Building peace in the minds of men and women

Internet Governance: Advancing jointly on key UNESCO topics

19 December 2016

UNESCO organized and contributed to workshops and main sessions on key UNESCO topics at this year’s Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which took place from Monday 5 to Friday 9 December 2016.

A pre-event on “Protecting the safety of journalists online and offline in global Internet Governance ecosystem” kick-started UNESCO’s participation on Monday, 5 December.

peakers including David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, and Edison Lanza, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, gathered to discuss the critical issue of protecting the safety of journalists online and offline. Guy Berger, UNESCO Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development, noted that people’s lives are a mix of the online and offline, and that digital attacks lead to physical consequences, emphasizing the importance of taking both online and offline components into account and thereby considering safety in a holistic way.

Guy Berger highlighted UNESCO’s broad definition of journalists as being “journalists, media workers and social media producers who generate a significant amount of public-interest journalism”, and the expansion of the definition of journalism beyond traditional media actors is something that Edison Lanza also noted. He noted that through the Internet, more people are able to take part in sharing, publishing and finding information, and normal citizens were also able to make their voices heard where previously that may not have been the case. And thus he argues that the protection of the safety of journalists is no longer exclusive to traditional journalists in traditional media.  

David Kaye stressed the need to look at environments created by governments and societies that allow attacks against journalists to take place and left unpunished. He highlighted ways in which laws around counter-terrorism, surveillance, and restrictions on digital security such as limiting encryption and anonymity, allowed for governments to restrict journalists and even portray them as threats, concluding that the creation of mechanisms to deal with the protection of journalists was less a problem of law and more a problem of political will.

Discussions also covered important aspects such as impunity and digital safety training for journalists. Marta Duran, a journalist and expert of the national mechanism on defense of journalists in Mexico, noted that while a protection mechanism does exist in Mexico, it is important to fully implement measures in order to assure the effectiveness of the mechanism overall and protect against impunity, for “impunity is an invitation to kill journalists and terror is the cheapest instrument to ensure the imposition of censorship.”

Kim Pham, Deputy Program Director at IREX, noted that the burden often falls on journalists themselves to stay safe, and yet safety training along is not sufficient. She mentioned other measures that IREX have put in place, such as solidarity networks that allows journalists to support each other in times of crisis, particularly in the face of institutional and resource constraints that journalists, particularly local and freelance journalists, are often faced with. She argued for a need to look at safety as a means to a resilient media and a robust media landscape, where in times of difficulty, journalists are able to continue what they are doing.

All panelists emphasized the importance of taking a gender perspective into account, particularly Erika Smith from the Women’s Rights Programme at APC, who highlighted the “double attack” that female journalists face as journalists and as women. She noted the alarming speed at which online threats come to have physical implications, and the problem of the overwhelming tendency to dismiss threats made to female journalists online and not take them seriously, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

During this session UNESCO also launched the Spanish translation of UNESCO’s Internet Freedom Publication Building Digital Safety for Journalism.
This stimulating Pre-event was followed by a very successful first day at the IGF on Tuesday 6 December. First came the official Opening Ceremony, with Mr. Lenni Montiel, Assistant Secretary General, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), Amb. Miguel Ruiz Cabañas, Undersecretary for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights, Government of Mexico, Mr. Aristóteles Sandoval, Governor, Jalisco, Mexico, and Ms. Alejandra Lagunes, Coordinator of the National Digital Strategy, Government of Mexico addressing the IGF crowd.

Mr. Indrajit Banerjee, UNESCO Director of the Knowledge Societies Division, also made a speech at this opening session, affirming UNESCO’s commitment to the IGF’s multi-stakeholder approach to Internet governance and stressing the importance of defending human rights online, which also means “ensuring that access to information and knowledge is truly universal, that we continue to have an Internet, not a “splinternet”.

A large crowd of over 80 people filled the workshop room for UNESCO’s session on “Social media and youth radicalization in the digital age” on Tuesday 6 December.

Indrajit Banerjee, UNESCO Director of the Knowledge Societies Division opened the session by sharing the outcome of of UNESCO's Conference “Internet and the Radicalization of Youth: Preventing, Acting and Living Together”, held in Quebec City, Canada, from 30 October to 1 November, 2016. The Call of Quebec (the outcome document of this conference) calls on us to challenge narratives propagated by extremist groups online through the development of consistent counter-narratives and through education on information and communication technologies that is inclusive and that emphasizes the development of critical thinking, tolerance and respect for human rights.

Guy Berger, UNESCO Director for the Division of Freedom of Expression and Media Development presented some initial findings from UNESCO's ongoing research on social media and radicalization, noting the lack of scientific evidence of clear causal connections between what happens on social media and the radicalization process, and emphasizing that role of Internet is more of a facilitator rather than a driver of the radicalization process. The research calls for a global dialogue based on a multi-stakeholder approach and a holistic solution which goes beyond protective responses.

Other speakers on the panel also gave their valuable input and unique perspectives on the issue of the role of social media in youth radicalization. Sofia Rasgado of the Council of Europe shared the example of a Portuguese campaign to decrease hate speech, cyber bullying and cyber hate, based on human rights education, youth participation and media literacy. William Hudson presented Google’s ongoing counter-speech efforts to “build a platform for true solidarity and understanding”, stressing that radicalization could not be combatted with censorship and the taking-down of inflammatory content. Barbora Bukovska of Article 19 raised concerns that the lack of definition of ‘radicalization’ as a concept could lead to human rights violations. Rebecca MacKinnon, representing Ranking Digital Rights, noted the fact that society was under attack on both sides, from governments and extremist groups, stressing that the protection of human rights online and offline and the defense of civil society and independent journalism are crucial to combatting radicalization.

