ICTs in Support of
Human Rights, Democracy and Good Governance
Audrey N. Selian
International Telecommunication Union
paper has been prepared by Audrey Selian <email@example.com>,
ITU. ICTs in Support of Human Rights, Democracy
and Good Governance is part of the Strategy and
Policy Unit’s (SPU) background papers in
preparation for the upcoming World Summit on the
Information Society (WSIS) in 2003.
The author wishes to acknowledge the valuable
guidance and direction of Tim Kelly of the ITU, as
well as of Taylor Reynolds and Kelby Johnson in the
development and editing of this paper.
The opinions expressed in this study are
those of the author and do not necessarily reflect
the views of the International Telecommunication
Union, or its membership.
a. ICTs and the
b. The international system..
c. New Technologies and
Civil Society Stakeholders.
II. The Millennium
III. Human Rights.
a. Universalism vs.
b. Human Rights and the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
for Human Rights Violations.
IV. ICTs and Human Rights.
a. Information Sharing and
b. Statistical Analysis.
V. ICTs, Democracy and
a. Representatives and
c. Free Press.
d. Power and global trends.
VI. Case Studies.
media as a grassroots weapon of democracy.
the Internet to gain pledges and defend children’s
Creating a Human Rights Portal
El Salvador: Probidad*.
Promoting democratic participation through
CD-ROM puts laws in citizens' hands*.
Harnessing email and the Internet*.
Africa: The PIMS Monitor*.
as a tool for inciting violence and human rights
technologies increase surveillance capabilities.
Internet access to international human rights
1: Functional interactivity of various ICTs.
2: Comparison of Communications Media.
3: The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)
4: Basic Facts on the UN Commission on Human Rights.
5: International Entities and ICT Applications.
6: Number of Free/Partly Free/Not Free Countries - The Global
7: Freedom House Rankings.
8: The 2001 E-Government Index.
9: E-Government Index by Geographical Region.
1: Mapping International ICT Decision-Making – Key Players.
2: Mapping International ICT Decision-Making –
3: Human Rights Conventions Participation/Signatories 2001.
4: Democracy and Interconnectivity.
5: The World of e-Governance.
6: Free Press Violations.
7: The Diffusion of Governance in the Twenty-First Century.
changes and new developments in technology have
improved our ability to communicate and spread the
human rights message around the world. The fact that
some racist groups have misused the Internet to spread
repugnant hate speech needs to be addressed urgently.
In considering this issue, however, we must keep in
mind that the right of freedom of expression is a
precious fundamental right - any attempt to restrict
it must be approached with absolute care and
considered within the strict parameters of human
- Mary Robinson, High
Commissioner for Human Rights
The common ground upon which information and communication technologies (ICTs)
and human rights can be analyzed was forged two years
ago at the United Nations Millennium Summit, which
resulted in a declaration that affirmed common global
commitments to the protection of the vulnerable, the
alleviation of poverty, and the rectification of
corrupt structures and processes – particularly in
those countries in which there is a dearth of ‘rule
of law’. The
world's leaders resolved to “spare no effort to
promote democracy and strengthen the rule of law, as
well as respect for all internationally recognized
human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the
right to development.”
The current period of preparation for
the upcoming World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)
– in which the International Telecommunication Union
(ITU) has a leading managerial role - offers an
excellent opportunity to address tensions that exist
between national, regional and global models of
governance – particularly where hotly debated topics
like human rights draw to the forefront of discussion
key issues like transparency, accountability, and the
universality of human rights principles.
This paper will analyze human rights and governance issues as they
pertain to ICTs for the WSIS forum, with a focus on
the role of those who protect human rights and foster
good governance. Various players are increasingly leveraging and applying ICTs
amidst various contending national, corporate and
supranational interests, and this represents a
significant change for traditional distributions of
power in the international system.
The way in which new communication technologies
may be able to help realize some of the goals of the
2000 Millennium Declaration will be explored in this
paper, and various case studies will illustrate
the relevance and importance of these discussion
points. The goal of such analysis is to adopt a rights-based perspective on major
development goals – specifically encompassing the
protection of human rights – that are to be realized
through the Declaration.
It is where international institutions and
their national/civil society counterparts meet and
leverage electronic communications networks, that
various UN-defined development goals and resolutions
have the potential to be realized.
Indeed, this is exemplified in part by the fact
that “… as human rights groups form international
linkages [for instance through the use of ICTs], their
frame of reference shifts from national law to
international human rights”.
ICTs and the 'information society'
The convergence between telecommunications, broadcasting multimedia and
information and communication technologies (ICTs) that
is driving the development of the global
‘Information Society’ is responsible for the
transformation of a variety of economic and political
sectors, as well as the socio-cultural strata of
nations around the world. The benefits of information and communication
technologies (ICTs) lie not purely in the range of
their functionality (See Table 1), but in the variety
and versatility of their application. Much has been written about the potential of ICTs to
‘revolutionize’ society, particularly in the
context of their role as catalysts of the
This ‘revolution’ is often juxtaposed with
its predecessor, the Industrial Revolution, usually
for the purpose accentuating the idea that
communication networks are as integral to the process
of development as was the birth and development of
industry in the 19th century.
While it is the question of access that has
risen to the forefront of development agendas in the
context of the famed ‘digital divide’, much work remains to be
done in analyzing and understanding how these
technologies are utilized and applied to bring
about expected revolutionary societal and economic
changes and improvements.
Among the most important yet sensitive areas affected by ICTs are those
of human rights and governance, thereby revealing the
big question: what are the true benefits and changes
that communications technologies can provide for everyone?
While the conventional wisdom is that new
technologies contribute to economic development, and
that this in turn trickles down to the whole of global
society, it is relevant to bear in mind that such
diffusion depends on relatively equal patterns of
as well as a variety of other variables that are not
necessarily prevalent in the developing world.
The subject of how modern communications alter
the way in which various entities of the private
sector, the public sector and civil society interact
has spurred much debate.
