UN expert says human rights integral to information technology issues

15 December 2005

Critizing the emphasis on commerce and politics at the November world summit on information technology in Tunis, a United Nations expert on freedom of expression said today that human rights should take priority in any future discussions of information technology and development.

“Access to information, freedom of speech and freedom of expression should be at the heart of any further discussion on the information society,” said Ambeyi Ligabo the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, in a critique of the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which took place from 16 to 19 November.

“Too many governments are still putting obstacles to people's exercise of freedom of opinion and expression, and particularly media freedom,” he said. “The intensity of this fight may vary from harassment to indiscriminate killings of journalists, trade unionists, students, human rights defenders and opinion leaders, crimes that are often not adequately punished.”

He said he realized that equitable access to information technology for poor communities is necessary to fight poverty and to extend economic and social development to future generations. He maintained, however, that there could be no fair development without promotion of human rights.

“Without these fundamental elements, the building of a global information society and its governance will become an obstacle for the development of human progress and will hamper dissemination of knowledge and education,” he said.

He said the "Tunis Commitment,” one of the Summit's main outcomes, did not fully reflect the fervent debate over human rights issues that took place around the Summit, promoted particularly by civil society organizations, nor provide guidance for internet governance anchored in rights norms and standards.

In addition, he said that the final phase of the Summit did not provide an opportunity to address the situation of human rights in Tunisia itself, especially freedom of media and of association.

Special Rapporteurs are unpaid experts serving in an independent personal capacity who receive their mandate from the UN Human Rights Commission.


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