Press Releases

     

    PI/1541
    12 December 2003

    WSIS OPENING MEETING DISCUSSES HOW DIGITAL
    DIVIDE IS PREVENTING EQUAL SHARING OF
    OPPORTUNITIES CONCERNING ICTS

    Speakers Call on Need to Promote International Cooperation
    To Reduce Digital and Other Divides

    (Reissued as received.)

    GENEVA, 11 December -- The World Summit on the Information Society held its opening session this afternoon, hearing from the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, as well as its host, Pascal Couchepin, President of the Swiss confederation.  The anticipated outcome of the Summit is to develop and foster a clear statement of political will and a concrete plan of action for achieving the goals of the information society, while fully reflecting all the different interests at stake.

    United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said technology had produced the information age, and now it was up to all to build an information society.  The ability existed to improve standards of living for millions upon millions of people, and the tools to propel humanity towards the Millennium Development Goals were in hand.  Humanity was in charge of its own destiny here at the Summit.

    The Secretary-General noted that the so-called digital divide was actually several gaps in one.  There was a technological divide, a content divide, a gender divide, and a commercial divide.  And there were obvious social, economic and other disparities and obstacles that affected a country’s ability to take advantage of digital opportunities.

    An open, inclusive information society that benefited all people would not, however, emerge without sustained commitment and investment.  It was up to the leaders assembled here, Mr. Annan said, to produce those acts of political will, and he also urged the business community, civil society groups, and media organizations to contribute.  Building an open, empowering information society was a social, economic and ultimately political challenge.

    Hosting the first phase of the Summit, Pascal Couchepin, President of the Swiss Confederation, said information technologies had created a revolution in communication which needed to be extended to the rest of the world.  There was a need to bridge the digital divide, to find concrete ways of bridging the gap between the haves and the have-nots. The Geneva meeting had to be a success, or it would mar the new millennium.  The time had come to take a strong political position.

    In his capacity as host for the second phase of the Summit, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, President of Tunisia, said the holding of the Summit would offer all an opportunity to intensify consultations on the issues and to reach decisions that would certainly be historic, given the crucial importance of the question for humanity as a whole.  The developments generated by technological changes would foster the role of the information sector in developing the information society to advanced levels, so as to further anchor human rights in their comprehensive vision that consecrated the freedom of expression, and ensured the respect of State sovereignty and the right of peoples to self-determination.

    The Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Yoshi Utsumi, said the transformation to the information society would be every bit as profound as the movement from agrarian to industrial societies.  In the past, such changes had led to winners and losers. The international community must not make the same mistakes.  By taking the right decisions, the international community must shape the direction of the information society and create a more just, prosperous and peaceful world.

    The first phase of the World Summit is taking place in Geneva from 10 to 12 December 2003 and will address a broad range of themes concerning the information society.  A Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action are expected to be adopted.  The second phase will take place in Tunisia from 16 to 18 November 2005.  Development themes will be a key focus in the second phase, as well as the assessment of progress made and further action to be taken.

    During the general debate, topics raised included the intervention of governments in encouraging the full development of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the information society as a tool for world-wide good. The new technologies, many speakers agreed, could be a tool not only for democraticization, but for the promotion and protection of all human rights world-wide.  It was important to remember, however, speakers said, that ICTs were merely a tool, and it was the humans behind the tool and the information itself that were important.

    Another topic of interest proved to be the aid that technology could bring in increasing the speed and quality of development in less-developed countries.  The ICTs, speakers agreed, could help remedy the situation and increase and speed up development, but only with the aid of the rest of the world -- there was a clear need for a changed form of global solidarity, one based on the sharing of knowledge and the free and easy access.  However, several participants pointed out, this should not be at the expense of local cultural differences, which should be preserved.

    An issue of concern to participants was the digital divide, and its multiple forms.  Participants pointed out that not only were those from less-developed countries disadvantaged, but there were also disadvantaged groups among the disadvantaged, in particular, women and those suffering from poverty.  There was a vital need to bridge this gap, in particular, when tackling the divide between and within nations.  Everyone including governments, business leaders and civil society needed to work together towards this goal.

    Speaking during the general debate were the King of Lesotho, and the Presidents of Finland, Azerbaijan, Mozambique, Egypt, Cape Verde, Rwanda, Iran, Mali,  Latvia, Gabon, Kyrgyzstan, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lebanon, Nigeria and Croatia.  The Vice-President and Minister for Home Affairs of Kenya, and the Head of Government of Liechtenstein also spoke.  The Prime Ministers of Pakistan and of France spoke, as did ministers and representatives from many other countries.

    Also speaking were the representatives of the United Nations ICT Task Force, African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, Molecular Diversity Preservation International, Vodafone, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, Microsoft Corporation, World Bank, Africa Online, and United Nations Volunteers.

    The second plenary meeting will be held on Thursday, 11 December, at 9 a.m.  The World Summit is expected to conclude on Friday, 12 December.

    Statements

    PASCAL COUCHEPIN, President of the Swiss Confederation, said Switzerland was proud to host the Summit, which would deal for the first time on an international scale with the challenges posed by the information society, as well as on the rights of freedom and self-expression, within the context of the information society.  Information technologies would provide opportunities to promote human rights.

    Information technologies had created a revolution in communication, which needed to be extended to the rest of the world.  The impact of progress was not even around the globe, some were taking part and others were remaining on the sidelines, with a large part of the population with no say at all.  There was a need to bridge the digital divide, to find concrete ways of bridging the gap between the haves and the have-nots.  It was up to governments and civil society to play the role here in a sustainable manner.  The Geneva meeting had to be a success, or it would mar the new millennium.

    Information needed to become a public good and property.  It was in fact a fuel to the market, driving it and democratic institutions forward.  Switzerland was playing a role on several fronts to ensure that the Summit created positive solutions, and both government and civil society had been working together.  The time had come to take a strong political position.  But it was not enough to set objectives; there was a need to reach the goals set.  It was hoped that the Plan of Action and Declaration of Principles which would be adopted on Friday would show the way to a global society that was as democratic and open as possible.

    KOFI ANNAN, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said there was a historic transformation in the way in which all lived, learned, worked, communicated and did business.  It should not be undergone passively, but “as makers of our own destiny”.  Technology had produced the information age.  Now it was up to all to build an information society.  This Summit was unique -- where most global conferences focused on global threats, this one would consider how best to use a new global asset.

    All were familiar with the extraordinary power of information and communications technologies (ICTs), the Secretary-General said.  From trade to telemedicine, from education to environmental protection, the ability existed to improve standards of living for millions upon millions of people.  The tools to propel humanity towards the Millennium Development Goals were in hand; instruments with which to advance the cause of freedom and democracy; vehicles with which to propagate knowledge and mutual understanding.  The challenge before this Summit was what to do with it.

    The so-called digital divide was actually several gaps in one, with a technological divide, a content divide, a gender divide, and a commercial divide.  And there were obvious social, economic and other disparities and obstacles that could affect a country’s ability to take advantage of digital opportunities.  It should not be assumed that such gaps would disappear on their own, over time, as the diffusion of technology naturally spread its wealth.  An open, inclusive information society that benefited all people would not emerge without sustained commitment and investment.  It was up to the leaders assembled here, Mr. Annan said, to produce those acts of political will, and also to the business community, to civil society groups, and to media organizations to contribute.

    Information and communication technologies were not a panacea or magic formula, but they could improve the lives of everyone on this planet, the Secretary-General said.  However, even as the power of technology was discussed, there was a need to remember who was in charge.  While technology would shape the future, it was people who shaped technology, and decided what it could and should be used for.  These new technologies should, therefore, be embraced, while recognizing that this was an endeavour that transcended technology.  Building an open, empowering information society was a social, economic and ultimately political challenge.

    ZINE EL ABIDINE BEN ALI, President of Tunisia, said the holding of the Summit and the international community’s interest in its central theme confirmed the fact that the establishment of the information society had become a strategic imperative for the promotion of humanity’s conditions.  Tunisia believed that this sector was vital for the achievement of a balanced and just human development and for the materialization of humanity’s aspirations for freedom, justice and dignity.  Before being just a technological divide, the digital divide was essentially a development disparity and a gap impeding the dialogue of civilizations.  The holding of the Summit would offer all an opportunity to intensify consultations on the posed issues and to reach decisions that would certainly be historic, given the crucial importance of the question for humanity as a whole.

    For Tunisia, the establishment of the information society constituted a basic national choice, which had been consecrated as part of a comprehensive approach, through continuous structural reforms, as well as through the consolidation of the country’s communication and computer technologies infrastructure, which constituted a major foundation for knowledge about the economy, and an essential factor for the stimulation of the development pace.  The information society to which Tunisia aspired was one that offered all countries equal opportunities to benefit from the advantages of technologies, one that encompassed all countries and allowed all persons and peoples to have access to networks and to sources of knowledge and information.

    It was believed, the Tunisian President said, that the developments generated by technological changes, at the level of thought and behaviour of individuals and groups and the new prospects they offered for contact and openness on the other, would foster the role of the information sector in developing the information society to advanced levels, so as to further anchor human rights in their comprehensive vision that consecrated the freedom of expression, and ensured the respect of State sovereignty and the right of peoples to self-determination.

    YOSHIO UTSUMI, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), said that throughout the decades, ITU’s mandate had been constantly evolving from the facilitation of cross border communication in the past to the very important mandate of today -- spearheading and fostering policies and technology that extended the benefits of communication to all citizens.  His ambition as Secretary-General was to oversee the growth and expansion of telecom services in every corner of the world.  Today, there was an unprecedented growth and expansion, despite the economical downturn.  In 1999, there were around 1.5 billion telephone lines.  Today, there were nearly 2.5 billion lines.  This was a remarkable achievement, especially as more than 75 per cent were installed in the developing world.

    As Secretary-General of ITU, he had followed every step of the Summit process.  It had been a long journey and it had taken more than a year to reach an agreement with the host countries for the framework of the Summit.  The Summit had many innovations, he said.  It was a two-phase Summit that included the private sector and civil society participation in the whole process, and it benefited from a multidisciplinary executive secretariat, with civil society and business bureaux, respectively.  All were quite new in the process of United Nations Summits, he said.  A great deal was at stake in this Summit.  For the first time, the leaders of the world would be addressing the challenge of the information society.

    The transformation to the information society would be every bit as profound as the movement from agrarian to industrial societies, Mr. Utsumi said.  In the past, such changes had led to winners and losers.  Some countries had prospered, while others had fallen behind.  It would happen once again and, if one did not take any action now, existing gaps might widen.  The international community must not make the same mistakes.  By taking the right decisions, the international community must shape the direction of the information society and create a more just, prosperous and peaceful world.  He called upon the political leaders to exert their will, the captains of industry to show their business acumen, and the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society to provide the zeal, in order to forge a unity of purpose and unison in the vision of universal access.

    KICKI NORDSTROM, World Blind Union, speaking on behalf of civil society, said her organization represented 5 million disabled persons.  Civil society would continue to play an important role in the second part of the Summit.  Governments should also understand the role of civil society.  There should be a coherent dialogue with States. It was hoped that the Summit would bring closer the gaps between the rich and the poor.  The Millennium Declaration should be realized with the aim of upholding the rights of the poor and disadvantaged people to development.  Vulnerable groups, such as the indigenous, refugees and women, should be given special consideration in the course of development.  The information technology should be adapted to include all persons, including the blind, who were unable to read all written material.

    MOHAMMAD OMRAN, Chairman of the Board of Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications Company, said he represented the private sector within the framework of the Summit.  The private sector agreed with the goals and aspirations of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).  The private sector had played a crucial part in the preparations for the Summit, and many ambitious targets had been set.  These targets included allowing all people to benefit from ICTs, as well as the target of reaching the entire world “online”.

    Mr. Omran assured representatives of governments, NGOs and civil society that the business community would not be in the margin in achieving the goals of the Summit, but at the very heart of the process.  In order to achieve the positive potential of an open and inclusive information society there was a fundamental need for strong partnerships, he said, stressing the need for the business community to work in cooperation with governments, as well as civil society.

    In order to achieve the set targets, governments must make sure that they created environments that increased investments, Mr. Omran said.  Liberalization of trade, the protection of property rights, and the strong encouragement of research were fundamental aspects of the creation of such an environment.  It was stressed that a successful information society relied on bold innovation both by governments and the business community.  In addition, the information society could not flourish if there was no or little freedom to compete on an equal basis.  Governments must also make sure that education systems were up to the required standard in order to allow both the access and use of modern technologies by all people.

    ADAMA SAMASSEKOU, President of the WSIS Preparatory Committee, said the half-way point in a long voyage had been reached.  There would be an eventual move away from the information society to a knowledge society, where all would benefit from the new technologies freely.  Throughout the journey to the Summit, and given the complex nature of the journey ahead, the divisions in the world had become clear.  It was a world of division, of divide between the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, and those who had information and those without. Without urgent measures, the situation would not improve, and it was vital to bear this in mind.

    The new society would include all, within the world of virtual communication, as envisaged in the Plan of Action. When the world dreamt together, that was the beginning of reality.  Throughout the long journey, all those working together had provided the wherewithal to move onwards, past dry discussions, and into the realm of the future, a world of sharing and solidarity.  Sharing had, indeed, become almost institutional.  Today, a process was being launched that would put the digital revolution within the reach and grasp of all mankind.  Focusing on this was a major undertaking, since there was a need for an all-inclusive vision at the Summit.  All of humanity needed to share the knowledge available throughout the world -- after which, new forms of solidarity, based on the sharing of knowledge and the better knowledge of one and all would arise.  The world information society had opened up new panoramas, and there was a need to debate these global issues together, since problems could no longer be solved merely on a national level, but required international debate.  This Summit should be the first among many.  There was a need to continue to work together towards this goal, a wonderful human endeavour.

    TARJA HALONEN, President of Finland, said that at the start of the new millennium, the representatives of nations had reaffirmed their commitment to build a more peaceful, a more prosperous and a more just world, accepting that they shared a common responsibility to maintain human values, equality and the principles of justice world-wide.  In this task, information technology could serve as a partner, speeding up the achievement of these goals.  The new information technology, she said, was a powerful tool, but was just a tool.  At the Summit, all were committed to building an information society that put people first and that fostered participation and development.  Within the information society, the significance of the information itself was central.  Every human being should have access to information, and it was the job of governments to guarantee this access. Information was the very basis of democracy.

    The message of the Summit was clear -- the world needed solidarity, a common sense of responsibility and commitment to removing inequality.  The development of the information society was linked to general economic and social development.  The task of governments was to create a favourable environment for the information society, one where initiative and creativity could flourish.  Finland was ready to share with other countries its own experience of the development of the information society.  Building the global information society required cooperation extending to all countries and to all sectors of society.

    ILHAM ALIYEV, President of Azerbaijan, said that during the last decade, ICTs had become an integral part of daily life.   Azerbaijan supported the development of information technology, and it had been building the e-Azerbaijan information system.  Seventy per cent of Azerbaijanis were young people under 35, which was an assent in the development of the information system.  Economic and political stability had resulted in the growth of the gross national product (GNP) in past years.  Special emphasis had also been placed on the development of Azerbaijan’s oil and gas development.  The funds obtained from oil would be invested in human development and would be used to improve the living conditions of the population.  The wealth of the county gained from the black gold would certainly be spent on the betterment of the country’s basic technological structures.  Serious measures would also be taken to develop the information technology.  However, the occupation of 20 per cent of Azerbaijan’s territory by Armenia impeded full-scale regional cooperation.

    JOAQUIM ALBERTO CHISSANO, President of Mozambique, said that he felt privileged, in his capacity as the chairperson of the African Union, to extend greetings from the African continent.  The goal of this Summit was to seek means and ways to narrow the digital divide, reduce poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  He stressed that in many countries, particularly developing countries, no information society could be established without a basic infrastructure.  Information and communication technologies were the vehicles that let information flow freely, a necessity for development, as well as a basic human right.

