The ICJ published a legal memorandum concluding that the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MOTC) Order to block access to specific websites is not compliant with international human rights law.
The legal memorandum also sets out various remedial options under Myanmar law to question the lawfulness of the Order.
The ICJ focused its human rights analysis on the rights to freedom of expression and access to information and the right to health, which includes access to health information. These rights are well established under general and customary international law. The right to health is guaranteed under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Myanmar is a party.
The MOTC, presumably invoking Section 77 of the Telecommunications Law, ordered telecommunication service providers in March 2020 to take down 2,147 websites found by it to have disseminated “fake news,” adult content, and child sexual abuse content. It is not clear if any of the information under sanction relates to COVID-19, although the pandemic was mentioned elsewhere in one mobile service provider’s press release. Immediately after the release of the MOTC Order, it was discovered that the ban included ethnic news media websites, such as Rakhine-based Development Media Group and Narinjara News, thereby prompting speculation as to the true reasons behind the ban.
The ICJ emphasized the following in the legal memorandum:
- Blocking access to specific websites engages a wide range of human rights concerns, including but not limited to the person’s right to freedom of expression and right of access to information protected under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and customary international law. While lack of transparency about the State rationale and evidence was an obstacle to a full analysis, the permissible conditions that would justify sweeping limitations on this right do not appear to have been met.
- In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the MOTC Order also undermines the right to health of all persons in Myanmar. The right to health guaranteed under the ICESCR is reserved to all persons without discrimination and includes access to health information. The MOTC Order effectively hinders access to health information by blocking legitimate sources of information.
- To challenge the MOTC Order, the following domestic legal remedies are available: (i) filing a complaint with the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission; (ii) filing an application for a constitutional writ before the Union Supreme Court and/or (iii) filing a declaration suit under the Specific Relief Act.
Jenny Domino, ICJ Associate Legal Adviser, e: jenny.domino(a)icj.org
Hnin Win Aung, ICJ Legal Adviser, e: hninwin.aung(a)icj.org
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