Closing Address to the Internet Governance Forum
Closing Address by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the Internet Governance Forum
28 November 2009, Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me begin by thanking the Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt, our most able and generous host. We are extremely grateful by the unprecedented support given by Her Excellency Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak, the Prime Minister Dr. Ahmed Nazif and Minster Tarek Kamel.
I believe this has been a good opportunity for us to come together and express our views on the many challenges we face in Internet governance. With each meeting of the Internet Governance Forum we have seen progress as we build our shared understanding and knowledge of Internet-related issues. Athens, in many ways, was an experiment. Rio, as our Brazilian friends put it, was ‘Athens plus’, just as Hyderabad was ‘Rio plus’. Each time, the IGF matured and allowed for constructive discussions in a way that was not possible before.
Now we are in Sharm El Sheikh, which is definitely ‘Hyderabad plus’. The quantity of participation has been impressive and so has the quality. Delicate issues that were once uncomfortable to address are now discussed with noticeably greater ease and candor. I expect that there will be an equally open, honest and enlightening exchange of ideas at the fifth meeting of the IGF in Vilnius, Lithuania next year.
Here are some points I take away from our four days of discussion.
First, as Her Excellency Ms. Suzanne Mubarak reminds us, children and youth are the driving force behind many of the new technologies and services that are of increasing importance to the information society. While acknowledging the powerful role of young people in shaping the future Internet, we must also be aware of the threats to their well being that the Internet can bring. Education and sharing of knowledge are useful starting points for addressing this critical issue.
Second, consensus has been building that cybercrime, cybersecurity, privacy and openness is the joint responsibility of all stakeholders. The UN General Assembly is considering the issue of cybersecurity in its current session. I am sure it will be very helpful for UN Member States to know the views of IGF participants in this regard.
Third, there is general agreement that issues of access and diversity remain central to the IGF. As the next billion of people come online, new challenges and opportunities will emerge. The Internet offers unprecedented opportunities for countries and peoples in all corners of the world – to promote economic development, social inclusion, expression of culture and ideas in a rich array of languages. The conversion of that potential into reality requires that the Internet be managed for the benefit of humanity as a whole. Let us not leave anyone behind.
The dialogue on issues of inclusion of persons with disabilities reminded us of the need to create an information and knowledge society accessible to all. Human rights are at the heart of the United Nations. It was therefore especially pleasing to see the IGF raising awareness of the obligations we have towards persons with disabilities and for promoting tools that enable their full participation in society on an equal basis with others.
Fourth, the Forum has raised a number of questions about social media. Some participants have suggested that the real issue may not be as much in determining whether new media are either fostering or jeopardizing democracy, or whether they are bringing down barriers or accentuating inequalities. The real issue is whether, on balance, the variety of content available on the Internet through social media is ushering in a better-informed society. This is a perspective that is worth discussing further. We see the importance of bringing youth, who are active users of social media, into the discussion.
Fifth, on Internet governance and the desirability of the continuation of the Forum, we have noted above all the centrality of the WSIS principle of inclusiveness and the need for continued discussions on public policy issues related to the Internet in some form. In the lead-up to Sharm El Sheikh, opinions ranged all the way from the status quo to termination of the IGF mandate and calls for improvements in various aspects.
As I said during the stocktaking session, we will have to spend some time trying to make sense of all viewpoints when reporting back to the Secretary General on our discussions. The Secretary-General will then make his recommendation to the UN General Assembly, taking the opinions expressed during the consultations into account.
Before I close this session, I would like to express my personal thanks to all staff from the United Nations, including staff members from the United Nations New York Headquarters, the DESA Division for Public Administration and Development Management, the finance office from the DESA Capacity Development Office, the Department of Public Information, the UN Office of Legal Affairs, the security staff from Geneva, who are crucial to the operational functioning of the meeting, the translators who have done a remarkable job, and last but not least, the IGF Secretariat as led by Mr. Markus Kummer, who has done an excellent job as usual. They have all contributed to the success of this Forum.
Most of all, I thank you all – the participants – for making this fourth meeting of the Internet Governance Forum such a constructive event. We registered more participants than ever before, more than 1800. The sessions and workshops are made possible through the hard work of you, the participants. Let us recall that the IGF was set up to promote dialogue with stakeholders – Governments, civil society, private sector, and the academic and scientific communities as well as international organizations. We should be pleased that the multi-stakeholder collaboration the IGF embodies has been a foundation of its success and of the stimulating and informative discussions we have enjoyed over the past four days.