On 15-16 December 2015, the United Nations General Assembly held the WSIS+10 Review High-Level Meeting on the implementation of the World Summit on the Information Society. UNESCO themes and approaches figure prominently in the outcome document, the IGF was prolonged for 10 years – and there is more good news.
In his address to the United Nations General Assembly, Mr Getachew Engida, Deputy-Director-General of UNESCO, underscored that UNESCO is the main “soft-power actor” in the World Summit follow-up, facilitating implementation of 6 out of the 18 action lines. While infrastructure, devices and connectivity were important, they were “worth little” if girls, women, boys and men did not know how to use them, did not have the knowledge to develop content or have the right to freed expression, privacy or access. Only with such “soft” dimensions could ICT deliver its promise. He called for the international community to move away from information societies and instead aim towards inclusive “knowledge societies” in order to make information actionable and relevant, particularly in terms of sustainable development. “In this age where the limits of our exploitation of the planet are so evident, we must invest in our ultimate renewable resource, which is human freedom, ingenuity, creativity and knowledge,” he stated.
UNESCO’s voice was well heard in the overall WSIS+10 Review process, which started with the first WSIS+10 Review Event in UNESCO in 2013 and closed with the adoption of the Outcome Document by consensus at the United Nations General Assembly this week.
The outcome document recognizes that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online”, “call[s] on States to take all appropriate measures necessary to ensure the right to freedom of opinion”, affirms the “commitment to bridging digital and knowledge divides”, and the ambition “to move beyond “information societies” to “knowledge societies”, in which information is not only created and disseminated, but put to the benefit of human development.” Many other UNESCO facilitated themes, including the protection of journalists, ICT and education, cultural diversity, science, access to information and knowledge, people with disabilities, multilingualism, indigenous peoples, media and information literacy, capacity building, local content and ethics are also addressed.
On 15 December, UNESCO organized a side event titled “Building on WSIS +10: Putting Knowledge Societies at the heart of the 2030 Agenda”. Attended by 170 participants and moderated by the Mr Engida Getachew, this side event explored new joint actions to implement the WSIS+10 outcomes. Among the panelists were Ms. Ellen Blackler (The Walt Disney Company, for ICC), Ms. Constance Bommelaer (ISOC), Ms. Arun Chinmayi (National Law University, India), H.E. Mr. Benedicto Fonseca (Brazil), Ms. Githaiga Grace (Kenya ICT Action Network), Mr. Veni Markovski (ICANN), Mr. Paul Mitchel (Microsoft) and H.E. Mr. Daniel A. Sepulveda (USA).
Mr Engida also co-vice chaired the United Nations Group on the Information Society (UNGIS) meeting, where the adoption of the UN Chief Executive Board statement on WSIS+10, prepared by UNGIS, was highlighted as an exemplary way to coordinate UN positions. It was also decided that UNESCO will be the 2016-17 UNGIS chair.
In the ITU organized meeting on “Strengthening the impact of WSIS action lines for sustainable development: showcasing best practices, transferring know-how, fostering partnerships”, Mr Getachew Engida, together with Mr. Malcolm Johnson, Deputy Secretary-General of the ITU, welcomed the panel and audience.
As a first step towards the implementation of the WSIS+10 outcome documents, UNESCO is now preparing with the ITU, UNCTAD and UNDP the 2016 WSIS Forum, which will be held in Geneva from 2-6 May 2016.