On the morning of Wednesday 7 December, UNESCO, in coordination with Freedom of Expression Rapporteurs and Regional Human Rights Courts, hosted a workshop on “The role of judiciary systems and Internet Governance”.  UNESCO has –along with Freedom of Expression Rapporteurs and Regional Human Rights Courts- for some time been heavily involved in training and helping judiciary systems cope with the issues of Internet governance and freedom of expression, having already trained 3,500 operators of judiciary systems in 22 countries. Since UNESCO begun its work in this area there has been an impressive number of judges and prosecutors requesting information about the training UNESCO offers; there is clearly interest in the courts in addressing new disputes with regards to Internet governance. In this session panelists highlighted the challenges facing judiciary systems having to cope issues relating to Internet governance and freedom of expression, as well as sharing good practices to help judiciary systems address these challenges. Panelists also shared examples and experiences of systems in Brazil and Mexico. Some of these challenges highlighted by the panel included the fact that many judges are not technology specialists and that they may not understand the immediate technical implications of their decision, as well as the socio-economic implications for example of shutting down a whole social networking platform. This also stems from them not understanding all the options they have available to them. The right to be forgotten was also another issue that was raised by the panel.


The following afternoon stakeholders gathered to discuss encryption, privacy, and anonymity in UNESCO’s workshop on “Encryption and the safety of journalists in the digital age”. Wolfgang Schulz, from the Hans-Bredow-Institut fur Medienforschung, raised the question of encryption policy, noting that governments often have informal arrangements with industry actors which whilst possibly helping freedom of expression, also blur responsibility. Schulz argued that responsibility should be made clear and that governments have to protect human rights and should provide transparency on their encryption policy. Amos Toh, Legal assistant to UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, argued for the need to look at encryption from a wider perspective, rather than being an end in itself, it is part of a wider set of tools available for journalists to use. He emphasized the importance to remember that encryption does not ensure anonymity; journalists would need to use encryption as well as anonymizing tools. He also suggested we think more about offline protection measures, and how they could complement encryption and other digital security tools. Amalia Toledo of Karisma Foundation and FLIP shared her experiences of developing an app to help protect the privacy and security of communications for journalists in Colombia. Arguing that security should not be the sole responsibility of journalists, she called for media outlets to make more efforts to develop digital security protocols. Marc Rotenberg, from Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), highlighted the importance –and difficulty- of balancing privacy, to which all citizens are entitled, and security, which entails granting governments access to private information. Sebastian Bellagamba from the Internet Society (ISOC) on the other hand argued that there should be no trade off, and that encryption means unbreakable encryption. Janis Karklins, Ambassador of Latvia and Vice-President of the Human Rights Council, also emphasized that “encryption is not the golden bullet”, and that even with encryption anonymity is not absolute. Frank La Rue, UNESCO Assistant Director General for Communication and Information, closed the session with the strong message that we cannot weaken fundamental human rights in the name of national security, and that any weakening of privacy will eventually backfire and weaken democratic society itself. In this session UNESCO also launched the latest edition of its Internet Freedom Series publication, Human Rights Aspects of Encryption.

“Putting Internet Universality at the heart of the SDGs” was the title of UNESCO’s Open Forum session on Thursday, which covered a wide variety of subjects. Frank La Rue, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, opened the session with an introduction to UNESCO’s ROAM principles –that of a human Rights based, Open, and Accessible Internet shaped by multi-stakeholder participation. Anriette Esterhuysen, Executive Director of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), highlighted the current challenging situation in which there has been a proliferation of security and surveillance legislation, which “is formalizing privacy violations that states had done informally”. She argued that as well as being an enabler of rights, we are also beginning to see how the Internet can contribute to the disabling of rights, through the proliferation of hate speech, bullying, false news, and mobilizing xenophobia and thus it is important to not just look at the positive aspects of the Internet, but also to respond to the harmful potential impacts of the Internet. Anri Van der Spuy and Guy Berger discussed UNESCO’s Internet Indicators project, which Guy argues will help give a holistic perspective of the state of the main Internet development questions in certain countries. They also raised the issue of balancing transparency with privacy. Indrajit Banerjee and Giovanni Seppia of EURid discussed the topic of local content, multilingualism and diversity on the Internet. Indrajit Banerjee discussed UNESCO’s world atlas of languages, an unprecedented project aiming to map the world’s endangered languages on the Internet. Giovanni Seppia presented the results of a UNESCO and EURid commissioned study into Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs).

Speakers from UNESCO also actively participated in other sessions throughout the week, giving valuable contributions from a UNESCO perspective. For example, on Monday afternoon, UNESCO contributed with Global Connect, IEEE, ISOC, ITU, WEF and the World Bank to the “Advancing Solutions for Connectivity: Improving Global Coordination and Collaboration” session. Wednesday afternoon UNESCO also participated in the Open Forum on “WSIS Action Lines Supporting the Implementation of the SDGs – WSIS Forum: Information and Knowledge Societies for SDGs”. UNESCO also co-hosted an Open Forum with the ITU, on “How can universal connectivity be used as catalyst for achieving the SDGs?” on Thursday 8 December.

UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General also contributed to three IGF main sessions. “Never before has UNESCO been as visible at an IGF”, said a Member State, and this prominence allowed UNESCO to promote widely the Member States endorsed Internet Universality approach and the ROAM principles.

If you missed us at the IGF or want to relive all the moments, videos of all our sessions at the IGF are now available online on the IGF’s YouTube channel: