Importance of a rights-based approach to development needs to be recognised: Our comments on the WSIS+10 Non-Paper

A report by
Rajat Rai Handa


Until Friday 18 September, comments were invited on the UN Non-Paper for the WSIS+10 Review from UN member-states, observer states and all relevant stakeholders. The Internet Democracy Project submitted comments in the form of specific text proposals on all the different sections of the non-paper, namely Digital Divide, ICT for Development, Human Rights, Internet Governance, Cyberspace and Follow-Up and Review. We also joined forces with other civil society organisations and representatives to submit comments on behalf of Asia-Pacific and BRICS.

The UN non-paper for the WSIS+10 Review was designed as a compilation of the majority of ideas and aspirations contributed by the relevant stakeholders through their submissions previously in the process. It also included the progress recorded to date through the previous UN-led reviews of WSIS outcomes. All relevant stakeholders were encouraged in their comments on the non-paper to indicate whether the structure and the elements covered in the document are suitable, and how they should be treated in the zero-draft.

The Internet Democracy Project welcomed the non-paper on the WSIS+10 Review. We were particularly pleased to see the strong focus on the continued need for efforts to bridge the digital divide and on harnessing ICTs for development. These emphases reflected some of the major concerns the Internet Democracy Project had outlined in its July 2015 input into the non-paper. However, we also pointed out that the non-paper requires considerable strengthening on a range of important points if the WSIS+10 Review Outcome Document is to move us forward towards realising the WSIS vision of a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented information society.

In particular, we commented that the outcome document needs to recognise and address to a far greater extent the complexities and specificities of the digital divides as they have evolved over the past decade, as well as for the harm these divides do to the unconnected in our increasingly connected societies. In addition, the outcome document needs to recognise explicitly the importance of a rights-based approach to development if the WSIS vision is to be achieved, and should significantly expand on the human rights section and language. Finally, it is important that the outcome document contributes to the strengthening of the Internet governance ecosystem and includes specific language on this as well, including where future reviews of the WSIS are concerned. Our submission can be found online here.

Some of the proposals we made drew substantially from the Pattaya Key Messages, the outcome document of a meeting which brought together a group of 38 Asia-Pacific stakeholders from 3 to 5 September 2015 in Pattaya, Thailand, to discuss the WSIS+10 Review. While the original aim of the meeting was to discuss the non-paper, due to the late release of the non-paper, its focus was shifted to analyse the impact of the WSIS+10 Review in three key areas: development, human rights and Internet governance. The Internet Democracy Project co-organised this meeting with Bytes for All, APNIC, the Association for Progressive Communications, Global Partners Digital, ICT Watch and ISOC, and on behalf of all present there, submitted the Pattaya Key Messages, along with a cover letter, as comments on the non-paper. This submission provides a much more nuanced understanding of internet access, and the challenges it faces than the non-paper does. It also provides a lot of concrete recommendations to make Internet governance more inclusive, accountable and transparent, particularly keeping in mind the concerns of the marginalised people from the Global South which often get sidelined in the process. These concerns involve, but are not limited to, the challenges related to bridging the persistent digital divide, mobilising ICTs for development, ensuring human rights online and governance of the Internet based on ground-realities in the Global South. The Pattaya Key Messages submission can be found here.

Finally, the Internet Democracy Project also joined forces on a joint submission with civil society members from BRICS, namely Association for Progressive Communications, South Africa; Center for Technology and Society of the Getulio Vargas Foundation School of Law in Rio de Janeiro (CTS-FGV), Brazil; Centre for Communication Governance (CCG) at National Law University, New Delhi, India; Sekoetlane Phamodi, South Africa and Alexandra Kulikova, Russia. Since the BRICS countries occupy an important position in contemporary global politics, and account for a significant proportion of the global internet users, we believed it was important, as members of civil society in these BRICS countries, to bring to attention some specific BRICS issues in the WSIS non-paper and in the larger context of the WSIS review. The submission highlights that achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development including the SDGs is contingent upon the successful bridging of the digital divide through ICT for development. In addition, the human rights obligations that BRICS countries needs to fulfill to the support the information society also come into focus in the submission, which can be found here.