12 December 2003


Many Speakers Support Creation of Digital Solidarity Fund

(Reissued as received.)

GENEVA, 11 December (UN Information Service) -- The World Summit on the Information Society this morning continued its general debate, with speakers focusing on the need to overcome the digital divide and provide equal access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) to developing countries, as well as the importance of establishing a Digital Solidarity Fund.

Several speakers said that to cope with the problem of the digital divide, a Digital Solidarity Fund should be created to assist developing countries in gaining access to ICTs, which they were now unable to obtain due to lack of resources.  The root cause of the digital divide, poverty, which did not allow developing countries to enjoy universal access to the information society, should be tackled.  Many said that the digital divide should be bridged and international cooperation in that field should be strengthened.

Speakers also emphasized the importance of the protection of the freedom of expression and information in the information society, and that ICTs should help ensure such freedoms.

Taking part in the general debate were the Presidents of Romania, Senegal, Ghana, Comoros, Armenia, Belarus and Estonia.  Also taking the floor were the Head of Government of Andorra; Prime Ministers of Bangladesh and Ireland; Vice-President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; President of the National Assembly of People’s Power of Cuba; Vice-President of the Gambia; and Ministers from the Netherlands, Ethiopia, Denmark, Hungary, Germany, Oman, Malawi, Sweden, El Salvador, Bahrain, Australia and Myanmar.

Also participating in the general debate were the representatives of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); Union Network International; United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); Fransabank Group; World Federation of United Cities (FMCU); Siemens Information and Communication Networks; International Telecommunication Union (ITU); Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN); and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR).


The Summit will reconvene at 2 p.m. to continue with its general debate on the information society.


ION ILIESCU, President of Romania, said States, governments and nations had taken note of the fact that the dissemination and generalization of communication systems had radically changed the nature of decision and communication processes, as well as the nature of daily work, while putting creativity at the heart of all economic, social and administrative structures.  Knowledge represented the principal instrument of creation of the wellness of nations, and humanity was their primary resource.

Modern technologies had opened the way to new forms of management and exchange.  All those present were witness to major transformations in social relationships.  All these changes had taken place in the context of the acceleration and deepening of economic globalization.  The information society represented a new model of economic and social development, with important consequences both on the political level, the democratic functioning of society and the rule of law. This new model was able to answer to the challenges posed at the dawn of the new millennium.  However, information technologies by themselves did not solve problems, and were not a panacea.  There was a most direct link between development and democracy, with the development of new forms of social solidarity, community life and direct democracy, with the opportunity to create a democratic society at a global level.  Information and communication technologies (ICTs) needed to be people-centred, and should involve governments, the private sector and civil society.

ABDOULAYE WADE, President of Senegal, said that due to lack of wealth and the digital divide, people were communicating less. The digital divide was mainly affecting developing countries and equity in that manner should be applied. The programmes enshrined in the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) might allow African countries to cope with their communication deficiencies.  All African countries should move forward within the same line through the use of ICTs.  Africa had competent human resources; and the implementation of liberal policies might be beneficial.  The NEPAD was bringing new visions to Africa through its ambitious development programmes.  However, concrete solutions had not yet been found to situations that were dragging Africa back into its previous slavery era.  African traders were unable to sell their products because of failing prices.  Because of the non-regulatory principles in cotton trading, African cotton producers had less access to the international cotton market.

Senegal supported the Plan of Action drafted by the Summit.  Thanks to the comprehensive support of the international community, Africa would overcome its problems.  The participation of the international private sector and civil society was also a solid factor in the development of Africa.  Africa should be a viable partner in all development programmes, including in combating the digital divide.

JOHN A. KUFUOR, President of Ghana, said the Summit aimed to foster unity among the peoples of the world through the employment and utilization of information and communication technologies.  According to the statements made yesterday, it seemed that the process leading to the Summit had succeeded in reaching some consensus on the main issues before the international community concerning ICTs.  There was a general acceptance that ICTs could propel and further widen the digital divide, if the international community did not harness the positive opportunities provided by such tools.  It was stressed that ICTs were a major part of the indispensable infrastructure for economic and social security, as well as other aspects of sustainable development.  Ghana, therefore, supported the concept of the Digital Solidarity Fund.  He noted that such a fund must be based on the principles of collective subscription of nations, each according to its ability.  This Fund would be an indispensable social service for the evolution of the world.  Ghana supported the call for a committee to be established to consider the feasibility of such a Fund.

Addressing developments in Ghana, Mr. Kufuor said that the facilitation of education and the provision of accessibility for the most vulnerable groups to ICTs were main priorities.  Another area was the education of trainers in ICTs which was being supported and carried out with the assistance of India.  It was added that the Government of Ghana was also promoting projects that encouraged investment into the ICTs arena within the country.  In conclusion, the Ghanaian President called for a concerted effort at building a global ICT structure and for further international solidarity through a Digital Solidarity Fund. 

AZALI ASSOUMANI, President of the Comoros, said the mutations that had shaken the world, overthrowing points of reference and imposing each time a new vision or another understanding of time, deserved to be mastered in order to be used for the good of mankind.  The world today needed a new type of society that refused marginalization and exclusion, that recognized the dignity and responsibility of each person, and that was more heavily involved in solidarity, for the survival of all countries and the security of all peoples.  Nothing should be neglected in order to reinforce peace in the world, as all were equal before fear, terror and anguish.  Today, more than ever, the world was one and indivisible, and it was clear that the destiny of all mankind and of all peoples, in all countries, was intimately linked. 

The new ICTs opened new horizons. They were a formidable lever, and an accelerator of development. They developed citizenship and could bring together the administration and the administered.  But they could also be a tool for oppression, the aggravation of inequalities, and of deepening social fractures.  There was a need to appeal to the universal conscience to implicate positively political will and not default on this unique chance, and to involve all countries and peoples.  However, the preservation of democracy and freedom of expression and movement engendered by the technological developments needed to be accompanied by a process to make them available to all ages, genders, and social groups. 

ROBERT KOCHARYAN, President of Armenia said the Summit was important since it would establish common rules to play in the ICT field.  Armenia had made significant progress in the ICT and the information technology fields, and work was under way to develop comprehensive strategies on e-government.  A Silicon Armenia portal had advanced the diaspora and brought new technologies to the country, with new technologies changing old Soviet-relic assumptions.  Armenia was coming closer to a society of equals.

Mr. Kocharyan hoped that the new ICTs were used as tools to better serve people.  E-education, e-health and e-government could be used as sufficient tools to enhance the lives of all peoples.  The digital divide deepened economic and social gaps, and the responsibility to bridge it was not just that of governments, but that of civil society and business.  Where situations were less than ideal, information technology could build a new community of nations, wherein students and individuals could communicate and cooperate, thus, bringing governments to the same result, cooperation and communication, freely, across borders, in increasing global harmony.

ALYAKSANDR LUKASHENKA, President of Belarus, said his country appreciated the initiative to convene this important Summit with a view to building an information society.  Belarus had been one of the most technologically developed republics of the former USSR, including through its space research and defence programmes.  Programmers and information technology specialists from Belarus had made many incredible advances possible.  Today, this potential was being used on national priorities, including the development of weapons technology.  Belarus’ path had been defined by a national comprehensive programme entitled “electronic Belarus”. 

The Government was planning to launch its own space craft in the near future, Mr. Lukashenka said.  As an active partner, Belarus was prepared to offer its services to complex technological tasks to do with such research.  Today, more than one quarter of the national budget was dedicated to science and education.  The Government was, however, concerned about the current trend of brain drain.  In this connection, he suggested that this phenomenon should be mentioned in the outcome document of the Summit.  It was crucial to create affordable and high-quality software.  In this connection, he suggested that a Fund be established to compensate soft-ware producers when supplying their products at a lower price.  By mentioning the efforts undertaken in the face of the Y2K problem, he reminded participants that the international community had already proved its capability to cooperate within the field of information and communication technologies.

MARC FORNÉ, Head of Government of Andorra, said that technological innovations always had negative and positive aspects.  However, the positive aspects should be used to unite people, not to divide them.  Andorra had been reacting to new technologies and had benefited from them.  Andorran schools and universities had been equipped with computers.  Teachers were trained to run programmes and help students to use the computers.  The majority of students had easy access to the use of the Internet.  Government services had been modernized and information technologies had fully been integrated.  Telephones, both fixed and mobile, had been extended in all parts of the country.  E-mail and telephone services had also been made available to all inhabitants in Andorra.  The European States had been cooperating with the developing countries in their efforts to have access to information and communication technologies. 

ARNOLD RÜÜTEL, President of Estonia, said development of the information society was the call of the day, but was also an international, regional, national and personal challenge.  It was essential for governments to keep the development of the information society constantly high on the agenda.  Estonia had defined this goal for itself as a main priority, and had reached a forefront of advanced ICT usage.  This had been possible through creating an enabling market, opening opportunities, prioritizing ICT in education and involving all stakeholders.  The use of information technology had rendered the public sector more efficient, thus, freeing up funds for more important issues. 

It was necessary to follow democratic principles and ensure freedom of speech and the press.  Generally recognized human standards of dignity and protection of minors also applied to the new media.  The information society had developed rapidly, and needed to be promoted at a global level, with coordination between governments, public sector representatives, and civil society and this had been demonstrated in Estonia.  Information technology development and cohesive growth was important for all societies, and this should be promoted at a global level.

KHALEDA ZIA, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, said the Summit was an historic occasion to lay the foundations of the information society.  Information and communication technologies had generated profound changes within humanity.  The invention of the telegraph had started the modern ICTs.  Today, there had been dramatic changes, with enormous advantages that extended to developing countries.  Vast new opportunities had been opened up for developing countries.  Bangladesh had placed poverty eradication at the top of its national agenda.  In the context of poverty eradication, much could be done by further investment in ICTs, as well as ICT human resources.  In fact, Bangladesh’s policies closely conformed to the Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action to be adopted by the Summit. 

The challenges faced by poor countries to build an information society were daunting, Ms. Zia said.  These issues had come up during the preparatory process for the Summit.  She was, therefore, happy that the world community had shown sufficient willingness to commit to adopting the Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action.  Humanity had devised a technology that could, if approached efficiently, minimize poverty and suffering.  In this connection, she stressed the importance of further assistance from international financial institutions.  Pakistan supported the Digital Solidarity Fund and hoped that it would assist developing countries in taking advantage of the boundless opportunities of ICTs for sustainable development.

KIM YONG DAE, Vice-President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea, said the current Summit marked an important occasion in making international political commitment and guidelines for building an information society conducive to promoting the well-being of all humankind.  Today, the rapid development of information and communication technologies had an immense impact on all aspects of social life to a great extent.  The development of science and technology constituted a fundamental element that decided the rise and fall of a nation.  Each country needed to pay priority attention to enhancing its own national development capacity of ICTs and to take all measures needed for the building of the information society.  Efforts should be directed to expanding and developing international cooperation and solidarity for the sake of the information society that all desired to build by eliminating the imbalance of the ICTs worldwide and realizing their even development.

The acts of abusing information and communication means for the pursuit of political purposes or interfering in other’s internal affairs and overthrowing legitimate governments should be rejected on all accounts. The Government was consistently maintaining the policy of attaching importance to science and technology, regarding them as the foundation of national power and the driving force for national prosperity.

RICARDO ALARCÓN DE QUESADA, President of the National Assembly of People’s Power of Cuba, said it was not the time to simply forge illusions or to simply repeat empty rhetoric.  There was a need to, first and foremost, conquer a world that was free of hunger, ignorance, unhealthiness, and discrimination. For the 75 per cent of the world’s population that lived in underdevelopment, new technologies were of no significance. The poor of the world who could not read or write and the children with no access to education could have no use for a computer, and neither could those without electricity. 

Humanity had made enormous strides in technology and science since the dawn of time, and the momentum reached over the last 100 years was astounding.  But what was even more baffling was the increasing gap between those with material privileges and those without, and the vast gap in human solidarity between those with and those without.  In the year 2001, countries with the highest level of income contained 73 per cent of Internet users.  The gap only continued to grow, with 50 to 60 per cent of the population of the world fighting poverty.  The Summit needed to give rise to concrete results, namely a strong commitment to undertake effective actions, with the Internet no longer in the hands of the shareholders of multinational companies.  The final Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action of the Summit should show the truth, revealing cultural diversity and putting an end to the unilateral and arbitrary measures placed against countries of the South by the North.  A new world order of information and communication was an absolute necessity, and should bring about a true educational revolution, wiping out illiteracy.  The world was subjected to a regime that only served the purpose of keeping the poor in poverty, and this Summit should work towards making strides towards the dream of justice and equality that inspired millions in the belief that another, better world was possible.

ISATOU NJIE-SAIDY, Vice-President of the Gambia, said the African continent was quite aware of the huge potentials information and communication technologies held for the attainment of its socio-economic development objectives.  Africa’s commitment to use ICTs as an entry point into the information society had given rise to the African Information Society Initiative (AISI).  This commitment was consistent not only with the national development blueprint of the Gambia (Vision 2020), which sought to develop and use electronic information for development, but also the spirit embodied in the NEPAD framework for the development of the African continent. 

It was within this respect that the Gambia had designed an e-government strategy with a pilot project that would facilitate the sharing of financial and economic management data and information between priority government sectors.  Following the successful implementation of the pilot project, it would be expanded to other institutions and services across the country. 

Ms. Njie-Saidy added that an electronic Government in Africa would aim to transform the relationship between the Government and the public it served, between the Government and the private sector, and between government departments in terms of how transactions were carried out.  Such a government in Africa would provide other advantages, including quality and efficient public service delivery to the citizens and to other government agencies and it would further increase transparency, accountability and good governance.  Ignorance was today’s worst enemy as it was responsible for all the conflicts and problems that afflicted the world.  The ICTs were without a doubt one of the remedies to this deadly human malaise.  She said she could not, however, conclude without expressing some caution.  While embracing the benefits of ICTs in combating poverty and social exclusion, it was important to remain alert to their potential criminal abuse by deviant elements. 

LAURENS JAN BRINKHORST, Minister of Economic Affairs of the Netherlands, said that information and communication technologies were all about growth, productivity and development, and with their tools better and more accurate services were possible in health and education.  The quality of life had improved as a result.  But there were threats, as well.  A failure of the Internet could result in enormous chaos in public life.  Something should be done to protect the proper functioning and management of the Internet. 

Many initiatives were being taken to address the problem of access, especially in underserved areas.  One found that in developed countries, as well as in developing countries.  Solidarity was necessary to pave the path for knowledge-sharing and to assist countries to develop e-strategies, policies and investments based on such a strategy.  For that purpose, the Netherlands had opened an ICT Trust Fund with the World Bank, and concrete projects were now undertaken.  The Netherlands emphasized the importance of the protection of the freedom of expression and information in the information society.  Human rights standards recognized that other legitimate rights and interests constrained the exercise of information freedoms.

PHILIPPOS W. MARIAM, Minister of Infrastructure of Ethiopia, said the peoples of the world, under the leadership of the United Nations, were seeking and enthusiastically cooperating to build an information society which was global in nature.  This new spirit of cooperation was unique in its conceptual framework and approach.  It was unique in the sense that people of the world for the first time were fully converging in an assertion that ICTs were a tool and an enabler of the new and emerging societal transformation. 

The emergence of a global information society was inevitable, and the Summits in Geneva and Tunis would speed up this process. There was, therefore, full support for the basic considerations expressed in the draft Declaration of Principles and the Plan of Action which stated that there was a need for developing countries, particularly least developed countries (LDCs), to be equipped with the necessary enabling environment, the relevant institutional and management capacity, internationally competitive telecommunications infrastructure and services, pervasive penetration of Internet technology, skilled human resources, and streamlined ICT applications into development programmes so as to enable them to strategically intervene in speeding up the evolution of an information society.  In this connection, developing a purposefully targeted financing mechanism to assist LDCs was decisive to make this global initiative a reality. 

ULLA TØRNÆS, Minister of Education of Denmark, said the information society -- this great vision -- meant nothing unless it meant the triumph of development over poverty, of freedom over censorship, and of knowledge over ignorance.  Poverty must be eradicated through sustainable economic growth, social development and increased market access.  Here, information technologies could play a crucial role, but more work was needed to bring ICTs to everyone. At the same time, the international community must take a clear stance against poverty. Only by focusing efforts directly on the poor could one mobilize enough energy, ambition and inspiration to achieve the Millennium Development Goals in areas such as education.  Already, today ICTs were playing an increasing role in many developing countries.  It was, therefore, crucial that developing countries begin to integrate national e-strategies into their national poverty-reduction strategies.  The information society must be made all-inclusive.

The fight for freedom of expression had raged with each technological leap, the Danish Minister said.  In too many countries, there was a fear of the power of free imagery and free works.  Still, censorship could not hide that limiting access to information was limiting equality and equity, that restricting freedom of expression was restricting connections and communication, and that oppressing the opinion of others was oppressing human rights and human dignity.  She said that taking a rights-based approach to ICTs and development was one way of bringing together the standards of international human rights and ICT development efforts. It was stressed that focusing on e-government, e-learning, e-business, e-health and e-inclusion in annual ICT action plans would help reap the full benefit of ICTs and pave the way to the true information society. 

KALMAN KOVACS, Minister of Informatics and Communications of Hungary, said that sharing technologies should create a harmonious way of living and should reflect a sign of solidity among nations.  All were, however, threatened by the digital divide.  The use of e-learning, e-education and e-commerce would enable people to be involved and define their own desires.  In the case of vulnerable groups and people from remote areas, further efforts should be made to help them in accessing information technologies. Hungary was doing all it could to integrate information technologies in all fields of economic and social activities. An awareness campaign had also been launched so that Hungarians would have a positive attitude towards the Internet.  Hungary believed that the global, regional and national strategies should focus on bringing the world together. Hungary was also committed to the promotion of United Nations activities and would take an active role in the present first, as well as the second, phase of the Summit in Tunis.

BERTIE AHERN, Prime Minister of Ireland, said “information society” was not a phrase used often by people around the world, but the possibilities offered by it to change the world was recognized by all, as it made it easier for governments to help their populations, and had opened up new horizons for communities all over the planet, while offering new solutions to age-old problems.  There was also a new challenge, that of providing access to the Internet for all.  Vital differences lay, however, in the abilities of countries to deal with this challenge.  It was time to have a global discussion on the growth of the information society to see how it could be used for the global community, to bring its benefits and advantages at many levels. 

In an age of increasing globalization, the means of change lay in technology, but governments alone could not deal with it; there was a need to forge partnerships with civil society and business partners. It was important to give space and to develop new approaches to the format of the information society, but not to limit these approaches.  For developing countries, access to information and communication technologies was the key to development, and other countries should ensure that there was no impediment to the use of that key.  Progress depended on partnerships between all, and Ireland had recognized this at many different levels. Information technology could make a vital contribution in many fields, including health, for example, in providing access to information on HIV/AIDS.  There was, however, a need to be pragmatic, since the digital divide was a symbol of the wealth and development divide, and the first needed to be tackled realistically in order to create a fair and inclusive world order.

REZZO SCHLAUCH, Secretary of State at the Federal Ministry for Economics and Labour of Germany, said he welcomed the Summit since it gave developed and developing countries a chance to discuss the opportunities and challenges of the information society under the umbrella of the United Nations.  However, the information society must rest on principles of common values, such as human rights.  Human rights such as the freedom of expression and opinion were of particular importance in this regard.  People also needed to be enabled to use the new media, and, therefore, great importance must be given to human capacity-building. Use of information communication technologies could continue here through methods of e-learning. 

The digital divide could not be overcome without a high level of private sector involvement, he said.  On the other hand, governments needed to create the legal and economic frameworks to encourage investment by the private sector since a modern information society needed to take into account the interest of commerce and industry. He, therefore, welcomed the presence of private sector representatives at the Summit. It was stressed that the ICT industry made an important contribution to economies, growth and employment. The use of ICTs offered enormous commercial and labour market potential for developing and emerging market economies. In many cases, the Internet, in particular, permitted traditional market barriers to be overcome.  It was added that the increased use of open source software was another cost-efficient manner to reduce barriers for developing economies.  On the basis of targeted national action plans, Germany had made remarkable progress towards the information society, including through e-commerce.

MAQBOOL ALI SULTAN, Minister of Commerce and Industry of Oman, said that e-government by itself would not be of significant value unless citizens and businesses acquired knowledge and resources that would allow them to avail such services.  The citizens and businesses aspired for the availability of the telecommunications infrastructure and the electronic transactions-supporting environment.  Oman welcomed the proposal of creating a Digital Solidarity Fund to provide technical and financial assistance towards national and regional capacity.  Oman had addressed the issue of information and communication technologies with much attention, and its progress to date had been encouraging.

Besides the macroeconomic policies adopted in the country for ensuring a high degree of economic freedom conducive to enterprise and investment, Oman had formulated a national information technology strategy that set the track of the path for the coming years.  It was hoped that the steps for implementing the main dimensions of such a strategy would go according to the plan, so as to achieve Oman’s digital society.

BERNARD CHISALE, Minister of Information of Malawi, said that the proper commission of the delegations represented at the Summit was to ensure that the information society advanced the interests of the Commonwealth, and that it served the global concerns of all nations.  The Summit was the seed for crafting a robust framework for extending opportunities to all, especially the disadvantaged of the planet.  It would be a framework for consolidating efforts to increase education opportunities, and to eliminate hunger, disease and poverty in all parts of the world.  By mediating between diverse views and opinions, the tools of information and communication broadly acted as a midwife for enriching national discourse, and, by extension, democracy.

Information and communication technologies were very powerful tools for rallying citizens around development and other issues that affected their lives. The Summit opened up new horizons for progress and the exchange of knowledge on how to incorporate ordinary people in national discourse and increase their participation in governance and the decision-making process.  It should also lay the ground for the tools and means of information and communication to generate products which had appeal across major, if not all, parts of society.


Participants should be guided by a desire to make quality ICT services accessible to all, in a competitive environment fostered by a robust policy and regulatory regime that placed a premium on the ordinary person.  Efforts to build a global information society would only be fruitful if the policy framework in individual countries enabled a guarantee of access to channels of communication in terms of reach and availability, if they could guarantee equality and fair distribution of the means and content of communication.

CARIN JAMTIN, Minister for Development Cooperation of Sweden, said there was an intrinsic force for freedom and growth in ICTs) and -- equally important -- a force for democracy.  This was a force that one must ensure the entire population of the world had access to.  Sweden’s goal was to create a free and truly inclusive global information society now, for all.  The focus, for some time, had been on investment in infrastructure.  This was a challenge, as Sweden was sparsely populated with large areas in which very few people lived.  However, a long tradition of engineering and innovation had given both an excellent telecommunications system and a cutting-edge ICT industry.

She stressed that the link between ICTs and poverty reduction was clear.  The potential of ICTs in helping to achieve the Millennium Development Goal was huge.  However, there were two factors that would determine progress -- whether one could bridge the digital divide and whether one would be able to create digital opportunities for all.  There was a need to address -- and redress -- the unequal distribution of ICTs in order to prevent poor countries and their people from lagging even further behind in global development.  The ICTs had the potential to contribute to economic development and democratization -- including freedom of speech, the free flow of information and the promotion of human rights.  This potential must be used to the full.  In conclusion, she stressed the clear link between ICTs and gender equality, and said that it might prove to be a tool for faster integration of women into society, economically, socially and politically.

EDUARDO CALIX, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of El Salvador, said that the issue of the digital divide was related to the economic and social divide of the world.  Everybody should be able to enjoy a shared economic future that would usher ICTs.  El Salvador had been making efforts to increase the number of its telephones, and the cost of calls had become cheaper.  It was much cheaper to call the United States from El Salvador than calling from the United States to El Salvador.  The Government of El Salvador had also taken measures to improve its telecommunication services so that people living in rural areas could have access.  Programmes to decrease the rate of illiteracy had been implemented during the last decade.  Poverty played a significant role in the lack of ICTs.  Poverty mainly sprang from isolation and isolation should be avoided with the extension of international cooperation.  The developed countries should take their responsibilities in that matter.

SAEED MOHAMED AL-FAIHANI, Head of the Delegation of Bahrain, said convening the World Summit was vital to deal with the important issues which had come into being.  The information-based society assumed an effective and central role in the economic, social and cultural dimensions of societies due to the diminishing of distances and time, together with the accelerating advance in science and technology. Thus, the development of society should take into consideration the eradication of scourges affecting society, such as poverty and famine, and should achieve a balanced and comprehensive perspective for the benefit of all, without exception.

There were three major challenges facing the world which should be taken into consideration in order to achieve a balanced and comprehensive development of society.  These challenges could be summarized as:  the digital divide, both between and within nations; obstacles to the free flow of information; and threats to the preservation of cultural diversity and genuine pluralism.  Without coordination at the international, regional and national levels, between governments, the private sector and civil society, it would be difficult to overcome these challenges.  It was hoped that the Summit would result in strengthening the efforts towards the establishment and development of the information society all over the world, through the implementation of the obligations emanating from the Summit. 

JOHN RIMMER, Head of the Delegation of Australia, said information and communication technologies must not be seen as an end in themselves.  Nor must they be seen or promoted as some form of panacea.  The challenge for all nations was to integrate ICTs effectively into the development of their economies and societies and to be prepared to share experiences and knowledge of “what works and why”.  Australia was working through its Virtual Colombo Plan to assist developing countries in the region to integrate information and communication technologies effectively into their national development and poverty-reduction strategies.  Australia had, through the use of ICTs, been able to transcend its remote global geography and connect to global markets, and to also traverse its vast inner spaces to enable communication between communities.

