cutting Priorities does your workshop fall under?
Internet Governance for Development [IG4D] (Cross cutting Priority)


Have you organized an IGF workshop before? Yes
If so, please provide the link to the report:
A brief substantive summary and the main events that were raised:
The Council of Europe presented a set of ten principles on the governance of the Internet recently adopted in a declaration of the Committee of Ministers. Workshop participants representing different stakeholder groups commended not only the outcome of the Council of Europe initiative but also the openness of the process in which they were developed.

Other international organisations presented the work they have done in similar initiatives on Internet governance-related issues. The OECD explained the economic underlying perspectives and objectives included in the organisation’s Communiqué on Internet policy making principles. The European Commission gave an overview of the thinking behind the Internet essentials discussed by this institution.

Conclusions and further comments:
The value of developing international principles for Internet governance which are grounded on the international human rights framework was recognised by most of the participants. Action on Internet governance issues requires a common perception at the level of principles and human rights provide a good basis for consensus.

The participation of users in policy processes that focus on the core values of Internet governance was considered necessary, and the Internet provides several platforms and opportunities that facilitate such participation.