    The President said his Government had established a high-level task force that was undertaking activities in order to improve the ICT capacities of Mozambique.  The global economy required that all countries developed their abilities to use ICTs efficiently.  Amongst other things, this would increase their competitiveness in the global economy.  Information and communication technologies were the enablers and engines of spurring development in all sectors.  The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) -- a vehicle to meet the Millennium Development Goals -- sought to use ICTs to achieve economic growth, development and inter-regional trade.  In addition, ICTs played an important role in data-collection, as well as in assessing and monitoring political and economic developments.

    The Summit offered a new window of opportunity to the world to accelerate human development, the President said.  Issues of languages, cultures, religions, and dialogue between cultures and civilizations took centre-stage in this process.  The Summit brought together all stakeholders, and the Declaration of Principles would provide a guide as to the use and promotion of the enormous potential of the information society.  Development partners must come forward and lend their support to building an information society that was open and inclusive.  It was stressed that in Africa, the information society would not be complete if cultural expressions such as singing, dancing and arts were not included.  They conveyed messages of education and training and passed on vital traditional knowledge.  These expressions of culture and education needed to be combined with ICTs in a manner that maximized steps towards sustainable development.

    ZAFARULLAH KHAN JAMALI, Prime Minister of Pakistan, said the Summit addressed the most important aspect of contemporary life.  The past decade had witnessed a great revolution, centred on ICTs.  Information and communication technologies had had an immense impact on human life, and the Summit showed that all were citizens of an information society.  This required changes to the fabric of the international society, in order to increase the well-being of all nations and their inhabitants.

    There was, however, a vast digital divide, the bridging of which was a challenge, and it should not be allowed to grow any bigger.  The speed of change required concerted global action to create an information society that embraced each and every person.  The Summit should aim to create an information society which was inclusive and provided an equal opportunity to all; develop means and mechanisms that would open technology to the poorer sectors of mankind; and protect universal norms, particularly of moral and spiritual values.  The data revolution should be harnessed to lift the dispossessed from their plight.  The Plan of Action was full of promise, and the political impetus should be given to bring it to fruit.  There was a need for global accord and partnership so that the fruits of technology would be given to all, governments, business leaders and civil society.  There was a need to leave with a strong commitment from all to making this a better world.

    JEAN-PIERRE RAFFARIN, Prime Minister of France, said the information society held immense promise and was changing and opening the world.  The information society had inspired dreams around the globe, but not all of the expectations placed on it had been fulfilled.  It was, nevertheless, evident that ICTs were radically changing the day-to-day lives of citizens, businesses and societies.  The information society was already a reality, but, like any technological revolution, it was raising new concerns.  This was no longer the time to dream.  It was the time to build.  The Summit represented the first step in an essential international dialogue, and it must also be the first step in a common undertaking.  The information society must not leave anyone behind, and its strength would depend on the capacity to share it and make it universal.

    Mr. Raffarin said that ICTs must be used to promote development and to achieve the Millennium Goals.  That was why the least favoured communities and countries must be helped to obtain these technologies.  It must not be assumed that the digital divide and the risk of marginalizing a part of the world’s populations and continents were inevitable.  The information society must also preserve cultural and linguistic diversity and foster dialogue between cultures.  Also, the world must reflect on ways to improve Internet governance between now and the second phase of the Summit in Tunis.  France would like this concept of governance to be understood in the broadest sense, so that beyond legitimate technological concerns, all the problems posed by the development of the information society must be identified and addressed.  Mindful of freedoms, there was also a need to reflect on content.  To respond to these challenges, concerted action was required -- from governments, of course, but also from international organizations, civil society and the private sector.

    MOHAMED HOSNY MUBARAK, President of Egypt, said the Summit emphasized the pivotal role which the United Nations must play, with all its organs and specialized agencies, in maintaining peace and security, as well as promoting sustainable development.  The convening of the Summit reflected the increasing will of the international community to formulate a clearer and more stable collective vision for the maximum use of the information and communication revolution, and to redirect such a revolution toward materializing the objectives of all societies -- industrial and developing, rich and poor, large and small -- as reflected in the Millennium Development Goals and the World Summit on Sustainable Development.  The effects of the ICT revolution must not be limited exclusively to achieving economic and developmental gains.  It must be extended to strengthen political, social and cultural links among nations, and to bring about world peace based on justice, equality, and respect for international legitimacy.  To deepen the concept of universality in the information society, all peoples must have a chance to effectively take part in developing, manufacturing and utilizing ICTs.  This required support, particularly to developing countries, through promoting their scientific and research capabilities, and in transferring needed technology and know-how.

    Egypt had played a major role in building regional support for international efforts to establish a modern information society, he continued.  These efforts included Egypt’s involvement in the preparatory process for the Summit, through the hosting of the Pan-Arab Conference on the Summit last June.  After elaborating on national initiatives undertaken in Egypt, including the use of ICTs in upgrading education standards and improving health services, he extended an open invitation to the Africa Telecom exhibition and forum to be held in Cairo in May 2004.

    PEDRO VERONA RODRIGUES PIRES, President of Cape Verde, said technologies were powerful means of development and progress.  It was commonly admitted that it was economic development that would bring opportunities to create and to diffuse new technologies.  However, the opposite could be true when technological investments were made in education and training, which were important development indicators.  In such circumstances, human development and advanced technology would be mutually strengthened.  In fact, the technology could be seen as an instrument to economic growth and human development.  The realization of the objectives required the promotion and resolute encouragement in the transfer of technology in advantageous conditions to the developing world in order to allow it to create the basis for sustained technology.  All countries needed the capacity and the means to appropriate modern technologies to answer their needs.

    Today’s reality demonstrated that, at the international level, there was a growing gap in the distribution of wealth.  The growing inequality in the digital divide was of concern and it needed to be resolved urgently.  Free diffusion and sharing of knowledge was necessary at the international level.  It was good news that the international community, through its representative -- the United Nations -- was committed to the creation of mechanisms to put in place a deep modification that the new information technologies would promote.  Cape Verde recognized the contents proposed in the Declaration of Principles of the Summit.  Support should be given to the noble objective that aimed at putting the potential of ICTs to serve in the promotion and realization of the objectives of the Millennium Declaration Development Goals, which included the eradication of poverty and hunger.

    PAUL KAGAME, President of Rwanda, said that today, ICTs were recognized as a necessity, not a matter of choice.  It had become clear to those in Africa that ICTs were an indispensable tool in the achievement of development goals.  Human society advanced according to the level of its accumulated knowledge base, so there was a need for less-developed countries to leapfrog forward.  Information and communication technologies were an enabler and one which African nations were clearly determined to take advantage of.  It was not a question of whether or not to use ICTs, but whether they could be used appropriately to achieve the needs of a people and nation.  The challenge in the developing world was how best to apply ICTs to provide more leverage against poverty, illiteracy, disease, and a lack of a skilled workforce.

    Information and communication technologies had been integrated into development strategies as a catalyst for economic growth and social change, to empower the most disadvantaged, and to encourage reconciliation and peace.  Broadband connectivity to schools was a step forward towards the ultimate goal of global access.  Elaborating policies and plans was one thing, but mobilizing resources was another, and development partners should join together with disadvantaged nations to help them achieve their goals.  Rwanda was convinced that ICTs were development tools that would narrow the gap between the rich and poor, and would provide major contribution to the development of human welfare, enabling poor countries to transform their challenges and adversities into opportunities for the future.

    MOHAMMAD KHATAMI, President of Iran, said the information society was a new opportunity for the entire world population.  It was important to seek a solution and work out a formula so that the exchange of information in the information society led to dialogue and shortened distances.  At the outset of the millennium, he had raised the need for “dialogue among civilizations”, and in the age of cyberspace, too, one must continue to encourage and promote such dialogue.  The information society must take cultural diversity as the foundation for the common existence of human society and must be able to rely on it.  The international community must work together to secure the participation of all cultural, social and linguistic groups in the creation of a knowledge-based society.

    Mr. Khatami expressed concern about inequalities in the development of the infrastructure and global access to and use of ICTs.  It was important to focus on the objective of turning the digital gaps into digital opportunities through the promotion and consolidation of digital ties.  In this perspective, it was important to strive and endeavour towards the fulfilment of rights, such as the right to development, the right to communication and the right to information.  He appealed to the international community to help create new capacities in the developing countries and to assist them with their empowerment.  It was important to ensure that an information society would be established not as an extension of the present status quo, but on a new foundation.  It was also necessary to reach consensus on the principles of new life for human beings, and new and more ethical, humane and fair conventions must be formulated.  In addition, no government must have the right to impose unilateral decisions, depriving other nations from their rights, including correct access to information.

    AMADOU TOUMANI TOURE, President of Mali, said Africa expected much from this gathering.  Mali began its journey towards the digital era in 1996.  The commitment of Mali, at the very highest level of the State, was significant.  This international gathering, which was marked by the presence of many stakeholders, was a very important turning point for the world.  Africa was convinced that new technologies for communication and information were an important tool in the area of education, agriculture, trade, health and industry, and that Africa had a contribution to make in the building of the planetary edifice, and it would like to contribute its creative abilities.  Africa was attending the meeting, aware of its disadvantages like the significant lack of infrastructure, but it also had many advantages like its human resources.  Today, Africa wanted access to humanity’s common heritage, but required financing.  Africa fully supported the proposal to set up a Fund for Digital Solidarity.  In the information society that would develop, Africa would maintain its values and dignity.  The digital divide also lay within States, between the city and the countryside, among other forms.  Partnership was vital to offset digital inequalities.

    LETSIE III, King of Lesotho, said there was a growing consensus that ICTs could contribute to economic growth and development. He, therefore, reaffirmed Lesotho’s commitment to a development-oriented information society geared towards the eradication of poverty and sustainable development.  Unfortunately, Lesotho was still in its infancy stage with regard to the access to and use of ICTs.  In this connection, he expressed concern about the worldwide digital gap between developed and developing countries. International assistance and support was needed in order to make connectivity a reality for all. In Lesotho, the progress towards connectivity had been slow as a result of its mountainous environment, small population and weak economy.

    The King said that new solutions must be found in order to allow all countries to benefit from development through ICTs. He said that low ICT skills and low awareness, in general, hindered progress in the proliferation of ICTs. Transfer of skills and technical assistance would, therefore, greatly help the situation.  The possibility of open source and free software remained a solution which must be promoted, while research continued to offer an efficient solution for all, developing and developed countries alike.  It was a fact that ICTs had a pivotal role to play in the betterment of the economic situation as they allowed countries and regions to compete effectively in the global economy.  However, without external assistance, the task of using the potential of ICTs looked daunting.  In this connection, he appealed to the international community to extend its support to the Digital Solidarity Fund in order to provide ICTs worldwide.

    VAIRA VIKE-FREIBERGA, President of Latvia, recalled that her country had been subjected to the totalitarian regime of the Soviet system.  Latvia believed that ICTs could provide opportunities to achieve better conditions in any society.  The Government had been developing an information society with the help of its partners, particularly with the European Union.  Latvia believed that this would allow it to improve its social and economic development.  The information society was only a starting point towards economic development; and it was also a tool to international dialogue among diversified cultures.  The eradication of poverty and famine, including disease, which was highlighted in the Millennium Declaration Development Goals, would be attained through the development of an ICT society.  The introduction of new technologies was paramount to the overall development of a nation.

    EL HADJ OMAR BONGO ONDIMBA, President of Gabon, said the Summit was a historic event, and an exceptional opportunity to lay the foundation on which to build a fairer society that worked more to the benefit of all, based on solidarity.  The development of ICTs was key to progress, opening up new prospects, particularly in the context of the possibility of diversified and sustainable development for all.  Information and communication technologies revolutionized much, including society, and were, therefore, a vital part of development, similar to access to drinking water.  There was, however, a need to hear the voices of all in this context.  There could be no information society unless women and children were involved from the outset, and unless those already in the information society were aware of what was going on, so as to make a more effective contribution.

    The Internet should not be used to destabilize situations, but should be appropriately regulated in order to ensure individual privacy.  It was now time to turn to action, and to overcome the digital divide under the auspices of the partnerships that could be made at the meeting.  There was a need for digital solidarity to ensure that all would have access to the new technologies.  International solidarity could really take shape in the new era that was opening up before all, a dialogue-based society, filled with peace and justice, which could meet the aspirations of the people of the world.

    ASKAR AKAEV, President of Kyrgyzstan, said that, at present, the driving force of ICTs had the potential of providing free access to global communications and international wealth.  It was highlighted that all countries could benefit from observing and learning from other countries through their ICT experiences.  He had carefully studied the experiences of other countries; however, one could not just blindly follow other countries’ methods and models.  Local and national characteristics and specificities needed to be taken into consideration.  In addition, it was highlighted that the reduction of the digital divide was not an end in itself.

    Mr. Akaev explained that one of the priorities for his Government was striving for a high level of education.  In fact, efforts made had been internationally recognized and Kyrgyzstan stood as an example in the region.  Activities had been undertaken by the Government that had resulted in a vast network of universities.  As regarded the development of ICTs, he said that the rural areas were still far behind the urban areas.  International assistance had proved helpful, as well as the interest and investment by the private sector.  The Government also held high hopes for the development of a mobile economy.  Due to the strategic position of his country, it was hoped that Kyrgyzstan could one day become a regional information and communication centre.  In conclusion, he suggested that developing countries could be assisted by developed countries in getting access to major hubs and that international assistance should not only focus on urban environments, but should also address the situation of the rural poor.

    FESTUS GONTEBANYE MOGAE, President of Botswana, said the fact that the world was being transformed by ICTs was a challenge to all communities.  Advanced communication had become a key factor in the social and economic development of all nations.  Age-old barriers had been overcome, and ICTs contained strong potential for economic growth.  However, for this potential to be delivered, the international community must first overcome the current digital divide.  The current digital divide threatened to further widen the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots”, and developed and developing countries.  New and creative ways needed to be identified to ensure the promotion of win-win partnerships at the global level.  It was clear that developed nations needed to provide further assistance, and that developing countries needed to open up to the possibilities and potential of ICTs.

    The President stressed that international assistance would not be sufficient or sustainable without foreign direct investment.  ICT-driven development had an important role to play in order to secure and retain foreign direct investment in developing countries.  Investing in a world-class infrastructure was, therefore, not a luxury, but a development imperative.  Commitments made at the Summit must lead to the redoubling of efforts to build true partnerships between the rich and the poor.  Without investment inflows and technology research and development, developing countries would continue to remain mere consumers of ICTs from developed countries.  ICT research and manufacturing capabilities within developing countries must, therefore, be promoted.  In conclusion, he said that investment in ICTs must not be seen to divert scant resources from other needs, but as a manner of achieving the Millennium Development Goals in a more effective manner.

    ROBERT GABRIEL MUGABE, President of Zimbabwe, said the new age had been marked by technological leaps and advancements.  However, the South was still behind with no technologies being transferred to it.  The post-colonial situation of Zimbabwe was marked by unimproved conditions with some colonial remnants remaining behind to hamper the development of the black majority.  Zimbabwe’s efforts had been directed towards improving the elementary skills of the population.  The development of e-economy implied a sovereign government that was capable of managing its affairs.

    Zimbabweans should develop their own kind of information society without impositions by Australians, Britons or Americans.  The United Nations promoted the non-intervention of countries in the affairs of others.  The development of an information technology should not be a tool to prevail over developing countries.  The just struggle of the decolonized people should not be weakened by the monopoly of information by the West.  The repressive measures against the media in Iraq had witnessed the manner in which the information technology could be developed by the Western countries. The information society should save nations from imbalanced development in all aspects of development.  Zimbabwe would stand firm on its principles and national identity, and it would build a vibrant information society which would advance its social and economic development.

    OTMAR HASLER, Head of the Government of Liechtenstein, said the highly developed industry of Liechtenstein was wide open to the world and could not exist without the widespread use of ICTs.  However, there was no means of communicating with countries without connectivity.  The bridging of the global divide was a path towards a global culture.  There was a need to strengthen cultural diversity and, thus, traditional media, as well as new ICTs, should be used to strengthen regional cultural identities.  Isolated communities should be able to make their voices heard and to express themselves.  Giving the voiceless a voice should be part of the endeavours of the Summit, while bearing in mind the need to protect privacy and security of every individual.  Every ICT user, therefore, needed to be given appropriate education.