More specifically, such debate targets the
underlying theme of whether they are conducive to
fundamental shifts in the distribution of power
towards the dissolution of strong, centralized
In the context of this paper, ICTs
include the workings of all digital communications
networks (principally the Internet), wireless
networks, and radio broadcast networks.
Across different phases of policymaking and
information dissemination, they can be applied in
various forms as database technologies, decision
support technologies, networking technologies, and
personal identification and tracking technologies.
Adapted from a model by R. Van Koert.
Interactivity is defined by whether an
electronic medium (i) makes multi-directional
communication possible, (ii) allows for control over
the communication act by the participants and (iii)
supports an exchange of roles between participants
in a communication process. Two more characteristics
of multi-directional communication are (iv) the
possibility of feedback and the speed with which
feedback can be communicated and (v) its requirement
for synchronicity in time. A basic telephone
conversation is an example of synchronous
communication and requires sender and receiver to
communicate at the same moment in time, as opposed
to asynchronous communication in the case of e-mail
or the use of an answering machine for telephone
key to uncovering the complexities of the relationship
between ICTs and social change – in a human rights
context – may lie in the assessment of the degree of
functional interactivity of a given technology (See
Table 1). “A relatively high level of functional interactivity of
networked electronic media [as shown above to include
Internet, telephone, and radio-communication] confirms
the presumed suitability of those electronic media for
multi-directional communication processes”,
which support the idea that ICTs, in the process of
empowering people to exchange information, may help to
effectuate change by supporting decentralized,
Conversely, lower levels of functional
interactivity are more likely to render a technology
supportive of more centralized power structures.
A similar type of analysis across
communications media, as shown below in Table 2, also
emphasizes the interactivity element – in this case
referred to as ‘reciprocity’.
The unit of analysis is a subjective measure of
each technology's capacity to support an
‘ordinary’ individual’s activities, with darker
shading indicating greater capacity for reciprocity in
each of the five major categories.
E-mail unequivocally stands apart from its
predecessors as being more conducive to reciprocity in
The aim of this table below is contrast and not
shading indicates greater capacity for
‘reciprocity’ (for more detail, see text) in
each of the five major categories
C.,“Communication and Democracy: Coincident
Revolutions and the Emergent Dictator's Dilemma”
idea that new communication technologies may bring
about social change – here defined as the enhanced
awareness and protection of human rights in the
international system - is “… one of the
theoretical underpinnings of the positive perspectives
on the benefits of the communications revolution.”
At the same time, it appears that a decisive
factor in the way human rights are asserted and
protected lies in the way power is governed and
managed by those who control and regulate various
(Further information in ICTs, Democracy, and
Governance, Section V)
“Governments are keenly aware of the need to
protect themselves from politically and economically
destabilizing use of information.”
“… The very notion of centralizing hierarchies is
itself an anachronism in our fluid, highly dynamic and
extensively networked world—an outmoded remnant of
nineteenth century mindsets.
b. The international system
ICTs have indeed permeated the structural workings of the international
system, often challenging (though not necessarily
undermining) top-down ‘command and control’ power
hierarchies by facilitating the de-centralization of
information vital to the workings of national and
Vertical relationships between governments and
society are being replaced by horizontal network
relationships between public, semi-public and private
agents, and ICTs (through their control, surveillance,
communication and knowledge management potential) are
revolutionizing the internal workings and external
relations of public administrations.
This is in part because information has become
itself a resource and commodity, surpassing its
traditional role as mere facilitator to political and
In many ways, the sensitivity of governments to the potential use of
information and communications systems against them is
itself a sensitive subject area, in part because
historically, the deployment of telecommunications
networks and informatics have been closely related to
the workings of the military complex and the
realization of political, ideological and military
goals (as was the case in the Cold War).
The realm of communications has been seen
“… as having a hypodermic effect in international
politics, bringing their favored ideas of capitalism
and civil society from the West…”.
In light of this generalization, it seems that where the lines of the
dissemination of information, the diffusion of culture
and activism, and access provision to new markets
cross with those of national security, it is vital
that ‘Information Society’ imperatives are treated
with paramount diplomacy.
It goes without saying that communications
networks facilitate the broadening of scope and
perspective in a way that empower all those who
utilize them, and a realistic vision and discussion of
the Information Society must be inclusive of this
is indeed one author who argues that nation-states are
drawn together by complex processes of interdependence
on problems such as AIDS, migration, human rights,
crime, trade, environmental pollution, and new
challenges to peace, security, and economic prosperity
which spill over national boundaries.
In the human rights arena, “… there has been a clear shift in
attitudes towards human rights protection by Member
States. Once considered to be the sole territory of sovereign states,
the protection of human rights is now viewed as a
universal concern, as evidenced by the recent
conviction for genocide, rape, war crimes and crimes
against humanity handed down in the International
(More information in Human Rights Section III). The rise in transnational human rights networks (comprising
both public and private actors) has been referred to
by some as the ‘third globalization’ - and
has helped to develop a global civil society capable
of working with governments, international
institutions, and multinational corporations to
promote internationally accepted standards of human
rights and democracy.
Examining the economics and politics of ICTs is an integral part
of understanding the broad development agendas
espoused by a variety of institutions (World Bank,
etc.), and a rights-based approach to this development
upon the basis of equality and participation is a
constructive one. While the World Summit itself is
likely to incite just the beginnings of collaboration
and cooperation between the ‘powers that be’, it
is possible that through it, global civil society and
international organizations may together successfully
emphasize “…the relationship between the global
citizenry and the state, whereby the former is seen
not as the passive object of the latter’s
machinations but rather as an active participant in
shaping not only immediate policies but also long-term
parameters of legitimacy of the state.”
society today is stronger and better equipped
to carry out the daunting task of empowering
Whether as election monitoring crews or
micro-credit teams, grassroots groups can
provide the social, economic and political
education the population needs to demand
“The only way to pry open the eyes of the
international community to lesser known
situations is to ensure that reliable
information reaches it.