Mr. Rimmer said that even though Australia had transformed itself into a successful information economy and society in the Asia-Pacific region and on the international stage, continued success could not be taken for granted.  Australia was, therefore, working to create and mobilize new capabilities, remove obstacles to further development and promote Australia’s interests in the emerging global information economy.  Since the potential benefits from technological advances presented as many challenges, or even threats, as they did opportunities, a major priority for Australia was securing its economy and society against external and internal threats such as fraud, deception, spam and cyber-crime.  The Parliament had this month passed anti-spam legislation which provided an appropriate balance between the rights of consumers and businesses.  Challenges remained on how nations and corporation cooperated to develop and maintain consistent and common standards and protocols to support a global Internet regime.

U MYA THAN, Head of the Delegation of Myanmar, said man was the most wonderful creature on the planet, and so were his inventions.  Modern information and communication technologies had brought about dramatic and profound transformations in all aspects of daily life.  The advancement of these technologies was very fast, and it was only possible to guess what more dramatic changes the future would bring, but one thing was certain, that they would play an increasingly more important role in daily life in the future.  It was hoped that the Summit would be able to formulate principles and guidelines for the development, utilization and management of ICTs and to lay down a plan of action for the information society for the common good of the entirety of mankind.  The society should be based on respect for the time-tested principles of the United Nations Charter and international law relating to the peaceful and friendly relations among nations so that everyone could enjoy without hindrance the benefits of all ICTs. 

If the existing digital divide between the LDCs and the rest of the world could not be narrowed significantly in a few years’ time, those countries would become ever more marginalized, and left further behind.  To be able to claim that the Summit was a success, it was essential to identify ways and means and the support measures to bridge the digital divide.  The Plan of Action should include, among other things, concrete practical measures in this regard, relating to infrastructure building, capacity-building, and technical and financial assistance for the developing countries.  Information and communication technologies could also be used for the promotion of understanding and tolerance between cultures and religions, which would contribute to world peace.  The information society should be able to constructively exploit ICTs for this good cause, and to effectively prevent these technologies from being used for purposes contrary to this cause.

KOÏCHIRO MATSUURA, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said the key issues facing the Summit were not only, nor even mainly, about bridging the technological divide.  More fundamentally, it was about overcoming a new knowledge divide, which loomed ever wider as it became ever clearer that knowledge was fast becoming the driving force of economic change and social development.  The UNESCO was convinced that four key principles underpinned the endeavour to build societies in which both digital and knowledge opportunities could flourish:  freedom of expression; equal access to education; universal access to information, including a strong public domain of information; and the preservation and promotion of cultural diversity, including multilingualism.

Fostering and respecting cultural diversity, including linguistic diversity, was one of the fundamental principles of the information society.  Debates about content and language on the Internet were just one expression of the growing global concern on this issue.  Universal access to information and knowledge was central to inclusive knowledge societies.  The UNESCO was greatly heartened by the draft Declaration’s clear and unambiguous message concerning freedom of expression.  It made no sense to speak about an information society, not to mention knowledge societies, without free and unhindered access to information and knowledge in all forms and media.  It was still one thing to ensure a proper reference to freedom of expression in the key Summit documents; it was quite another to bring about the actual enjoyment of that basic principle of human freedom in all societies.  There was, therefore, much work still to be done.

PHILIP JENNINGS, General Secretary of Union Network International, said that it was a shame that governments refused to include freedom of association in the draft Declaration of Principles of the Summit.  In many countries, workers associations were suppressed and their rights were violated.  Global unions of workers should be part of the effort in the global promotion of the information and communication technologies.  Many countries had slammed their doors in the face of a dialogue with workers’ unions.  Without the workers taking part in the promotion of ICTs, the results would be partial.  The digital divide should also be available to all, and every effort should be made to place people at the centre.

