Written statement on item 17. Promotion and protection of human rights:(a) Status of the International Covenants on Human Rights; (b) Human rights defenders;(c) Information and education; (d) Science and environment.

Written statement submitted by Transnational Radical Party, a non-governmental organization in general consultative status


10 March 2005

The Transnational Radical Party (TRP) believes that “new technologies” may prove invaluable in the promotion and protection of human rights and welcomes the activities of the United Nations to promote the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). The process launched in 2002, has provided a series of opportunity to exchange views, experiences as well as visions on how an increasingly interconnected world can have an impact not only on billions of individuals, but also on the work of the UN and its agencies. Thanks to its consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council the TRP has sent delegations to many of the preparatory meetings in Europe.

On different occasions, the meetings of the Preparatory Committee, and the first session of the WSIS itself, have tried to address the various ways and possibilities to attempt the bridging of the so-called "digital divide" promoting and strengthening the technological capabilities of developing countries launching a series of concrete projects that should assist dozens of Governments in enhancing the electronic aspects of their mandate, structure and functions. The TRP has always tried to stress the human rights-related aspects of the entire exercise.

Throughout the WSIS preparatory process, there have been several actors that have raised the need to include within the mandate of the Summit as a matter of priority, the ascertainment and/or promotion of civil and political rights also in the "virtual world" in order to consolidate a path towards opener societies the world over. UN Member States have struggled to reach a consensus on the degree with which human rights issues should become a primary component of an information society.

In particular, the TRP believes that information, as much as the "right to be able to be properly informed", a right that is not codified but that is often mentioned by many as essential in democratic societies, are key elements of the freedom to choose, the right to self-government, the possibility to innovate and prosper according to one's choices and needs. For these reasons, the TRP believes that societies, be they local or global, should be "governed" by the universal norms enshrined in the major human rights instruments starting from the Universal Declaration, which includes all the aspects of a free, open and accountable “information society”. The TRP commends WSIS participants for their adoption of the Declaration of Principles in Geneva in December 2003.

Throughout 2002 and 2003, the TRP has sent delegations to the PrepComs of the Summit and has tried to contribute to the WSIS process. Having mainly focused its concerns on bridging the "democratic divide", at the first session of the Summit in Geneva, the TRP also organized a panel discussion to focus on some national contexts where, despite governmental reassurances, the virtual world is far from being free and open to everybody's contribution and/or critique.

These two past years, have strengthened the TRP's belief that not only the “international community” needs to promote the (public) perception that technology, just like development, is a means and not an end, but also that information cannot addressed as an issue which is separated from freedom, and that freedom can only exist in a context where the rule of law is possible and adheres to the highest international standards vis-à-vis human rights.

2005, should be the year when concerned governments, UN agencies, experts as well as non-governmental organizations find the courage to unequivocally affirm the principles contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, stressing clearly that noble statements such as the Declaration of Principles adopted in Geneva in December 2003, at the first session of the WSIS are indeed translated into concrete actions.

In particular the TRP believes that for an information society to be successful and fair and foster the promotion and protection of human rights it needs to be free, open and accountable.

free as in freedom of speech, freedom to share knowledge, ideas and creativity in mutual respect, and through peaceful manners, without pervasive or violent restrictions, limitations or control. Free like the ideas that have allowed the development of programs and systems that can be shared and improved by anybody, facilitating a variegated and cooperative human progress.

open to the multilingual and multicultural contribution of everybody. Open to the scrutiny of the public through policies that regulate the abuse of dominant positions by governmental or private entities, and which also contribute to the elimination of new digital barriers against people with disabilities. Open to the development of programs and applications that guarantee the participation of every individual in the democratic process, and ultimately the enjoyment of civil and political rights, including the right to privacy.

Rights, namely those enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ratified by over 140 nations, should be fully enjoyed in the digital domain regardless of the political regime that governs a country. No special, let alone emergency laws or regulations should be adopted to govern the Information Society. There should be no difference before the law between those that use, provide or regulate the "information society". To this end, existing human rights mechanisms, such as the UN Human Right Committee should be considered as fora with the appropriate jurisdiction to hear individual or groups' claims if national systems are unwilling or unable to address complaints fairly.

To this end, the TRP believes that, in view of the final phase of the WSIS, decision makers charged with the implementation of the plan of action adopted at the 1st session of the WSIS, held in Geneva in December 2003, should pay particular attention to the issues of "e-democracy", development aid, and non-proprietary software.

New technologies should principally serve as another medium to facilitate and enlarge participatory democracy rather than merely strengthening, or rendering more efficient, the ways in which a government – too often not freely and fairly elected – governs its citizens.

No money without democracy:
International aid should not be disbursed for the sake of the mere promotion of Its. As said, new technologies are a means and not an end in themselves. Tech-aid programs should contain specific “human rights protection/enjoyment/promotion” clauses to bind suppliers and donors (of money and technologies) to mechanisms of accountability for the implementation of the Geneva Plan of Action. Moreover, recipient countries should comprehensively document their advancement towards free, open and democratic societies with specific references to the Plan.

Non-discrimination against non-proprietary free/open software:
The UN should serve as a facilitator in the endeavor of promoting an information society assisting developing nations in bridging the so-called digital divide. To this end, legal and economic barriers for those operative systems that have an open source of code, and oftentimes are free of charge, should be eliminated. The needs of an information society are not compatible with the rules and regulations that, through legal or economic monopolies (e.g. software patents, excessive copyright enforcement etc.) limit the circulation of ideas and creativity. Moreover, free/open software provide the invaluable opportunity to allow the breeding of software engineers in loco, who can adapt the programs to the needs of their environment and culture and vice-versa.

In this context, the TRP believes that in order for this scenario be possible, the decision to convene the second phase of the WSIS in Tunisia should be paralleled with a firm pressure from concerned countries on the host State towards the promotion of reforms concerning the rule of law, essential elements for a successful outcome of the Tunis phase of the Summit.

The current political situation in Tunisia presents several problems vis-a-vis freedom of speech and circulation of ideas and, without substantial reforms, it cannot be considered a credible environment for the promotion of information technologies. It is difficult to appreciate the Tunisian Government's declaration towards the support of IT, as it systematically intervenes in the ways in which the Internet can be accessed, organized and used. The State's monopoly of the connectivity, its strict and pervasive regulations on who can use new technologies, and the total control on the content of the messages that circulate, go in the opposite direction of a free, open and accountable information society negating its core subject matter: freedom.

The TRP is of the opinion that concerned governments should take this opportunity to urge Tunis to open up to reforms in view of the convocation of the final phase of the Summit, otherwise the WSIS will become, from a great opportunity to seize, an event which integrity may be marred. In the months leading to the Tunisian meeting, the TRP will launch a series of activities to urge democratic governments to exert their political and diplomatic pressure on Tunisia so that laws restricting freedoms are changed and all journalists, web-masters, and web-editors, but also dissidents and human rights advocates and activists are released and allowed to work freely, in accordance with international norms that guarantee freedom of speech and information sharing. that appeal will also target all those regimes that systematically curb freedom.