In this context, it is impossible to
overestimate the importance of the role of
rights NGOs are the engine for virtually every
advance made by the United Nations in the
field of human rights since its founding”.
“If information is the key, then it is fair to say
that NGOs are the key-bearers.”
“NGOs are known as the conscience of the UN…”
New Technologies and Civil Society Stakeholders
While indeed the
private sector and governmental institutions are vital
to any study of the international system, and while
the roots of state-centered governance are alive and
well, due attention must be directed towards those
which comprise the key component of civil society –
“… the national and international NGOs [which
have] … extended the range of citizen action beyond
the institutional parameters of the sovereign state”.
The definition of global ‘civil society’,
according to Lipschutz, refers to the trans-nationally
organized political networks and interest groups that
are largely autonomous from any one state’s control.
The broad array of nongovernmental
organizations, clubs, societies, trade unions, and
political parties that are the domestic counterparts
to transnational networks, have a vital role in
illustrating how new transnational networks of common
interest are effectively leveraged. They often represent the social interests of individuals and the
protection of basic human rights, and are usually not
motivated by profit or power.
society uses the same tools that commercial
organisations and mass media institutions use to
influence their audiences: publishing technology,
mailing lists, collaboration technologies,
conferencing, virtual communities, and electronic
polling and surveys.
Examining the resonance of such voices in global fora is vital to the
appraisal of shifting power dynamics in the
“The emergence of an international civil
society seem[s] to be taking place due to the
so-labeled ‘democratization’ movements in Eastern
Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia… and new
international communications technologies seem to be
giving the promotion of these ideas more force than
might have been the case 50 years previously.”
Overlooking the importance of this group of
stakeholders risks compromising not only the richness
and integrity of the ‘global knowledge networks’
facilitated by ICTs, but also their ultimate utility
and purpose. This
is true only if indeed, “…the advent of technology
must be seen as an absolute advantage in terms of the
potential that it opens up for individuals.”
consultative status of various non-governmental
at high levels in many international organizations
ensures their participation in processes and
institutions of global governance, and the fact that
they spill across national boundaries forces a certain
re-casting of general notions of political
participation and citizenship.
According to C. Giffard, the dependence
of international bodies on NGOs is such that an
absence of unhindered NGO activity in a particular
country may very well mean that international
attention may not be drawn to the situation in that
country, even where human rights violations on the
ground might merit it. This is because it is easier to
focus attention and resources on those states about
which information is plentiful.”
practice of the accreditation and participation of
civil society (referring mainly to NGOs) in UN
conferences and special sessions has evolved and
developed during the 1990s, when many of the major UN
conferences took place.
In the Millennium Declaration and its follow up
resolution, enhanced partnership and cooperation with
civil society as a whole was called for to ensure its
contribution to the implementation of the Declaration.
“The United Nations has had a relationship
with civil society since its establishment. The first
NGOs were granted consultative status by the Economic
and Social Council (ECOSOC) as early as in 1948; the
first set of rules on this relationship was adopted in
1950 by the ECOSOC in resolution 288 B(X), and were
reviewed by the General Assembly in 1968 in resolution
1296, which became the basis for establishing criteria
for the participation of NGOs at the UN.
report entitled ‘Louder Voices’ issued by the
Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization and The
Panos Institute (London) present an interesting means
of conceptually mapping the work and role of NGOs in
the wider processes of international ‘ICT-decision
making’, which refers essentially to the range of
technology-oriented development and policy
coordination activities of key players.
According to the report, the ICT policy
‘universe’ is categorized into three main groups,
comprised of the UN family organizations (the ITU, the
World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the
UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization
(UNESCO), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP),
and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)),
the international trade and finance organizations (the
World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Bank Group (WBG)),
and various private sector bodies.
According to Figure 1 below, their general
areas of activity and collaboration map as follows:
“Louder Voices”, Commonwealth Telecommunications
Organization and Panos, London, Adapted from
main kinds of issues upon which international
decisions are made lie upon the horizontal axis, while
the main types of decision-making process lie upon the
vertical axis. As
new governance arrangements are forged in conjunction
with more traditional arrangements (which tend to be
generally founded upon the principle of national
sovereignty), partnerships are developed between
various private and public entities, and the
increasing role of non-governmental fora emerges
The further conceptual mapping seen below in
Figure 2 of the activity areas of technical, industry,
business and civil society NGOs helps to clarify the
complex nature of their involvement in international
decision-making and supranational governance.
“Louder Voices”, Commonwealth Telecommunications
Organization and Panos London, p.15.
are indeed among the newer players with clout in the
international arena and continue to be a major reason
why ICTs have emerged to challenge existing
development and power paradigms.
While on the macro level there continues to be
debate vis-à-vis the ultimate cost effectiveness of
ICTs in development given other contending priorities,
on the micro level, there appears to be near-universal
acceptance of the fact that development strategies
should be based on partnerships between government,
the private sector, and civil society as well as the
creation of human capacity (i.e. which some refer to
as ‘social capital’).
Despite ‘revolutionary’ notions associated
with ICTs, there appears also to be a collective
acceptance of the fact that governments should be the
appropriate policy-makers and leading users of ICTs.
“It is often said that global targets are easily
set but seldom met…”
UNDP Bureau for Development Policy
The Millennium Declaration
Millennium Declaration was adopted by 147 Heads of
State & Government members of the United Nations
in September 2000, with close consultation and
collaboration with the UN, the World Bank, the IMF,
the OECD, and other regional experts.
The Declaration sought to identify and document
48 social and economic indicators, listed by country
and spanning a twenty-five year period (retroactively
from 1990 through 2015), giving each country a profile
of progress towards development and the eradication of
Declaration acknowledged that progress is based on
sustainable economic growth, which must focus on the
poor, with human rights at the center”;
indeed, social, cultural and economic rights are at
the heart of its goals.