MARK MALLOCH BROWN, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said information and communication technologies were not just a goal in themselves for a poor country.  Such an approach would consign it to a vanity investment.  The purpose was to play its role within development.  Its role was as a powerful soldier to halve the number of people living below the poverty line and fight HIV/AIDS.  With the right policies and practices, ICTs could do far more to address the development challenges the international community faced.  Incorporating ICTs into development must be based on three main pillars -- practice, policy and partnership.  Nothing was automatic in the diffusion of information, he said.  It was, therefore, promising that more than 70 countries had elaborated their own national ICT policies.  Ultimately, the work could not be carried out by governments alone.  The best use of ICTs would be that which involved governments, the private sector, as well as civil society.  It was incumbent on the international community to build an inclusive information society that helped lift developing countries out of poverty.

ADNAN KASSAR, Chairman and CEO of the Fransabank Group, said the Summit was a long-anticipated and most welcome initiative.  The high-level representation was a clear testimonial of the importance that governments, businesses and the civil sector attached to ICTs.  A well established information society opened a wide avenue towards the objectives of the Millennium Declaration, and this was because ICTs could lead any country to a level of economic development that was heretofore inexperienced.  It could cause development on solid and sustainable grounds, bringing an unparalleled degree of know-how which could not be lost.  The private sector had stressed to governments of the world that regulation of the information society was best if left to self-regulation in order to foster competition and reduce access costs, after which the role of the government would be to ensure that access infrastructure was available to all, without discrimination.

MERCEDES BRESSO, World Federation of United Cities (FMCU), said that ICTs should be tools to eradicate inequalities and social injustices within societies, which her organization was encouraging governments to do. The FMCU believed that social problems affecting people in cities should be resolved through ICTs.  In the past, the Federation had organized meetings in many cities, including Lyon, where the need for the expansion of information and communication technology had been stressed. It was hoped that the Summit would contribute to the improvement of lives of many city dwellers. The success of the Summit would open a wide prospective for the second phase of the Tunis Summit in 2005.

THOMAS GANSWINDT, Group President of the Siemens Information and Communication Networks, said that no technology had changed the development of nations like information and communication technologies. The digital divide had, however, hit the developing nations hard due to a lack of ICT infrastructure. The best way of addressing this issue was through better mutual understanding and by learning from each other.  People at Siemens knew the challenges associated with the digital divide from their own experience in global work and supported activities that helped bridging the digital divide.  One example of the activities undertaken by Siemens was the support of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) “Back to school” initiative in Afghanistan.  Siemens had also contributed to other initiatives in this regard and was hoping to increase its support for e-health projects.  E-health projects could improve care and treatment given to patients by cutting costs at the same time, he said. 

ROBERT BLOIS, Deputy Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), said the results of the Summit would have far-reaching implications on how the citizens of the world lived in the twenty-first century. The Summit was an historic occasion. The pace at which communications had changed over the last decade was remarkable. New communication technologies, particularly the mobile phone and the Internet, had radically transformed today’s world.  The ITU had played a vital role in this transformation through promotion of global inter-operability of network management of the spectrum and by assisting countries to make informed policy decisions. The Summit, as well as being an historical event, was also an opportunity for ITU to identify new challenges and opportunities and concentrate on tangible measures of progress.

PAUL TWOMEY, CEO of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), said that his organization had the duty to manage the Internet system worldwide.  It was working with business and non-profiting-making organizations in managing the Internet. During the last 35 years, the partnership between government and the private sector had enabled the building of the Internet network.  The Corporation was not standing in the way of governments in their efforts to manage their Internet systems; however, cooperation and partnership with the Corporation would be much profitable.  There was also a need for Internet governance and strengthening the information and communication technologies.  In the world, there were 55 million domain names registered by the ICANN.  More and more people were now using the Internet more than ever. 

MARCEL A. BOISARD, Executive Director of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), said UNITAR had done much work in preparation for the Summit, including chairing a round table on capacity-building at the second preparatory meeting.  The UNITAR believed that the Internet and information and communication technologies had been, above all, an opportunity for the South.  Over the past 10 years, UNITAR had worked to assist developing countries in this information revolution.  The international community had now also placed ICTs at the heart of building an information society.  The Internet was above all a vector for knowledge, he said.  Of course, he was not denying the existence of the digital divide and the priority must be on training and knowledge capacity.  Local capacity must also be reinforced.  It was also essential to facilitate access to knowledge, he said, suggesting the establishment of cyber-libraries.  Such cyber-libraries would be an important weapon against illiteracy.  Political measures were also needed to help governments, the private sector and the civil society to fully commit to the building of a new information society, including work on e-governments, e-training, e-business and e-democracy. 

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