Background Release

14 June 2002



To address the digital gap that still excludes two thirds of humankind from the benefits of the digital revolution, the General Assembly will hold a high-level meeting devoted to information and communication technologies (ICT) for development on 17 and 18 June, in the Trusteeship Council Chamber.

The meeting, called for by General Assembly resolution 56/258, will address the digital divide in the context of globalization and development, and promote coherence and synergies between regional and international information and communication technologies initiatives. The event is also to contribute to the preparation of the 2003 World Summit on the Information Society.

The meeting will bring together ministers and other government representatives, Chief Executive Officers of digital corporations, information technology experts and representatives of civil society.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan will deliver the opening statement. The President of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade, who heads the ICT activities in the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), will deliver the keynote address, followed by a statement by the President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Ivan Šimonovic.

Yukio Utsumi, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), will outline the preparatory process for the World Summit on Information Society, including the first meeting of the Preparatory Committee, to be held in Geneva from 1 July to 5 July. José María Figueres-Olsen, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for ICT and Chair of the United Nations ICT Task Force, will address new developments in the Task Force. Peter Harder, Chair of the Digital Opportunities Task Force (DOT Force) and Canada’s Deputy Minister of Industry, will also address the meeting.A keynote speaker (for example, the President of Senegal Mr. Wade who heads the ICT activities in NEPAD) could be invited to address the plenary before delegations make their statements.

The floor will then be opened to Member States. Some delegations have already requested inclusion in the list of speakers.

The concluding plenary meeting, on the afternoon of 18 June, will allow for reports on the proceedings of the two informal panels running parallel to the plenary, and for allparticipants delegations to join in a final discussion. The meeting will not have a formal outcome, but the President of the General Assembly may issue a summary of the discussions at a later stage, following the practice of the two high-level dialogues on strengthening international economic cooperation for development through partnership held in 1998 and 2001.

The United Nations ICT Task Force and the 2003 World Summit will be two main topics. Launched last November, the ICT Task Force works to find creative means to spread the benefits of the digital revolution and overcome the current two-tiered world information society. The members of the Task Force come from the public and private sectors, from civil society and the scientific community, and from leaders of the developing world as well as the most technologically advanced countries.

The Task Force is an innovative body in many ways. It is not an operational or executing agency. For the execution of programmes and projects that it decides to promote, it identifies appropriate entities, and facilitates connections among interested partners. Regional networks ensure a decentralization of its activities, an open and inclusive approach, and reliance on existing mechanisms. Such networks are operational for Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Arab States, and Europe and Central Asia. The Task Force will hold its third meeting in September, focusing on ICTs in the African continent.

The World Summit on the Information Society, to be held in two phases (Geneva, 2003 and Tunis, 2005), will address the broad range of questions concerning the information society and seek a common vision and understanding of this societal transformation. It will bring together government leaders, the private sector, civil society and non-governmental organizations in a single high-level event aimed at facilitating an effective and equitable growth of the information society, as well as bridging the digital divide. The ITU is the lead agency for the Summit.

Informal Panels

In parallel with the plenary, there will be two informal panels in which prominent experts and civil society representatives, including from the private sector, will provide input in the form of ideas, experiences and policy advice. The first panel will take place on 17 June from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., and the second on 18 June from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., both panels meeting in the Economic and Social Council Chamber.

The first panel will discuss how ICT can foster development to meet the Millennium Summit goals, building on broad partnerships for promoting digital opportunity. In particular, participants will debate the role and involvement of the private sector in ICT for development, and how to utilize specific competencies to achieve maximum impact.

Abdul Mejid Hussein (Ethiopia), Vice-President of the General Assembly, will chair the panel. José María Figueres-Olsen will be the moderator, and Debra Dunn, Vice-President of Hewlett-Packard, will deliver the keynote address. Panellists will include Talal Abu-Ghazaleh, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, TAGI (Jordan/Egypt); Toomas Ilves, Member of Parliament of Estonia; Tengku Shariffadeen, President, MIMOS (Malaysia); and Zoe Baird, President, Markle Foundation (United States).

The second panel will address the role of the United Nations in supporting efforts to promote digital opportunity, in particular in Africa and the least developed countries. Participants will look into the challenge of inclusion in the world economy through ICT, including through infrastructure development, improved connectivity and better access to the information society.

Chaired by Jean-David Levitte (France), Vice-President of the General Assembly, the panel will be moderated by Nitin Desai, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, with Mavis Ampah Sintim-Misa, Chief Executive Officer, African Connection (Ghana), delivering the keynote address. Panellists will include Gilbert Lacroix, General Manager for Western Africa, Intel (France); Sophia Bekele, President and Chief Executive Officer, CBS International (Ethiopia); Joseph Okpaku, President, Telecom Africa Corp. (United States/Nigeria); and Najat Rochdi, Regional Adviser on Information and Communications for Development (ICTD), United Nations Development Programme/Arab States (Morocco).

For information, please visit the Web site of the United Nations ICT Task Force at, or contact Enrica Murmura, Tel. (212) 963 5913, e-mail