Declaration itself is structurally comprised of eight
major sections, starting with ‘Values and
Principles’, and including ‘Peace, Security, and
Disarmament’, ‘Development and Poverty
Eradication’, ‘Protecting our Common
Environment’, ‘Human Rights, Democracy and Good
Governance’, ‘Protecting the Vulnerable,
‘Meeting the special needs of Africa’, and
‘Strengthening the United Nations’.
Section V, “Human Rights, Democracy and Good
Governance”, is most relevant to the context of this
paper, and reaffirms that fundamental human rights are
the foundation of human dignity and must be protected.
It outlines the power of democracy to effect
change and the empowerment of the citizenry, and
reaffirms the need to work collectively for more
inclusive political processes, with genuine political
for moving forward include the fostering of national
human rights institutions, support for the practical
application of a rights-based approach to development,
the provision of electoral assistance to help the
consolidation of new and restored democracies, and
progress toward the implementation of democratic
principles through institutional reform programs.
They also incorporate encouraging the continued
ratification and implementation of the Convention on
the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against
Women, working to protect the rights of migrants and
their families, and helping to ensure the freedom and
independence of the media.
basic critique of the Millennium Declaration touches
upon the question of credibility: how much can credit
can it be afforded, given that in the past 55 years
and countless declarations, half the world’s
population continues to subsist on less than $2 per
Declaration sets out to attain several specific human
rights objectives, including upholding the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights. And yet, of the 190 UN
member states, only a few over a hundred have signed
the existing protocol to the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights. This chasm between the Declaration’s espoused values and
reality is a troubling one.
An attempt to provide redress for these
resounding doubts is the articulation of the
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) listed in Table 3.
9 under Section II of the Millennium Declaration is
particularly focused on strengthening international
respect for the rule of law, bolstering cooperation
between the UN and regional organizations, ensuring
implementation of treaties in areas of human rights
law (among others), and striving toward the
elimination of the global drug problem and
In each one of these areas, ICTs can and do
play a vital role if national governments allow for
the development of networks that enhance transparency
and impose accountability on those who may seek to
evade it. Article 20 under Section III is also particularly amenable to
this paper, whereby the development of partnerships
between civil society and the private sector can be
initiated, strengthened and confirmed via their
also lies the specific delineation by the United
Nations of the benefits of new technologies and ICTs
and the importance of their availability for all.
Articles 24 and 25, also under Section III,
focus specifically on the other main areas of this
paper, namely the promotion of democracy, rule of law,
and above all the collective agreement to uphold the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to
strengthen the capacity of all nations to implement
human rights practices and principles.
Also cited in this article is a crucial
reference to the importance of more inclusive
political processes, allowing for the participation of
the citizenry, as well as the right of the public to
have access to information through the workings of a
the Declaration supports the notion that globalization
is a positive force, it is important to note that for
each success story, there have been setbacks – in
some places, mortality rates for children under-five
have increased, school enrollment ratios have dropped,
gender gaps in primary education have widened, and
malnutrition has not been conquered.
One main question that remains is whether or
not measurements of progress toward the MDGs – which
stem essentially from averages – actually include or
bypass the poor and the disadvantaged, given the fact
that much demographic data is not sufficiently
this is the case – whether by region, gender, ethnic
group, human development data reveals discrepancies
that are not acceptable from a human rights
key application of ICTs in this context is the way in
which they can be used to elucidate the plight of
those who may be overlooked – bringing their voices,
their stories and their images into the realm of
global networks even when they fall below the
Our belief in the centrality of human rights to the
work and life of the United Nations stems from a
simple proposition: that States which respect human
rights respect the rules of international society.
States [that] respect human rights are more likely to
seek cooperation and not confrontation, tolerance and
not violence, moderation and not might, peace and not
war. States [that] treat their own people with
fundamental respect are more likely to treat their
neighbors with the same respect. From this
proposition, it is clear that human rights -- in
practice, as in principle -- can have no walls and no
Kofi Annan, Address to the UNESCO Ceremony marking the
50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, Paris, 8 December, 1998
Justice breaks out beyond the bounds of particular
cultural traditions and territorial boundaries. It
transcends generational barriers and imposes on every
generation duties towards those who are to follow. It
reaches beyond the bounds of the discipline of law and
fertilizes the interface area between law and any
discipline one may care to name.
to the “Road Map towards the implementation of the
UN Millennium Declaration”, all human rights –
civil, political, economic, social and cultural –
are universal and interdependent; they comprise the
foundations of human dignity.
Human rights are a central part of UN reform,
which emphasizes the centrality of human rights in all
activities of the system.
“People throughout the world remain victims of summary executions,
disappearances and torture.
Accuracy on numbers is difficult to ascertain
because violations take place in too many countries of
the world and are rarely reported.”
Where there are major violations of
human rights, there is also often a lack of democracy,
poor governance, negligible rule of law, as well as
general conflict and injustice.
Pervasive poverty and broad disparities in the
distribution of power also often go hand in hand with
human rights violations, which include transgressions
against cultural, socio-political, economical, and
Universalism vs. Cultural Relativism
major area of debate over the past several decades has
been the conflict between the two major perspectives
on human rights: the universalist and the cultural
former holds that an individual is a social unit,
possessing inalienable rights and driven by the
pursuit of self-interest. In fact, universalism is
used by many Western states to negate the validity of
more ‘traditional’ systems of law, and posits that
more ‘primitive’ cultures will gradually evolve to
espouse the same approach to rights and law as Western
the latter cultural relativist model, a community is
the basic social unit, and concepts such as
individualism, freedom of choice, and equality are
relatively absent. Cultural relativists tend to
believe that a traditional culture is unchangeable,
and implicitly that there is no unanimity across the
determination of that which represents the rights of
all individuals everywhere. As an approach, it appears to be in itself a rather arbitrary
idea, as cultures are rarely unified in their
viewpoints on different issues.
Needless to say, however, sensitivity to the
imperialism of western conceptions of human rights is
high in nations that embrace it.
|“The Commission on Human
Rights has been the central architect of the work of
the United Nations in the field of human rights…”
Mary Robinson, High Commissioner for Human Rights
Human Rights and the International Arena
become evident over the past several decades how
mechanisms of supranational governance and
intergovernmental collaboration have facilitated
progress towards a universal system of human rights.
The recent adoption of the International
criminal court in June 1998 is an important step in
the direction of enforcing and promoting the values
agreed upon by the member nations.
International organizations/committees “…
are responsible for using the implementation of the
international system for the protection of human
rights - it is through them that it is possible to
invoke a state’s obligations under international law
in order to obtain a formal or official response to
allegations of torture and obtain some form of
International Bill of Human Rights is comprised of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the
International Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights (CESCR), and the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR).
The Commission on Human Rights (see Table 4) -
a prime example of a non-treaty mechanism/body –
drafted a preliminary international bill of human
rights in 1947. The
Commission consists of the participation of about
3,000 delegates from 53 member and observer States and
from various NGOs.
Originally, the Commission on Human Rights
sought an International Covenant on Human Rights (CHR)
in order to vivify the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights; many drafts of this document were created in
the nearly two decades between 1949 and 1966.
Ultimately, however, it was decided in 1966
that two specialized treaties, the CESCR and the CCPR,
would exist instead of just the CHR; over 130
countries have since ratified them.
those who had to fight for their emancipation, such as
ourselves, who, with your help, had to free ourselves
from the criminal apartheid system, the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights served as the vindication
of the justice of our cause."
Mandela in address to the UN General Assembly in
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Universal Declaration of Human Rights came into
existence on December 10, 1948, born in the aftermath
of WWII, prior to which human rights were in large
part considered a subject of domestic concern.
The Declaration’s thirty articles
universalized global concern for a set of inalienable
human rights, including the basic right to life, to
safety from unfair persecution, to the freedom of
thought, expression and religion, and to more
culturally based rights pertaining to marriage,
employment, education and shelter.
René Cassin of France, a leading figure in
drafting the Universal Declaration, called it “an
authoritative interpretation of the UN Charter”,
while U Thant of Burma, UN Secretary-General in the
1960s, saw it as “the Magna Carta of mankind.”
Although adoption of this Declaration was
limited to the UN General Assembly and has thus been
non-binding and un-enforceable, the document itself
has served as a basis for the development of other
regional human rights agreements, including the
European Social Charter, the African Charter of Human
and Peoples Rights, and the Helsinki Accords (which
demanded that signatories adhere to ‘human rights
and fundamental freedoms’ - Principle 7).
yardstick for addressing democracy in a given society,
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights (1948) is particularly important to note in
understanding global human rights.
It states that everyone has the right to “…
hold opinions without interference and to seek,
receive and impart information and ideas through any
media regardless of frontiers.
It was further stipulated that news personnel
were to have the right to “… the widest possible
access to sources and information, to travel
unhampered in pursuit thereof, and to transmit copy
without unreasonable, or discriminatory limitation,
[and] should be guaranteed by action on the national
and international plane.
to say, NGOs played an important role in the
development, adoption and publicizing of the UDHR,
starting with the International League for the Rights
of Man (now the International League for Human
Rights), one of the earliest NGOs to practice the
tactic of ‘shaming’ of totalitarian regimes,
military dictatorships and even democratic societies.
main purpose of the International Covenant on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) that came
into force in 1976 was to further clarify rights
declared in the Universal Declaration, protecting
specifically the rights of workers (to choose one’s
job, fair wages and appropriate conditions) and
families (to paid leave for working mothers, and
protection of children, etc.). Broad rights to health, to protection from discrimination (by
race, color, sex, language, religion, political or
other opinion, etc.) and to an adequate standard of
living were also a major part of this covenant, and
are monitored by the Committee on Economic, Social and
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR)
came into force on March 23, 1976, also clarifying
rights stated in the UDHR, and elaborating upon new
rights associated with the protection of the sanctity
of life, rights protecting accused persons and
criminals, mobility rights, and civil rights.
These fall into the realm of the right to be
free from capital punishment (except under very grave
circumstances), the right not to be unfairly arrested
or detained, the general right to free movement, the
right not to be tortured; and the freedom of thought
and expression. The
CCPR bounds signatory countries to the protection of
their inhabitants, and is monitored by the Human
Rights Committee established in 1977.
Redress for Human Rights Violations
international level, there are a variety of
predominantly non-violent means employed by the United
Nations to deal with violations of human rights among
member nations, the majority of which tend to fall
under the category of ‘sanction’. These include suspension (deferring the privileges of a
member state), embargoes (limiting or halting a
country’s economic activity or communications flow),
expulsion (leading to the forced withdrawal of a
member state from the United Nations) and force
(military action used as a last resort against an
Intergovernmental Institutional dynamics
significant portion of the work of the UN Commissions
on Human Rights now takes place on the margins of
formal sessions, in informal networking among
governments, and between NGOs and other stakeholders.
Other UN bodies, such as UNICEF, UNIFEM, and
the offices of the UN High Commissioners for Refugees
and Human Rights often seek out the counsel of
networks of like-minded governments, NGOs, and
regional organizations such as the European Union, the
OSCE, the Council of Europe, the Organization of
American States, and the Organization for African
Paris principles, which were endorsed by the
Commission on Human Rights in 1992 and the General
Assembly in 1993, have become a particular reference
point for UN activity in the area of human rights.
More than 50 national human rights institutions
have been established according to them, and nearly 40
countries have undertaken the process of adopting
national plans for human rights (following the 1993
Vienna Declaration and Program of Action).
Up until the present, most members of the
United Nations have become either participant or
signatory to existing major human rights conventions
(See Figure 3). Indeed
among the most important milestones in advancing human
rights through the United Nations system occurred at
the World Conference on Human Rights, held in Vienna,
Austria, in June 1993.
