Chicago Journal of International Law

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The speed of digital transformation creates major challenges for understanding and protecting digital technology-based human rights. While the internet may once have been a nice-to-have amenity, as societies become increasingly dependent on digital infrastructure, it has become a prerequisite to access fundamental human rights. Because the protection of internet access as a human right is lacking, individuals remain vulnerable to abuses, particularly by autocratic leaders.

This Essay uses the still-unfolding Iranian Women-Life-Freedom Movement to examine the consequences of internet deprivation. The Iranian regime’s brutal treatment of its citizens sparked widespread protests which were largely coordinated through social media, highlighting the critical role of the internet in facilitating freedom of expression and assembly. In response to growing dissent, the Iranian regime intensified its internet censorship, including filtering and shutdowns, effectively silencing its citizens.

By analyzing the situation in Iran, this Essay reveals how internet censorship undermines a wide range of human rights enshrined in the U.N.’s Charter, treaties, and declarations with a specific emphasis on nondiscrimination, right to development, and freedom of speech and information. This Essay also argues that, in light of the clear and widespread deprivation suffered by Iranian citizens as a consequence of the Iranian regime’s internet tampering, internet access has become so essential to enjoying a broad array of basic human rights that intentional deprivation of the same can be considered a Crime Against Humanity under the terms of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Finally, it lays the foundations of such a case, which could benefit human rights globally.

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