    Such education could go a long way towards ensuring the responsible use of ICTs.  Governments needed to ensure a most efficient allocation of resources at all levels of e-government, and to empower all groups of society, enabling them to participate in democratic processes and increasing self-expression at the political level.  It was important to put the people at the centre of all efforts, thus, avoiding the implementation of strategies that were far from human needs and concerns.  The development of rural areas and the empowerment of women and girls was also a priority.  The private sector needed to be involved, with the creation of new types of public-private partnerships.  The ITU had a role to play in the direction of global harmonization in this area.

    EMILE LAHOUD, President of Lebanon, elaborated on the many changes and revolutions that had occurred throughout history.  It was hoped that the ICT revolution would be able to achieve equity and justice for all.  Regrettably, the gap between the rich and the poor -- with more than one billion people living on less than one dollar -- continued to grow.  It was clear that, left to the market forces, the current situation would only worsen.  In this connection, he said that new powers, as great as they might be, could not impose their will on the people of Lebanon.

    Using a pluralistic concept of information, Mr. Lahoud told participants of the Summit that the Lebanese population was characterized by a high level of education.  High levels of education made a population naturally predisposed to new information and communications technologies.  The Government had launched several important reforms to give this trend further momentum.  However, it was clear that such reforms could only be successful in an environment of peace.  Alas, the Middle East had been deprived from peace for decades.  He stressed that the unconditional withdrawal of Israel from occupied territories would do much to improve the current economic situation of the region.  At the same time, Lebanon refused to have Palestinians implanted in its territories as this would eliminate the hope for a durable peace in the Middle East and would seriously destabilize the delicate equilibrium in Lebanon.  Concerning the situation in Iraq, Mr. Lahoud said there could be no durable solution in that country until its sovereignty was restored in accordance with international law.  Democracy, modernism and good governance could not be imported, but must be developed nationally as a result of the freedom from war, fear and poverty.

    OLUSEGUN OBASANJO, President of Nigeria, said the major goal of the information society was to seek to achieve the bridging of the digital divide between the developed and developing countries and among the urban and rural areas, with a view to transforming the digital divide into digital opportunities, so that no individual or community was left behind in the ICT revolution.  The challenges to development were numerous to countries of the South, and while faced with these, they were also confronted with the digital revolution, and the problem thereafter of how to share meagre resources between the basic necessities of life and provision of an ICT infrastructure.  There was a need for concerted efforts at national, regional and international levels to address the imbalance and challenges of development.

    The existing digital divide, which had further widened the gap in the economic and technological development between the North and South, called for renewed commitment to the Declaration of Principles and full implementation of the Plan of Action on how to bridge the divide.  The developed and industrialized countries of the North were called upon to support the initiative on the Digital Solidarity Fund as a practical measure for redressing the digital imbalance.  World leaders and other stakeholders were also urged to create universal access and make the governance, as well as the management, of the global information networks, particularly the Internet, a global public facility.

    STJEPAN MESIC, President of Croatia, said Croatia’s experience demonstrated how essential the exchange of quality information was for development, both at the level of local communities and at the macro level of State governance.  Croatia was also aware that the world lived in an information society, having information as the main objective, but also as a means of development.  The development of the information society was essential to advance the economies of developing countries.  At a time when technology was developing faster than the underlying social infrastructure, and when its penetration was unstoppable, governments must ensure that it spread in an even and standardized fashion. The global information society helped to promote human rights and liberties.  However, it also carried an inherent threat to the fulfilment of those rights and liberties.  With computerization, individual privacy had come under more threat than ever.

    Mr. Mesic said that striking a balance between the protection of the right to privacy and intellectual property, on the one hand, and the accessibility and free flow of information, on the other, was essential.  Furthermore, States and the international community must devise and harmonize legal regulations providing for the protection of the individual against any abuses of information, and must prevent the spread of unacceptable contents, including racism and hate language.

    MOODY AWORI, Vice-President and Minister for Home Affairs of Kenya, said the occasion was auspicious, since it worked for the benefit of humanity.  The meeting was timely for a common understanding of the irreversible transformation of the world into a global village, and also symbolized the commitment to turn the digital divide into a digital opportunity.  It was also an opportunity to enhance the pace of the growing economies.  It was true that today the majority of the world’s population still had to benefit from connection to ICTs, and this was sometimes due to a lack of political will.  Resources, thus, needed to be mobilized to develop this sector.

    The Summit was challenged to come up with a Declaration of Principles and a Plan of Action, demonstrating a commitment to finding a solution to this situation, and also to improving the situation in the less-developed countries, since this would redress an imbalance and pave the way towards participation for all.  Mr. Awori said ICTs could be used to eliminate such things as poverty, hunger, illiteracy and disease, and the aspirations of the Summit tended towards this, with the creation of a society that was accessible to all members of the various nations.  The constraints and challenges hindering the development of the sector, therefore, needed to be addressed, and various sectors of society needed to be brought closer.  Information and communication technologies were a tool for economic development and progress, and the community of nations gathered today would provide appropriate direction and leadership to make the Declaration of Principles and the Plan of Action a reality.

    PETR MARES, Deputy Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, said that for the first time in the history of the United Nations, a coordinated effort was being made to find a consensual solution and approach to information and communication technologies -- the drive behind both economic and social development in the world.  He stressed that the Czech Republic fully supported the idea of the need for a Declaration of Principles, as well as a Plan of Action, in this field.  In the Czech Republic, a national literacy programme was targeting all generations to enable all citizens to use and gain access to ICTs.  Such a programme would not only be undertaken in the Czech Republic, but also in developing countries.

    He stressed that it was important to realize that the perception of ICTs might differ significantly depending on which continent one came from.  Nevertheless, the trend of ICTs was a challenge that the whole world would pursue in the hope to benefit from its potential.  It was added that the Summit had an important role to play and that there had been many changes in the positions of stakeholders on issues related to financing, internet governance and intellectual property rights. The Czech Republic associated itself with the view of the European Union that an information society must be open, fair and democratic.  It was hoped that the process towards such goals would have moved along further by the time of the second phase of the Summit, to be held in Tunis in 2005.

    SHEIKH AHMED ABDULLAH AL-AHMED AL-SABAH, Minister of Communications, Minister of Planning and State Minister of Administrative Development Affairs of Kuwait, said ICTs would allow peace and security to reign in the world.  Information and communication technologies had made the lives of many people easier, and Kuwait had profited from them.  All sectors of the society had participated in the wider vision of ICTs.  Attempts were being made to develop the capacity of everyone in acquiring knowledge in ICTs.  In order to attain the technologies within the shortest period of time, the Government had designed laws and policies towards the information society.  The acquisition of knowledge on information was the leading factor in achieving economic and social development.  It would also allow for social cohesion through peace and security.  However, common policies among States should be adopted to protect people from cyber-crimes.  Children in particular should be protected from harmful dissemination of news and information.

    LEONID REIMAN, Minister for Communications and Information of the Russian Federation, said this was a new era, humanity’s entry into a new phase of development, with everybody hoping for an opportunity to access greater levels of knowledge. The global information society would be an information world where ICTs were part of everyday lives -- but this should not be just for the happy few, but for all.  The speed of ICTs allowed for communication and obtaining information from any area of the world, in any language. However, ICTs did not just unite the world; there were legitimate concerns, mainly frequently related to cyber-crime and with the purloining of personal data of citizens.  There was work to be done altogether to ensure that there was trust, not just on a national basis, for ICTs.  There was a special socio-economic strategy for the future, which would determine the priority and long-term tasks of the State, including on the development of ICTs.

    Today, government bodies needed to be committed to introducing the new ICTs in their own structures, and this was important since it would allow access by every citizen. There was a need to use the advantages of the new ICTs, and the Summit should become a summit for the whole of humanity, giving guidance to all on how to build and use ICTs at all levels.  It was hoped that all countries would one day reach a similar level of ICT use and development.  The Summit would, it was hoped, provide a due impetus on this issue.  A number of global initiatives related to the main lines of development of the information society should be launched, as this would enable all, even with limited resources, to achieve significant progress.

    DEECHAND JEEHA, Minister of Information Technology and Telecommunications of Mauritius, said the topic of the information society had gathered much interest world-wide.  The issues facing today’s society were increasingly global in their nature.  It was stressed that communication was an essential organizational device within the human family, and that the Internet was the most powerful tool of communication today.  Governments and the international community, therefore, had a responsibility to ensure that all people could benefit and have access to the positive and essential aspects of the Internet.

    In order to ensure the constructive and fair use of the Internet, Mr. Jeeha suggested the promotion of an e-culture, including the provision of accessible and affordable government services online.  An information society for all would only be achieved when everyone had access to the Internet.  Special attention, however, must be paid to the situation of least developing countries.  The particular situation in Africa was also highlighted.  He appealed to the international community to resolve issues surrounding funding for ICTs as soon as possible.  African governments could no longer afford to make the choice between access to ICTs and penicillin.

    SAUD AL-FAISAL, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia, said the world was currently witnessing an information revolution that transcended in many forms the industrial revolution that took place in the middle of the eighteenth century.  The rapid evolution in the information society had greatly helped to influence the course of socio-economic changes throughout the world.  While the main aim of the international community was to ensure economic prosperity, well-being and progress for its people, ICTs constituted one of the lynchpins for the advancement and development of States and the enhancement of their economic, social and cultural potential.  Realizing the importance of ICTs, Saudi Arabia had adopted a pertinent integrated national plan of action and had approved the educational, legislative and technical frameworks needed for that purpose.  The Kingdom had also established appropriate implementing and supervisory mechanisms and had formulated the strategies that were needed to promote broader awareness of the sector’s benefits.

    The digital gap between the developed and the developing countries was continuing to expand, Mr. Al-Faisal said.  The gap could only be closed through joint endeavours to achieve balanced growth of the telecommunications and information sector in all countries of the world in such a way so as to guarantee its full scope.

    PAVOL PROKOPOVIC, Minister of Transport, Posts and Telecommunications of Slovakia, said all those assembled at the Summit had witnessed the rapid technical development in all areas that had taken place over the last decade, especially concerning information and communication technologies that had become the driving force of economic development.  However, technical progress was not equal in all parts of the world.

    Information and access to information played a key role in many fields.  The time had come to stop and reflect as to where humanity was going, and where human society, in particular, was going on a global scale.  A vision of the information society was defined in the Declaration of Principles, and the Plan of Action in its turn set the stage on the way towards the full realization of the global information society.  A prerequisite in this process was the development of ICTs on the worldwide scale, and the development of the use of these technologies in all areas of human activity.  Information and communication technologies alone were not the target, but the means that would allow the achievement of the target: an information society for all.

    WANG XUDONG, Minister of Information Industry of China, said that as a developing country, China attached great importance to the information industry.  It was implementing a leapfrog development strategy characterized by the mutual reinforcement of informatization and industrialization, which had yielded positive results.  With an annual addition of over 90 million in recent years, China now had over 500 million telephone subscribers and more than 78 million Internet users.  An information society was the result of human civilization and progress.  As such, it must be people-centred, development-oriented and inclusive, benefiting all peoples and countries.  However, one must not fail to see the increasing disparity in wealth and the growing “digital divide” between the developed and developing countries.  In addition, the least developed countries faced the risk of being marginalized.

    Coordinated economic and social development was essential to building the information society, he said. Without properly tackling the fundamental issue of development, the international community would get nowhere.  In addition, a peaceful, stable, fair and reasonable international development environment was a must for building the information society.  The international community must pay attention to the interests of the increasingly marginalized disadvantaged countries and groups, and must lead the economic globalization towards a direction that enabled win-win results and coexistence among different countries and groups.  The international community must fully respect the differences in social systems and cultural diversity, as well as strengthen information security.  Measures must be taken to prevent the use of information technologies for pornographic, violent and terrorist purposes, as well as for criminal activities that endangered national security.

    LUCIO STANCA, Minister of Innovations and Technologies of Italy, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the power of information and communication technologies lay in their capability to remove all barriers and borders, thus, opening up unprecedented opportunities for the free economic and social development of all human beings.  Such unprecedented opportunities would carry with them new and important challenges.  The most important challenge was the identification of an agreed set of values and rules on which to base the future development of the information society.  The European Union firmly believed that basic values based on human rights, and fundamental freedoms were the founding stones of an information society for all.  Freedom of access to information, freedom of communication and participation, and the principles of transparency and of good governance were the fundamental principles of the information society.  Human rights, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, were among the guiding principles of the information society.

    In the next few months, the European Union would be considering how to move forward to the next phase of the Summit in Tunis in 2005.  It would need, first of all, to consider the lessons learnt during the organization of the first phase of the Summit, guarantee cost-effectiveness and focus on the implementation of the Plan of Action.  The Union believed that a successful outcome of the Tunis Summit would be assured only if two key players in the information society -- civil society and the private sector -- were fully and deeply involved in the preparatory activities and discussions.

    ERKKI LIIKANEN, Commissioner of the European Community, said all present should be congratulated on the successful and balanced outcome of the preparations for the Summit.  The information society was a global society; one in which communication was better, and it was easier to learn from one another.  There was a common vision for the development of a global information society, based on common fundamental values such as human rights and freedom of access to information, and the power which the Internet gave to powerless groups.  This interaction was an expression of the communication of all groups throughout the world, and had great development potential, based on market forces and policies, taking into account the need for solidarity and market cohesion.

    The information society concerned all citizens, and this constituted a major challenge for the next 15 years, namely, in achieving the Millennium Development Goals and bridging the digital divide, and also in linking up a majority of the world population.  There was clearly a need for a model for new technological solutions.  The principles agreed upon at the Summit would need to be turned into a concrete Plan for Action, in which governments, business and civil society would play a role.  The Summit would give new incentives to citizens worldwide, contribute to economic growth, and mark the development of a new frontier in cyberspace, a space which was, in effect, without any limits other than those of creativity and imagination.

    TORILD SKOGSHOLM, Minister of Transport and Communication of Norway, said that as history taught, technology had always been a driving force for change.  Information and communication technologies, therefore, represented both challenges and possibilities.  Her Government welcomed the very timely held Summit and appreciated that this was a United Nations forum.  Norway believed that the United Nations was the correct forum to deal with new and challenging trends for the world.  One of the main objectives was to develop a common vision of the information society.  Norway believed that the information society must be based on human rights and the freedom of expression.  More specifically, she said that the Millennium Declaration must be the framework for all work of the United Nations.  This included the eradication of poverty, improving education, ensuring access to health services and the establishment of partnerships.

    Whilst ICTs represented possibilities, there were also new challenges such as cyber-crime, spam and network security, she continued.  Globalization and ICT developments had changed conditions for national policies.  States and governments had a responsibility and a right to promote linguistic and cultural diversity, as well as promote local content.  Norway would encourage the development of national ICT strategies that must play a part in national poverty-reduction plans.  All Member States had the right to regulate ICTs in order to meet national objectives.  In this connection, she stressed the need for States to ensure the equal access of women to ICTs.

    TOMAS INGI OLRICH, Minister of Education, Science and Culture of Iceland, said there was need for a sustainable policy to promote cultural quality and diversity.  Cultural diversity could not be protected.  It could only be promoted and cultivated; and one should use technology and the general access to information to spread values and diversity.  It was necessary to have one foot in the information and communication society, and the other well-established in traditional values.  The nations of the world should strengthen the position of their cultural identity and work hard at making it available to the rest of the world on the Internet.

    If technology was put to best advantage, it could support cultural diversity instead of weakening it.  Technology could be used to increase efficiency, lower costs and improve results in many areas with which the international community was struggling, not least in the field of education.  Those aspects of the present technological development were immensely important for developing countries.  One of the main priorities today was to ensure that the potential the information society was offering would become inclusive for all, bringing peoples together rather than dividing them, strengthening cultural diversity instead of weakening it.

    GEORGE PAPANDREOU, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Greece, said the road to the Summit had been long and bumpy, but participants had arrived at the first truly global gathering of leaders from all sectors to address the future of the information society and its implications for the welfare of mankind.  Its conclusions, it was hoped, would lead to concrete commitments:  all could and should act together to address global challenges and play an equal part in shaping the outcome.

    Global security, prosperity and equality could only be achieved by reducing and eventually eliminating the asymmetry in living standards, opportunities, and physical safety between developed and underdeveloped areas.  The digital divide was one such global imbalance, which urgently needed to be addressed through a multilateral framework.  As information and communication technologies were transforming economies and societies at a dizzying rate, no one should be left behind -- and yet, regrettably, the digital divide was growing.  The lack of access to information translated into a denial of participation in both democratic processes and the knowledge-based economy.  An increase in citizen participation in elections and public discourse through ICTs would contribute to a better and healthier democracy.  Citizens should be enabled to shape the global information society themselves.

    ORLANDO JORGE MERA, Minister, President of the Dominican Institute of Telecommunications of the Dominican Republic, said ICTs represented a crucial challenge, as well as a wealth of opportunities for the world community.  Turning ICTs into an efficient tool for sustainable development was the current goal of the international community.  It was crucial that such tools did not accentuate differences between peoples, whether they were rich or poor, from developed or developing countries, or from cities or rural areas.  It was clear that ICTs must serve to narrow differences and gaps between peoples and communities.  The Dominican Republic had begun its own construction of an information society and believed that the first priority must be the establishment of a basic and inclusive infrastructure.  In addition, the international community must work towards an enabling environment that provided for basic human rights, such as freedom of expression.

    Governments were responsible for the regulation of such an enabling environment, he said.  Policies needed to be proactive and include input both from the private sector and civil society.  The Dominican Republic had aimed to bridge the digital divide within the country through the establishment of the Commission in charge of elaborating policies in this field, including issues related to connectivity.  Among other priorities, the Commission had recommended increased computer training, e-governance, and the increase of ICTs in rural areas.

    BACHIR AL-MOUNAJED, Minister of Communications and Technology of Syria, said information and communication technologies were important for the developing countries in the course of their economic and social development.  The Arab world was proud that Tunis had been chosen to host the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society.  It was hoped that Tunis would do all it could for the success of the Summit in 2005.  The developing of Arab software and the strengthening of the Arab text was an encouraging sign.  Access to information by countries, whatever their political stands, should be encouraged.  The building of Internet sites, particularly in the Middle East, and their speedy access by all should be realized.  There should also be a better distribution of the Internet through equitable digital divide.

    OLEH YATSENKO, Minister for Communications and Informatization of Ukraine, said the Summit was another example of how it was important for all to work together to achieve humanitarian goals, in  particular, in this context of building the global information society, in which problems had been encountered.  The world community needed to join hands to create an effective platform for the future, to overcome the digital divide, provide free and fair access to all citizens to information, and to create a proper regulatory basis to build the society.  It was hoped that an integrated strategy would reduce the digital divide between all citizens.

    It was important to evolve appropriate goals in connection with this future.  In particular, the current state of the market was a cause of cyber-crime, particularly stealing of software.  Software needed for the development of the information society should become free to all to download and use.  All should be done to use the Internet for positive reasons, particularly in the light of the growth of international terrorism.  All efforts should be made with the aim of expanding international communication.

    DO TRUNG TA, Minister of Post and Telematics of Viet Nam, said ICTs brought opportunities to developed and developing countries alike.  Such tools could play a significant tool in economic development and in bridging the digital divide, and must be part of national development strategies.  Unfortunately, not all countries or peoples had access or could benefit from the possibilities of ICTs.  Today, there were significant gaps in access to ICTs both between and within countries.  Participants were also reminded of the negative use of ICTs and the Internet by terrorists, cyber-criminals and the pornography industry.  The Government of Viet Nam, therefore, believed that the convening of this Summit, with its goal of finding a common vision for the information society, was very timely and indeed necessary.

    Participants were told about new developments in Viet Nam and activities undertaken by the Government in order to promote and expand connectivity and access to ICTs.  One prominent example had been attempts to increase access to technologies for people in remote areas, including for farmers.  It was hoped that such initiatives would contribute to the economic development of the agrarian sector of the country.  In conclusion, the Vietnamese Minister stressed that a development-oriented information society must include provisions for cultural and linguistic diversity.

    SHEIKH ABDULLA BIN MOHAMMED BIN SAOUD AL-THANI, Minister, Chief of the Diwan Amiri and Chairman of the Telecommunication Company of Qatar, said the first phase of the Summit on the Information Society was aimed at achieving concrete results.  The issue was very important to developing countries because it affected their development.  Qatar and its leadership had realized that it was necessary to draw strategies towards the implementation of structures that would adapt with the new technology.  Qatar was also applying information technology in order to achieve improvements in the society.

    Qatar had found ICTs to be important in decreasing the rate of illiteracy among the population.  The public and private sectors were involved in the expansion of the technology.  Schools and universities were widely using the new technologies to advance their learning.  The ICTs were also tools for exchanges between cultures.  The international community should protect the cultural heritage of the Palestinians, which was being threatened.  He hoped that the second phase of the Tunis Summit on the Information Society would be a successful event.

    BRANKO DOKIC, Minister of Communications and Transport of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said the issues linked to the information society were recognized as being of great importance, since they were a key factor for economic development.  It was hoped that the Plan of Action would help in resolving negative economic issues.  There was a clear need to act fast in reducing the development gap and digital divide between developed and less-developed countries, since building an information society was vital and fundamental for future development, as well as for improving regional cooperation and connection.  Without an adequate infrastructure, it was impossible for citizens to fully interact in the global information society.  Improving infrastructure was thus an important goal.

    What information and communication technologies gave today and in the future could be compared to natural assets; they could not be limited to one country, but to all, with a minimal investment in infrastructure and development.  This was an opportunity for the entire world, stipulating that equal and easy access was provided and appropriate education was given to users, both in urban and rural areas and across all genders, social classes, employment and educational levels.  It was hoped that all outstanding issues would be solved by dialogue during the Summit, while respecting human rights, and that this would open the way to preparations for the next phase of the Summit in 2005.

    JUAN COSTA CLIMENT, Minister of Science and Technology of Spain, said his Government supported the goals of the Summit -- the creation of an information society that would be free and inclusive.  Addressing the important issue of consensus, he said that it was clear that the Declaration of Principles would never be able to satisfy everyone.  It was also clear that all States would have to make some compromises in the name of consensus.  If the international community wanted a true tool for unity, it was necessary to look at the role of the international community, governments and civil society in the regulation of the Internet.  Spain supported a greater role for the United Nations and international organizations in the building of the information society.

    Spain also believed that freedom of expression was the building block of the information society, he said.  In addition, it would be important to consider security issues and promote international cooperation in this regard.  However, in the context of security, he warned that the regulation of the Internet must not be used as an excuse to limit access to information.  Concerning the Digital Solidarity Fund, he said that official development assistance must see the information society as a priority in all fields.  It would be useful to undertake a study on the best way to channel the cooperation of the international community towards the building of the information society.  Concluding, he reiterated the importance given to cultural diversity and language by the Government of Spain.  Cultural diversity did, indeed, play a role in the creation of a more just world and of a new information society.

    NABIL BEN ABDALLAH, Minister of Communications and Spokesperson of the Government of Morocco, said that the information society should be founded on the principle of enabling all individuals to information.  The developing countries should be able to participate in e-commerce.  Morocco had been carrying out efforts to build a democratic society through legal and other reforms.  Recently, a law on gender equality had been passed to allow the equal participation of women in society.  In public administration, digital technology had been introduced to allow modernization to take place.  A law had also been passed concerning the audiovisual sector.  Morocco was determined to modernize its society and fully implement ICTs to improve access to information.  It was committed to enable individuals to have easy access to information and the Internet.  It was also convinced that the Summit was a unique opportunity to clearly define the principles of the information society.

    SAMUEL PINHEIRO GUIMARÃES NETO, Acting Minister of External Relations of Brazil, said today was the anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights, and the Summit was closely linked to the idea of the triumph of human rights throughout the world, socially, economically and politically.  This was the first United Nations Summit in the century, and it posed a challenge for all.  Information and communication technologies would contribute to the creation of a new society which would be more prosperous, more democratic, and which would be based on knowledge.  It should be recalled that in order to allow ICTs to achieve goals, those technologies should be allowed to function in such a manner so as to allow free access to all members of all societies, so that all peoples could benefit and communities could contribute to reducing the digital divide, a divide which existed not only between countries but also within them.  Since the digital divide was matched by the divide between the wealthy and the poor, it was also critical to ensure that intellectual property rights contributed to the creation of the information society, and that those with difficulties in accessing ICTs and software benefited from freely available software.

    Developing countries should not be mere consumers of the new technologies, but should also learn to manage them.  This new society, the new standards that would be established, and the new projects that would be created should allow the active participation of all, and not just the passive consumption.  The ICTs needed to contribute towards job creation, and would make it possible to radically reorganize society.  Therefore, policies should be adopted that would ensure that ICTs would fulfil these roles, and would create a new society based on knowledge and inclusion, while being fully democratic.

    HERNAN ESCUDERO, Head of the Delegation of Ecuador, said the Declaration of Principles and the Plan of Action would allow the international community to work together towards access to and development of information and communication technologies, within the framework of international law and justice.  This Summit was an opportunity to draft a path towards a future to the benefit of all.  Such a path must be closely related to the Millennium Development Goals.  The cost of access to telecommunications and the need for such ICTs to be available in more than one language must also be taken into consideration.  Education, both in terms of training and capacity building, would be necessary in order to ensure social equity within the world of ICTs.

    Mr. Escudero believed that the digital divide was a reflection of existing social and economic inequalities.  New technologies must therefore be used as strategic tools for sustainable development.  More political will was needed in order to ensure access to ICTs by all people.  In this regard, he stressed the importance of respecting cultural diversity, as well as different languages.  Participants were reminded that communication and information were part of the public wealth and heritage and, therefore, required  democratic participation.

    JOSE MARIA FIGUERES-OLSEN, Chairman of the United Nations ICT Task Force, said that many people enjoyed the introduction of fast access to the Internet and other use of new technologies, while this was hard for people living in the developing countries.  The economic principles of demand and supply should be applied to information and communications technologies.  Working in cooperation was essential in order to realize ICTs.  At the national level, efforts should be made to deploy ICTs.  The developing and regional agencies should also be involved in the process of information and communication to improve national competitiveness.  Further, efforts should be made to improve the capacity of nations in the field of ICTs.  There was a collective responsibility of the international community in implementing the Millennium Development Goals.

    LYNNE MUTHONI WANYEKI, African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), said the rights of the freedoms of expression and information were legally protected at the international level and at the national level.  The global media community and ICT movements had also evolved the term “the right to communicate”, which went beyond the rights to express oneself and to access public and private information, to claim the right to access and control the means of communication.  The regulation of the media, ICTs and telecommunications remained one of the most critical challenges to the enhancement of access to and control over these sectors and the development of both independence and pluralism in these sectors.  The limitations of current telecommunications sector reform should be acknowledged as a first step to maximizing access to and utilization of ICTs.  Recognizing the innovations of development actors with respect to access to and applications of ICTs in the telecommunications sector reform process was another important step.  Programmes needed to be put in place which would bridge the gap between those who were with technology, and those without.

    BRIGITA SCHMOGNEROVA, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, said the development of the information society was profoundly affecting economic and social life, and dramatically changing ways of doing business.  It was also one of the main driving forces behind the globalization process.  ICT development was a key component of the growth of the information society, yet significant gaps remained between countries’ levels of progress in this area.  The challenge of bridging the digital divide had an important regional dimension.  As recognized in the draft Declaration of Principles, regional cooperation and action were, and would be, a fundamental factor in the use of ICTs for development and in the implementation of decisions made at the Summit.

    SHU-KHUN LIN, Founder of Molecular Diversity Preservation International, said that recommendations in favour of open access to information had been included in both the Declaration of Principles and the Plan of Action.  Thanking all the States that had supported this suggestion, he said that open access could be identified as a win-win process to bridge the digital gap.  This concept was currently spreading across the world and it was clear that open access would have a long-term and positive impact on technology everywhere.  As the only NGO from China, he told the participants that a gentleman had recently been detained in China for writing articles and asking for the freedom of speech.  In this connection, he said that he hoped that China would become a democratic society which benefited from the information society.

    VITTORIO COLAO, Member of the Board of Directors of Vodafone, said that Vodafone was dealing with the digital divide and bringing communications closer between the developing and developed nations.  The number of mobile telephones had been increased, thanks to the efforts of Vodafone.  Vodafone believed that good partnership between governments and the private sector would double the effort in expanding communication devices in all parts of the world.  Vodafone was also making efforts to expand telecommunication networks in many countries through its investment in the sector.  It had also strengthened its position in distributing prepaid telephone cards that would facilitate easy communications.

    K.Y. AMOAKO, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, said Africa’s economic performance since the mid-1990s had raised hopes for a turnaround.  The new trend was largely attributed to reforms and better governance in many countries, with increased confidence translated into increased growth.  However, this was still fragile.  New information and communication technologies were now pervasive, affecting virtually all sectors of society, although some people remained unacceptably distant from the possibilities, mainly the women, children, the poor and those in rural communities.  Work was being done to ensure equity of access and use of ICTs.  The threat of the digital divide was more economic than technological.  African countries should take advantage of ICTs to fulfil their potential, and more and more countries were integrating ICTs into their plans.  However, Africa needed massive investments in order to become part of the information society.

    OLUWAGBENGA SESAN, Co-founder of Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, said that demographic studies showed that youth groups were some of the most marginalized people in the world, particularly in relation to ICTs.  This was the current situation even though the youth of any country, whether developed or developing, could significantly benefit from ICTs in terms of education, when effectively implemented within the school curriculum.  It was stressed that ICTs must be used to foster youth entrepreneurship and increase employment opportunities.  Participants were told that the youth representatives present at the Summit had been looking at the Declaration of Principles and the Plan of Action.  During the national Summit campaign in Nigeria, it was realized that within the digital divide, there was also a divide of opportunity.  There was, however, a wealth of knowledge to be tapped into, if the international community decided to tap into youth.

    JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS, Senior Vice President of Microsoft Corporation, said that his company would play an important role in the work of the Summit.  The international business community should assume its responsibility in the promotion of the principles of information and communication technologies, which were an instrument for prompting development in areas of education and the environment.  The protection of intellectual world needed to think creatively on how to use information and communication technologies to reduce inequality and restore balance to the world.  This, however, would not take place unless there were serious efforts to educate the population of the world as to what could be done to remedy the situation and improve the plight of all.  There was a shared desire to leave a better world to the next generation, and it was clear that if there was a failure in one part of the world, the whole world would fail, and this was the meaning of true solidarity, including digital solidarity, which could be seen in the need for funding to poorer areas, beyond what the market could provide on its own.

     

    AYISI MAKATIANI, Founder of Africa Online, said that this corporation had been built by students about 10 years ago.  He stressed that the business sector was ready to contribute to the development of ICTs, particularly in Africa.  As an African businessman, he urged African governments to adopt a coordinated approach to ICTs policy which covered property rights, and training and education.  Governments must begin to consider how they themselves could digitize their work in order to give the African economy a boost.  Coordination, digitization and the establishment of e-governments would have a trickle down effect on the entire African continent.  It would be useful if a Cabinet level position was established to be in charge of such proposals.  International organizations were urged to encourage governments to see ICTs as a tool and a stimulant for an improved economy.  If governments delivered such services, the private sector in Africa would be ready to contribute to the development of ICTs.

    AD DE RAAD, Executive Coordinator of United Nations Volunteers (UNV), said information and communication technologies would not have existed without the efforts of individuals.  Even with the advanced technology, human intervention was critical in the information technology.  People gathered together in such places as the Summit to resolve problems.  However, people who lived in remote areas and persons with disabilities were excluded from enjoying the information technology.  The information technology needed acts of solidarity by the people to the people.

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