Here, as previously, NGOs played a crucial
role, organizing an effective worldwide campaign to
ensure their participation; along with governments,
they were able to achieve a number of major
breakthroughs, including winning unanimous endorsement
for the creation of a UN High Commissioner for Human
Rights (office now held by Mary Robinson) and a
declaration reaffirming the universal nature of human
Total UN Membership)
“There is nothing new about man’s inhumanity to
is new is the known scale of violations.
Modern communications … put a global
spotlight on once invisible victims of repression.”
“ … human rights are not a Western discovery.”
S. Manglapus, Former Foreign Minister, Philippines
“Human rights are your rights. Seize them. Defend
them. Promote them. Understand them and insist on
them. Nourish and enrich them ... They are the best in
us. Give them life.”
Kofi Annan, Address
at the University of Tehran on Human Rights Day, 10
ICTs and Human Rights
use of ICTs in the realm of human rights can be broken
down broadly to four main realms whose level and
quality of interaction - amongst themselves and with
one another - has been vastly heightened as a result
of the deployment of communications networks.
Individuals, NGOs, national governments, and
supranational institutions have all been empowered
insofar as they have the means to effectively
communicate their stories, agendas, laws and
agreements, respectively and with maximum impact (see
Table 5). Indeed,
the ICTs like the Internet may facilitate the
networking and mobilizing functions of many NGOs
working across national borders, as a countervailing
force to the influence of technocratic elites and
government leaders running traditional international
organizations, and may be even more effective as a
force for human rights, providing a global platform
for opposition movements challenging autocratic
regimes and military dictatorships, despite government
attempts to restrict access in certain countries.
The evolving relationship of each of civil
society entities with one other – as enhanced and
strengthened by ICTs – is significant to any
analysis of governance (See Figure 7).
changing dynamic has contributed in many ways to the
development of a new ‘diplomacy of human rights,
which highlights the alleged tension between power and
morality, and which supersedes the predisposition of
organizations like the UN to focus ‘selective
morality’ on certain areas of the world over others.
Whereas national governments and supranational
institutions have long been positioned to guide,
respectively, the formation of national/international
policies through various well-oiled gears of public
diplomacy – individuals and civil society
representatives have not.
While ICTs have contributed greatly to the
enhanced transparency and accessibility of information
from the ‘top’, particularly insofar as legal and
administrative information is concerned, they have
done even more to improve the administrative,
organizational and management skills of the
‘bottom’, and thus to tip the scales of power
slightly back toward an equilibrium.
range of governments throughout the world continue to
utilize a variety of tools, including licensing,
limits on access to newsprint, control over government
advertising, jamming, and censorship, to inhibit
independent voices. The growth of new, Internet-based
media did help facilitate public access to a wide
range of information, but some governments continued
to develop means to monitor e-mail and Internet use
and restrict access to controversial, political,
news-oriented, and human rights web sites. Other
governments have chosen to prohibit Internet access or
limit it to political elites.
For those who subscribe to a ‘technological
determinist’ approach, these types of
examples are indeed supportive of the idea that
communications technologies are fundamental drivers in
the transformation of society at every level –
including social interaction between institutions and
Information Sharing and Systems
importance of general information sharing and more
transparent and accessible knowledge management
systems (typically private sector specializations that
are now being transposed upon organizations of the
public sector) are being emphasized through ICT
coordination in the promotion of humanitarian aid. Most notably, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian
Affairs (OCHA), which coordinated a symposium in
February 2002, has called for: information systems
driven by operational needs (particularly in
assessments and “who is doing what where”
databases); the development of standards of
information quality; the identification and
dissemination of successful technology applications;
the establishment of ways to connect disparate
information systems; and general improvement to
preparedness, including baseline data for high-risk
areas and rapid response humanitarian information
The idea that ICTs can help to avoid the
duplication of work and enhance the organizational
efficiency of those working in the field of
humanitarian aid is only just beginning to be
gathering as far as ‘human rights data’ is
concerned is in itself a tremendous challenge, for
prior to the actual sharing of information between
various organizations and networks arises the question
of how to quantify and represent acts of violence.
Only thus can researchers make systematic,
comparative analyses of patterns of human rights
violations in time and space.
Dr. Patrick Ball, Deputy Director of the
Science and Human Rights Program with the American
Association for the Advancement of Science is, for
example, particularly concerned with the design of
information management systems that provide
quantitative analysis for large-scale human rights
projects for truth commissions, grassroots human
rights NGOs, monitoring missions, etc.
ICTs thus obviously play an instrumental role
– not only in terms of spreading ‘the word’
about human rights violations and protection through
communication networks between civil society, national
and international entities – but also in terms of
formulating what ‘the word’ is, and determining
how real world incidents can be communicated to the
realm of factual, accessible information and data.
there is precious little ‘hard’ data that
effectively measures the extent to which human rights
are defended/protected on a relative
country-by-country level, there are proxies that can
help to get a general idea of what is happening on a
One index, created in 1987 by the Population
Crisis Committee and entitled “The Human Suffering
Index”, attempted to rank 140 countries on criteria
including life expectancy, daily calorie supply, clean
drinking water, infant immunization, secondary school
enrollment, gross national product per capita, rate of
inflation, communications technology, political
freedom and civil rights.
This index appears to have since been
transformed and discontinued.
Another interesting index that relates to human
rights and governance is that developed by
Transparency International (TI), an NGO that works at
both the national and international levels to curtail
the supply and demand of corruption by raising
awareness through the Internet, advocating policy
reform, and working towards the implementation of
multilateral conventions. TI chapters work to increase levels of accountability and
transparency, monitoring the performance of key
institutions and pressing for necessary reforms.
House, since 1972, has published an annual assessment
of state freedom by assigning each country and
territory the status of ‘free’, ‘partly free’,
or ‘not free’ by averaging their political rights
and civil liberties ratings (See Tables 6 and 7).
Despite the fact that this kind of analysis is usually
rife with difficulty given the subjective nature of
the topic, the fact that it is multi-dimensional, and
the fact that countries are highly complex systems,
some basic means of appraisal is valuable,
particularly once the definitions of the basic
elements – political rights, civil liberties,
institutionalized checks and balances – are
rankings encompass the rights of people to participate
freely in political processes, through which the
polity chooses authoritative policy makers and
attempts to make binding decisions affecting national,
regional, or local communities, and the freedoms to
develop views, institutions, and personal autonomy
apart from the state.
Freedom House International.
effort to more deeply examine the relationship between
ICTs and the Millennium Declaration goals associated
with human rights, democracy and good governance,
statistical analysis was undertaken to determine
whether or not a quantitatively based correlative
relationship exists between the deployment of
communication networks and the above-mentioned
principles across 161 countries.
Several dependent variables were tested as
proxies for the growth of ICTs (from the ITU
Indicators Database 2001), including the year-to-year
growth of main telephone lines per 100 people, the
year-to-year growth of mobile subscriptions per 100
people, and the year-to-year growth of Internet
subscribers (all data from 2000).
These were run against the weighted rankings of
Freedom House, which can be considered as a general
proxy for measuring the likelihood of a national
environment to be amenable to acceptable standards of
human rights protection, given a reasonable ranking of
protected civil and political liberties.
It is important in such analysis to control for
GDP (or GDP per capita) levels, given the strong
likelihood of a positive relationship between the
wealth of a country and the capacity of its population
to adopt use of mobile technologies and the Internet.
Year-to-year growth numbers were used in favor
of absolute penetration numbers because of this same
issue of high positive correlations; the extremely
high correlation between absolute penetration numbers
and the GDP variable lends to problems of
multicollinearity (and thus to explanatory
significance) in the analysis if absolute numbers are
a regression analysis yielded interesting results,
which were not entirely surprising. Despite the fact
that the data did not yield significant results for
the impact of mobile and Internet subscriber growth on
Freedom House rankings, the increasing growth of main
telephone lines per 100 people – combined with
controlling for higher GDP levels - did prove to
reasonably explain (with an R2 = .35)
corresponding lower Freedom House Rankings (for which
lower numbers signify higher levels of freedom).
It is crucial to bear in mind that Freedom
House rankings are reversed such that lower numbers
correspond to higher levels of freedom. Dropping the mobile and Internet variables entirely yielded
the following conclusion:
every 100% growth in telephone Mainlines per 100
people, there is likely to be a beneficial
corresponding change of -1.2 on the ‘freedom
scale’ towards a “Free” ranking by
Freedom House. In
other words, it is a reasonable claim to make that the
more enhanced the basic communications infrastructure
of a country, the more likely this will be conducive
to the assertion and manifestation of liberties and
rights for the citizenry.
Lower rankings indicate freer countries.
Freedom House, Link: http://www.freedomhouse.org/ratings/index.htm
evidence of this comes from another set of
quantitative analysis conducted at RAND (see Figure
4), indicating a strong correlation between democracy
(which also utilizes data from Freedom House as a
proxy measure of democracy) and electronic network
interconnectivity, which in this case consists of a
metric based on e-mail.
The Freedom House metric is derived from scores
assessed relative to checklists of questions about
fair elections, freely elected representatives,
independent media, free businesses, corruption, etc.,
and objective and subjective assessments. At the end of each year, Freedom House reports a rating from
1 to 7 for every country, from the greatest freedom to
the least, respectively; this scale is then inverted
and normalized to 100. The result of these cosmetic
conversions is a metric with 13 discrete values, the
maximum democracy rating is 100 (instead of 1) and the
minimum is 0 (instead of 7).
Note: The Democracy variable is
derived from Freedom House Data; the
interconnectivity variable is derived from an email
metric (see Footnote 53)
RAND, Link : http://www.rand.org/publications/RGSD/RGSD127/sec4.html.
strong clustering of data points indicates a trend
line that represents the strength of the relationship
between interconnectivity and democracy.
If one believes the contention that democracies
are more conducive to the protection of the human
rights of their citizens, this analysis supports the
further assertion that freedom of information on the
Internet [and as facilitated through other ICTs]
likely plays a vital role in strengthening human
|“In the polis, as conceived by Aristotle, direct
communication among and between all the political
actors in the system was an attainable ideal.”
“… the process of deepening liberal democratic
practices is complex and requires long-term
development of civic democratic consciousness and the
rule of law.”
“[In the aforementioned 1999 largest ever Gallup
survey] … two thirds of all respondents considered
that their country was not governed by the will of the
people. This opinion held even in some of the oldest
democracies in the world.”
communications technologies, especially satellite TV,
now seem to serve the same purpose in international
politics as they do at the domestic level.
Tyrannical behavior can be exposed, dissident
opinions can be aired, and public opinion can be
relayed back to governments (if only by the
unscientific means of mass demonstrations).”
ICTs, Democracy and Governance
is little utility in analyzing the relationships
between ICTs and human rights if the key topics of
democracy and good governance are not concomitantly
addressed, for before one can help to propagate the
other, both must be contextualized as the by-products
of the same system.
The main impact of ICTs [and the internet]
“… on democratic life concerns [their] ability to
strengthen the public sphere by expanding the
information resources, channels of electronic
communication, and the networking capacity for many
organized interest groups, social movements, NGOs,
transnational policy networks, and political parties
with the technical know-how and organizational
flexibility to adapt to the new medium.”
those who are convinced that the ideological role of
communications systems is vital to the shaping,
structuring or ‘framing’ of domestic and
examining the role of communication technologies must
precede any analysis of democracy and good governance.
Indeed, rights associated with communication have
often been viewed as among the primary gauges of
democracies (such as ‘freedom of communication’ or
the ‘right to communicate’), amidst some broader
criteria like individual civil rights, stability, and
free elections with opposition parties.
