The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), held a high level meeting at the UN Headquarters in December 2015 (15-16).
The overarching aim of the high level meeting was to conduct an overall stock taking and review of the implementation of WSIS outcomes.
This meeting came in the backdrop of the 10th UN IGF that was held in Brasil, where WSIS +10 dominated the IGF 2015 opening session.
The WSIS journey stretches back more than a decade ago, with the first WSIS summit being held in Geneva (December 2003), and the second summit taking place in Tunis (2005).
Following endless discussion sessions, and eleventh hour arrangements, the first summit in Geneva agreed to form the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG). This WGIG developed a report that was used as the foundation for negotiations at the second WSIS summit in Tunis (November 2005). It was at this second summit that the definition of Internet Governance was ratified, and Internet Governance issues classified.
The second summit proved to be a distinctive period of Internet history considering it's where the novel idea of Internet Governance Forum (IGF), a multi-stakeholder body convoked by the
UN Secretary General was birthed.
Significantly, the two phase summit (2003-2005) defined the issues, policies and frameworks to tackle Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to to advance the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The outcome document at the UNGA high level meeting held in December saw UN member states reaffirm their commitment to utilize Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) as an essential tool for achieving the new 2030 Sustainable Development Goals
In his address to echo the move by member states to the delegates, Mr. Mogens Lykketoft, the UN General Assembly President was categorical in his speech “ICT has played an
increasingly important role in promoting economic and social development, such as enhancing productivity, facilitating trade, creating quality jobs, providing ICT-based services such as e-health and e-learning, and improving governance.”
On his part, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasised on the need to bridge the digital divide gap.
Mr. Ban noted that ICTs can be an engine for achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
He however decried the low levels of ICT penetration especially in the global South.
“Today, more than 80% of households in developed countries have internet access. Meanwhile, two out of three households in developing countries do not. Women are half the
global population – yet 200 million fewer women than men have access to the Internet. We
must bridge these divides,” said Mr. Ban.*
In general, the outcome document highlighted the substantial digital divides, which need to be addressed through strengthened enabling policy environments and international cooperation to improve affordability, access, education, capacity-building, multilingualism, cultural preservation, investment and appropriate financing.
In the field of Internet Governance, the outcome document urged the need to promote greater participation and engagement in Internet governance discussions. Besides, there was a
strong call to involve governments, the private sector, civil society, international organizations, the technical and academic communities, and all other relevant stakeholders.
The document further recognized the fundamental role the Internet Governance Forum (IGF),has played in the last decade as a multi-stakeholder platform for discussion of Internet governance issues.
In a specific decision contained in the document, the General Assembly
renewed the IGF mandate for another 10 years, while recognizing that there was need for IGF to continue showcasing progress on working modalities, and participation of relevant stakeholders from the global south.
Cybersecurity & Other Digital Challenges
Another fundamental outcome that was stressed on was Cybersecurity. The document notes that Cybersecurity still remains a major challenge. Threats continue to be a perceived reality and an integral part of cyber world. There was also recognition that the Internet is part of the critical infrastructure of modern society and that it needs to be protected by enhanced cooperation among states and other stakeholders.
However, the cybersecurity themes emphasised by countries differed. For instance, the following were some of the emphasised
Cyber terrorism (Syria, Egypt, Turkey, UAE),
Cyber warfare (Cuba), Challenges faced by young states (Democratic Republic of Congo), and last but not least, the
Proliferation of online hate speech and the need for online tolerance (Sri Lanka, Tanzania,Syria, UAE).
With the meeting coming to a conclusion, the General Assembly affirmed it will hold a High
Level Meeting on the overall review of the implementation of WSIS outcomes in 2025 as agreed upon by all UN Member States.
The copyright license of this article remains with the author. The translation and publication of this article in other languages is encouraged. For more information, please contact the author
Cover Image, WSIS+10 | ITU Pictures