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Statement on Human Rights, Human Dignity and the Information Society

Hi all,

Please find hereafter in text format a statement resulting from a 
two-day international symposium on Information Society and Human 
Rights, to which some members of the caucus have participated. This 
statement has been distributed in paper format during PrepCom3A, 
starting from Wednesday November 12th.

As put in the footnote of the document:
"This statement was elaborated and adopted by consensus by a group of 
independent experts from all regions of the world representing a 
diversity of backgrounds, expertise, nationalities and perspectives, 
meeting at the Palais des Nations in Geneva on 3-4 November 2003, 
convened by PDHRE (People’s Movement for Human Rights Education), with 
the support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), 
the European Commission, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human 
Rights, and the Government of Mali, Chair of the Human Security Network.
The list of participants in the Symposium is annexed to this statement."

World Summit
on the Information Society
Geneva 2003 – Tunis 2005

International Symposium on the Information Society,
Human Dignity and Human Rights
Palais des Nations, Geneva, 3-4 November 2003

Statement on Human Rights, Human Dignity
and the Information Society

1. In the middle of the 20th century, the world community agreed to 
human rights as the common normative framework at the same time as 
incredible advances began to be made in digital and genetic 
information. By the beginning of the 21st century an invaluable regime 
of human rights norms and mechanisms had been established and, through 
human rights education and learning broadly understood, a “human rights 
culture” had begun to take root in many parts of the world; at the same 
time, important advances in information and communication technologies 
had created the “information society” and large segments of the 
population, primarily in developed countries, had altered the way they 
communicate and live. These two trends of a human rights culture and 
the information society are intimately related and hold the potential 
of enhancing each other.

Human rights obligations of states in the WSIS context

2. The development of the information society, and in particular the 
vision of it articulated by the World Summit on the Information Society 
(WSIS), must be built on the reaffirmation of the 1993 Vienna 
Declaration and Programme of Action adopted by the World Conference on 
Human Rights that human rights are universal, indivisible, interrelated 
and interdependent and that their protection is the first 
responsibility of governments. The human rights obligations states have 
committed themselves to in the United Nations Charter, the Universal 
Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants on Human 
Rights and all other U.N. and regional human rights instruments require 
them to ensure that the information and communications society does not 
result in any discrimination or deprivation of human rights resulting 
from the acts or omission of their agents or of non-state actors under 
their jurisdiction. They also have human rights commitments arising out 
of other international conferences and summits. WSIS provides a 
critical opportunity to reaffirm human rights in the context of 
information and communication policy. There is a growing awareness 
among WSIS leadership of the importance of human rights in this context 
and welcome steps have been taken to include the voice and concerns of 
civil society in the WSIS process. Greater commitment to human rights 
and enhanced participation and transparency will be necessary for the 
Summit to achieve its full potential.

3. Host countries and institutions contributing to and participating in 
the post-Geneva WSIS process should be expected to fully respect the 
principles enunciated in the Declaration adopted at the Geneva Summit 
including those relating to human rights that are fundamental to the 
information and communications society, in particular, freedom of 
expression, association and information for civil society as well as 
with regard to visiting NGOs.

4. Consistent with those responsibilities, governments participating in 
WSIS should not only foster the information and communication society 
as a means of promoting the Millennium Development Goals and poverty 
reduction but they should also ensure that it contributes to the 
promotion of and respect for all human rights, civil, cultural, 
economic, political and social. Such a human rights framework for the 
information and communication society can promote the liberation of all 
human beings from fear and want, contribute to human security, advance 
human and sustainable development and support gender equality.

5. The human rights of particular importance to the information and 
communication society are freedom of expression and information, 
freedom from discrimination, gender equality, the right to privacy, the 
right to fair administration of justice, the right to the protection of 
the moral and material rights over intellectual creations, the right to 
participate in cultural life, rights of minorities, the right to 
education, and the right to an adequate standard of living, including 
the right to health, the right to adequate food, and the right to 
adequate housing. All of these rights belong to the corpus of 
internationally recognized human rights and should be furthered through 
the information and communication society.

Challenges to human rights from the information and communication 

6. Several trends that characterize information and communication in 
most of the world today constitute challenges to and in many cases 
serious dangers for a human rights-based information society. Central 
to these challenges is the exclusion of most of the people in 
developing countries from the advantages of advances in digital and 
genetic information, the commodification of information and knowledge, 
and the growing concentration of ownership and control of the means of 
producing and disseminating information and knowledge. Equally 
important are limitations, surveillance and censorship by the state or 
private parties, especially in the post September 11, 2001, environment.

7. The massive disparities in access to information and to the means of 
communication—known as “the digital divide”—are a result of the unequal 
distribution of wealth among and within countries. The digital divide 
is at the same time a cause and a consequence of the unequal 
distribution of wealth in the world and within countries Like poverty, 
with which it is closely connected, it severely diminishes the 
capabilities of people to enjoy their human rights. Information and 
communication technologies (ICTs) enable and empower individuals and 
groups, particularly those who are exposed, marginalized and 
vulnerable. Unless ICTs are made available on a vast scale to those who 
are at the losing end of the digital divide, the information and 
communication society will remain a force of relative impoverishment of 
large swaths of the world’s population and consequently a source of 
instability and deprivation.

8. The digital divide results in unequal access to information and to 
the means of communication and information and thus produces massive 
exclusion. All avenues must be explored to ensure for all equal and 
affordable access to information, the means of communication and the 
necessary technology and infrastructure. Public authorities, the 
private sector and civil society in the developed countries have a 
special responsibility to share the benefits of the information and 
communication society with the peoples in developing countries.

9. The information and communication society offers unprecedented 
opportunities to advance shared knowledge in areas critical for human 
development. In particular, ICTs are invaluable to the realization of 
the rights to health, education and adequate food through a wide range 
of technologies. Special attention must be paid to using the 
information and communication society to advance gender equality, 
consistent with the principle, affirmed in the Vienna Declaration and 
Programme of Action, that women’s rights are human rights. The human 
rights of traditional cultures in the emerging information society 
require special measures of conservation and protection of their 
traditional knowledge and culture. Special measures are also required 
to improve the situation of and to protect those who are vulnerable, 
exposed or excluded, in particular, children, the elderly, people with 
disabilities, minorities, refugees and asylum seekers.

Human rights education and learning

10. The information and communication society benefits from new 
technologies which can serve critical functions for human rights 
education and learning and more generally contribute to social change 
through the realization of human rights.

11. ICTs must be put at the service of education and lifelong learning 
for all. In particular, as privileged instruments of human rights 
education and learning, they should help to enable and empower humans 
across the world and across generations and cultures to know, claim and 
own their human rights and to respect and promote those of others in a 
spirit of solidarity. ICTs will make a major contribution to societal 
development on the basis of a commonly shared culture of human rights.

Freedom of expression and information

12. Full respect for freedom of expression and information by States 
and non-State actors is an essential precondition for the building of a 
free and inclusive information and communication society. ICTs must not 
be used to curtail this fundamental freedom. There must be no 
censorship and no arbitrary controls or constraints on participants in 
the information process, on the content of information or its 
transmission and dissemination. Pluralism of the sources of information 
and the media must be safeguarded and promoted. Any restrictions of 
freedom of expression and information must pursue a legitimate aim 
under international law, must be prescribed by law, be strictly 
proportionate to such an aim, and be necessary in a democratic society 
to respect the rights or reputation of others or for the protection of 
national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public 
health or morals. National security legislation to combat terrorism 
must respect freedom of expression and information standards and be 
subject to judicial review, as well as international scrutiny.

13. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of the 
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is of fundamental 
importance to a human rights-based information and communication 
society, not only by requiring that everyone has the right to freedom 
of opinion and expression and the right to seek, receive and impart 
information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers, 
but also because it implies free flow of information, free circulation 
of ideas, press freedom, and availability of the tools to access 
information and share knowledge.

14. The trend to provide public access to the information produced or 
maintained by governments and protected under “freedom of information” 
legislation should be extended to all countries that do not have such 
legislation, ensuring that government-controlled information is timely, 
complete and accessible in a format and language the public can 

15. Freedom of expression should be protected through the Internet in 
the same way it is protected offline and Internet service providers 
should be guided by this freedom rather than by codes of conduct that 
are not based on human rights.

Human right to privacy

16. Modern technology can and should be used to protect privacy; at the 
same time, it provides unprecedented possibilities for massive 
violations of the human right to privacy. The use of increasingly 
invasive means of surveillance and of interception of communications, 
of intrusive profiling and identification and of biometric 
identification technology, the development of communication 
technologies with built-in surveillance capacities, the collection and 
misuse of genetic data, genetic testing, the growing invasion of 
privacy at the workplace and the weakening of data protection regimes 
give rise to serious concerns from the point of view of respect for 
human dignity and human rights. New means must be developed to protect 
the human right to privacy, such as the right to know about one’s 
personal data held by public and private institutions and to have them 
deleted where not strictly necessary for a legitimate purpose in a 
democratic society. The development, transfer and use of technology 
permitting illegitimate invasion of privacy must be controlled and 

17. It is fundamental to an understanding of the information society to 
recognize that information is power.  Control of personal information 
and the deprivation of the right of privacy are ways or exercising 
power over individuals. The protection of personal information and 
privacy is central to the autonomy of the individual and to respect for 
human rights. The considerable experience with the elaboration of laws 
and national and international jurisprudence to protect privacy should 
be studied and applied in countries where the right to privacy is not 
adequately protected and the best practices should be emulated.

18. The development of communications infrastructure and ubiquitous 
computing threatens privacy in new and intrusive ways; it is, 
nevertheless, possible to develop and adopt privacy enhancing 
behaviours, technologies, and infrastructure consistent with privacy 
law.  These choices must be favoured through national law, deontology 
codes for developers and market incentives. Steps to preserve privacy, 
at the international, regional, national, community, institutional, and 
individual level, must start with the establishment of national data 
protection laws to protect individual rights with respect to the 
collection, use, and disclosure of personal information, with 
independent oversight, and access to effective redress. Education 
across all sectors of society with respect to privacy rights and the 
risks inherent in the technology is vital so that individuals can take 
the necessary steps to enforce legal rights.

19. Certain measures taken in combating terrorism and cybercrime have 
eroded civil liberties and abrogated privacy rights.  Cooperation in 
the field of criminal investigation must be accompanied by adequate 
enforcement of civil liberties and independent oversight of data 

Cultural and linguistic rights and diversity

20. The international community has increasingly come to regard 
plurality of identities, including cultural diversity, as an asset and 
a fundamental value to be defended and promoted. Fostering diversity is 
crucial to respecting cultural rights, promoting tolerance and fighting 
discrimination at all levels of society. The preservation and promotion 
of cultural and linguistic diversity and interaction must be hallmarks 
of a thriving information society.  ICTs can and must be used to 
promote diversity and respect for cultural rights and identity, 
including indigenous knowledge, rather than for their restriction or 
suppression. This diversity is reflected positively by community radio, 
indigenous means of communication and local media.

21. People in the information society are more than consumers; they are 
also providers of information and of creativity. Steps must, therefore, 
be taken to give them access to infrastructure under acceptable 
economic conditions through proactive measures by governments, under 
cultural and linguistic exceptions to international trade agreements.

The public domain and intellectual property rights

22. A rich public domain is an essential element for the growth of the 
information society and provides the reservoir from which new knowledge 
is derived.  Everyone therefore should enjoy the right, reaffirmed in 
article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, freely to 
participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts 
and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits while at the 
same time having an equal right to the protection of the moral and 
material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic 
production.  International agreements and treaties and national 
policies concerning the creation, sharing and trade of intellectual 
goods and cultural creations must be aligned according to these 
competing needs.  Facilitating meaningful participation by all, in 
particular by civil society organizations, in developing the 
intellectual property framework is a fundamental part of an inclusive 
information society.

23. Initiatives for high-quality open-source and public domain software 
and technologically neutral platforms and the development and use of 
open, interoperable, non-discriminatory and demand-driven standards 
that take into account needs of users, consumers, and the 
underprivileged should be promoted. Furthermore, a fixed percentage of 
spectrum, satellite and other infrastructural bandwidth capacity should 
be reserved for educational, humanitarian, community and other 
non-commercial use.

24. Concentration of ownership in the hands of a few major corporations 
limits the opportunities for information and communications 
technologies to reflect adequately the pluralism of perspectives and 
diversity of cultures. Legislative and other measures should avoid 
excessive media concentration and ensure that the media and ICTs 
respond to the principle of public service and guarantee equal 
opportunities of access to media ownership for all social sectors. 
Public service broadcasting is an essential means of counter-balancing 
the commercial motivation of the media and ensuring the enjoyment of 
the right of everyone to participate in cultural life and the right of 
political participation

25. The regime of knowledge ownership and management includes patents, 
copyright, trademarks and other legal and technical monopolies on 
knowledge granted by society, and public domain, fair use and other 
instruments to enable access.  The primary goal of this regime is to 
strike a balance that will both maximize access and use of this 
knowledge and at the same time encourage creativity as widely as 
possible within society. International agreements and treaties, and 
national policies concerning creation, sharing and trade of 
intellectual goods and cultural creations must comply with this 

26. Intellectual property regimes and national and international 
agreements on patents, copyright and trademarks should not prevail over 
the right to education and knowledge. This right must indeed be 
exercised through the concept of fair use, that is, use for 
non-commercial purposes, especially education, and research. Moreover, 
intellectual work and ideas, including programming methods and 
algorithms, should not be patentable. The production and use of free 
and open-source software and content must thus be encouraged and 
covered by adequate public policy.

27. Human knowledge is the heritage and property of all humankind and 
the reservoir from which new knowledge is created. The information and 
communication society will not contribute to human development and 
human rights unless and until access to information is considered a 
public good to be protected and promoted by the state. Information in 
the public domain should be easily accessible to support the 
information society. Intellectual property rights should not be 
protected as an end in itself, but rather as a means to an end that 
promotes a rich public domain, shared knowledge, scientific and 
technical advances, cultural and linguistic diversity and the free flow 
of information. Public institutions such as libraries and archives, 
museums, cultural collections and other community-based access points 
should be strengthened so as to promote the preservation of documentary 
records and free and equitable access to information.  Scientists, 
universities, academic, research and other institutions have a central 
role in the development of the information society and the sharing of 
research results, scientific knowledge and technical information.

Democratic governance

28. Good governance in the information and communication society must 
be based on the values of participation, transparency, accountability 
and the rule of law. These principles apply to the democratic 
management of international bodies dealing with ICTs. Given the 
borderless characteristics of ICTs, decision-making bodies should 
ensure the respect of principles of democracy and openness, as well as 
of legality and sovereignty. In particular, the management of the core 
resources of the Internet, which are the Internet protocols, standards 
and identifiers, such as domain names and IP addresses, must serve the 
public interest at the global, national and local levels. Furthermore, 
any decision made on protocols, standards and identifiers should be 
compatible with international human rights standards, and specially the 
rights to freedom of expression, to privacy, and the principle of 
non-discrimination. Such decisions should also allow a better-balanced 
flow of information.

29. The proper use of ICTs can strengthen democracy by improving the 
means and access for civil society to participate fully in public 
affairs. ICTs can improve access to justice and make public services 
more responsive, transparent and accountable. The rule of law is 
essential for the information society to become a space of confidence, 
trust and security where human rights are fully respected.

30. Both States and non-State actors have a duty to respect and promote 
human dignity and human rights in the building of the information 
society. Any regulation and self-regulation regarding communication and 
information must be based on strict respect for human rights and must 
contribute to their promotion. The private, public service and 
community media, as well as journalists, whose independence and access 
to information must be protected, have major responsibilities in the 
information and communication society as a means to preserve and 
advance democracy.

Monitoring mechanisms

31. In preparation for the WSIS in Tunis in 2005, an Independent 
Commission on the Information Society and Human Rights, composed of 
highly qualified experts with a broad geographical representation, 
should be established to monitor practices and policies and submit 
recommendations to the Summit. Its mandate could include a review of 
national and international ICT regulations and practices and their 
conformity with international human rights standards, the governance of 
current decision-making bodies in the ICT field, and the potential 
applications of ICTs to the realization of the right to development and 
the essential human rights for sustainable human development, including 
the right to health, the right to adequate food and the right to 

32. Furthermore, the importance of the issues of human rights of WSIS 
justifies the establishment, within the procedures of the Commission on 
Human Rights or its Sub-Commission, of a position of Special Rapporteur 
on Human Rights and the Information Society, with a mandate to monitor 
developments in this area, including threats to privacy, freedom of 
expression, freedom from surveillance, and applications of ICT to the 
realization of economic, social and cultural rights and to human rights 
education and recommend measures conducive to advancing human rights in 
the information society.

World Summit 									Annex
on the Information Society
Geneva 2003 – Tunis 2005

International Symposium on the Information Society,
Human Dignity and Human Rights
Palais des Nations, Geneva, 3-4 November 2003


- José Luís Aguirre Alvis
National Director CRIS, Bolivia
- Geneviève Ancel
Conseillère Technique, Communauté Urbaine du Grand Lyon, France
- Amir Hossein Barmaki
Programme Consultant, Iranian Civil Society Training and Research 
Center, Iran
- Wolfgang Benedek
Director, European Training and Research Centre for Human Rights and 
Democracy, Austria
- Nestor Busso
ALER- Asociación Latinoamericana de Educación Radiofónica, Argentina
- Juliana Cano Nieto
Coordinator, Fundacion para la libertad de la Prensa- FLIP, Columbia
- Ivanka Corti
Former CEDAW member and Chairperson,  Italy
- Cheick Dumar Coulibaly
Ministère des Affaires Etrangères et de la Coopération Internationale, 
- Kani Coulibaly-Diabate
Medecin Lieutenant Colonel,	Spécialiste en droits et Protection des 
Enfants Impliqués dans les Conflits, Mali
- Sandra Coulibaly-Leroy
Deputy Director, Organization internationale de la Francophonie, France
- Satya Brata Das
Principal , Cambridge Strategies Inc., Canada
- Mamadou Gaoussou Diarra
Avocat et Membre du Conseil d'Administration, PDHRE, Mali
- Francesco di Castri
Directeur émérite de recherche, Centre National de la Recherche 
Scientifique (CNRS), France-Italy
- Markus Duerst
Programme Officer , SDC-Governance Division
Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Switzerland
- Gustavo Gómez
Director, Programa de Legislaciones y Derecho a la Comunicación
Asociación Mundial de Radios Comunitarias
América Latina y el Caribe (AMARC-ALC), Uruguay
- Robert Guerra
Managing Director, Privaterra, Canada
- Deborah Hurley
Director, Harvard Information Infrastructure Project, USA
- Sharon Hom
Executive Director, Human Rights in China, USA	
- Kim Jeong-woo
International Coordinator, Korean Progressive Network, Rep. of Korea
- Rikke Frank Jorgensen
Senior Adviser, Danish Institute for Human Rights,  Denmark
- Sacha Jotisalikorn
Forum Asia, Thailand
- Ramin Kaweh
Programme Expert, UN-NGLS, UNCTAD, Geneva
- Zdzislaw Kedzia
Chief, Research and Right to Development Branch, Office of the UN High 
Commissioner for Human Rights, Geneva
- Lachman M. Khubchandani
Professor of Linguistics; Consultant, Centre for Development of 
Advanced Computing; Director, Centre for Communication Studies, India
- Shulamith  Koenig
Founder and Executive Director of PDHRE; President Emeritus, Israel, USA
- Catherine Lalumière
Member of the European Parliament; former Secretary-General of the 
Council of Europe, France
- Manon Lavoie
Professor of Law (Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples),
Faculty of Law: Common Law Section, University of Ottawa, Canada
- Peter Leuprecht
Professor, Faculty of Law, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Chair of the Symposium
- Walther Lichem
Director, Department for International Organisations, Ministry for 
Foreign Affairs, Austria
- Hani Mansourian
Society for the Civil Protection of and Assistance to Socially 
Disadvantaged, Iran
- Stephen P. Marks
FXB Professor , Director, Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard 
School of Public Health, USA
Chair, Committee of Rapporteurs
- Meryem Marzouki
IRIS- Imaginons un réseau Internet solidaire, France
- Alana Maurushat
Deputy Director, Information Technology Law Programme
Faculty of Law, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
- Emmanuel Njenga
APC Africa, WSIS Coordinator, Kenya
- Rik Panganiban
Special Advisor, World Federalist Movement, Switzerland	
- Anja Prodoehl
Programme Officer, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation
- Stéphanie Perrin
President, Digital Discretion Inc., Canada
- Bertrand Ramcharan
Acting United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Geneva
Key-note Speaker
- Jean-Louis Roy
President, Rights and Democracy, Montreal; former Secretary General of 
the Organization internationale de la Francophonie, Canada
- Alwata Ishata Sahi
Membre du Conseil d’Administration (CA) de PDHRE- Mali, Mali
- Adama Samassekou
President of PrepCom for WSIS 2003, Mali
- Djely Karifa Samoura
African Commission of Health and Human Rights Promoters
- Sèan Ò Siòchru
Spokesperson, Communication Rights in the Information Society, Ireland
- Ibrahim Soilihi
Director, African Learning Institute for Human Rights Education, PDHRE 
Mali, Comores/France
- Paul H.J. Smeets
Constitutional Affairs and Legislation Department, Ministry of 
Interior, Kingdom Relations and Human Rights, Netherlands
- Anoop Sukumaran
Focus on the Global South, Thailand
- Pàll Thòrhallsson
Administrative Officer, Media Division, Directorate General of Human 
Rights - Council of Europe, Strasbourg
- Nsongurua Udombana
Senior Lecturer & Acting Head, Dept. of Jurisprudence & International 
Law, University of Lagos, Nigeria
- Peter K. Yu
Adjunct Professor, Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media, 
Michigan State University-DCL College of Law, USA