Further confirming the integral role of ICTs in
international relations is the proposition that the
democracies they help to facilitate do not war with
each other; this is very nearly considered empirical
law in international relations (although this does not
take into account the ‘covert’ activities of
democratic states that use journalists and media as
tools of destabilization).
The extent to which ICTs – since their most
basic inception – have been used to fulfill
strategic purposes in international relations must not
ICTs are indeed touted as the tools of bottom-up
empowerment and democratization that actively thwart
the ability of highly centralized dictatorial
governments to take form, it is important to bear in
mind the contradictory danger of facilitating a
“tyranny of the majority.”
That ICTs help to lower the ‘barriers to
entry’ to the political marketplace is not enough of
a benefit to posit an assumption that equality of
representation is the default outcome.
In countries – particularly in the developing
world – where the tendency toward political
factionalism is high, this can provide reinforcement
for a political dynamic that is not conducive to
development goals and human rights agendas.
Indeed, such “weak states are one of the main
impediments to effective governance today, at national
and international levels alike.”
Moreover, the capacity for ICTs to mobilize
mass segments of a population and to empower all the
various players of civil society should not predispose
one from recognizing that the pendulum does not always
swing towards democracy as a model of governance.
Historical references to the various uses of
audio/video technologies in various countries can be
easily made to reflect this point.
According to Aldous Huxley,
communication, in a word, is neither good nor bad; it
is simply a force and, like any
other force, it can be used either well or ill.
Used in one way, the press, the radio and the
cinema are indispensable to the survival of democracy.
Used in another way, they are among the most
powerful weapons in the dictator’s armory.”
there has been a marked increase in the emergence of
democracies over the past 20 years, supported by the
Commission on Human Rights’ articulation of a number
of elements for their promotion and consolidation –
including fair and periodic elections, an independent
judiciary, a transparent government and a vibrant
civil society. According
to Freedom House, there are more democracies in the
world today (120), and the highest proportion of
democratic states (63%), than ever before in history.
“States that respect the rights of all their
citizens and allow them all a say in decisions that
affect their lives are likely to benefit from their
creative energies and to provide the kind of economic
and social environment that promotes sustainable
Since 1989, the UN has received over 140
requests for electoral assistance from Member States
on the legal, technical, administrative and human
rights aspects of conducting democratic elections.
Occasionally, as in the cases of Kosovo and
East Timor, the mandate has expanded to the provision
of transitional administration, with supervision of an
entire political process designed to promote human
rights and democratic participation.
Representatives and their Constituents
nature of political interaction between
representatives and their constituents is particularly
interesting as it changes through the empowerment of
citizens with access to information at ever-decreasing
electronic communications and networks are playing an
important role in facilitating information sharing. Reduction of the opportunity costs of participation is a
potential ray of hope for the concomitant reduction of
the negative political implications of geographical
urban-rural divides. As the number of people with the capacity to have their
voices ‘heard’ gradually increases despite the
‘digital divide’, so too does the range of
considerations for their representatives, who must to
a certain extent re-cast themselves and find balance
between their jobs as decision-makers, and their role
as active proxies for public opinion. In some ways, representatives in a democratic system risk
being marginalized at the hand of new technologies, as
the information for which they are ‘middlemen’ now
easily bypasses their filters and in a sense,
undermines their position as focal point for their
Many hope that the Internet can strengthen
the institutions of representative democracy including
parliaments and political parties, as well as
providing a platform for opposition parties, protest
groups, and minorities seeking to challenge
Although the Internet does bring an added component of asymmetrical
interactivity unmatched by unidirectional radio and
television predecessors, assumptions of its impact on
political participation must be measured carefully.
Basic literacy is naturally a prerequisite for
the effective usage of these technologies in the forms
envisaged by theorists.
Even in places “… where many avenues to
political participation already exist, and where the
opportunity cost of participation is quite low… the
Internet does not provide a sufficient ‘added
value’ to make it a better alternative than more
traditional methods of political communication.”
Many theorists have attempted to find a working
model that explains the intuitive – albeit
mysterious – relationship between democracy and
1996) have attempted to build a case for the parallel
linkage between democracy and interconnectivity
(defined in his analysis as ‘access to email’) in
Africa, attempting to prove through statistical
analysis a positive and causal relationship between
the two. A
previous study in 1993 in 141 countries found a strong
correlation between democratization and
interconnectivity, even controlling for economic
However conclusive empirical findings
supporting the claim that electronic media have
contributed to democracy in Africa are undermined by
the lack of good aggregated data on the subject, by
stagnant literacy rates, and by the fact that private
radio and television have only recently been allowed
to exist in most places. Lag time may be necessary for the effects of such
technologies to be manifested.
Others (Van Koert, 2001) have taken another
analytical approach, positing that it is the
‘democratic deficit’ (the extent to which
democratic processes and structures are lacking) of a
nation state that determines the level of interactive
use of ICTs (specifically for rural development, in
this case). In
other words, the extent to which the ‘liberating
potential’ of ICTs is unleashed is contingent upon
the way governments can influence/control the content,
direction and nature of information flows.
Neither empirical evidence nor theoretical
frameworks appear to provide clear answers to this
“On the one hand, global communication has made the
task of development easier by providing rapid and
efficient access to sources of information on science,
technology, and markets. On the other hand, it has made the control of human behavior
that much more difficult for the centralized and
mobilized states focused on strict moral codes and
national development goals.”
– Majid Tehranian
[in] information, and communication and technology and
production, all these things make democracy more
Former U.S. President
- and specifically the enhanced ability to collect and
share information is revolutionizing the way we look
at traditional concepts of political legitimacy,
representation and ministerial accountability.
According to the OECD, the key issues include
the necessity of addressing the needs of the polity as
a whole, of facilitating the use of e-channels by
disadvantaged groups early in the implementation
process, and of building trust and confidence in
While ICTs provide obvious access to
information about various topics (including justice
and human rights), they also touch upon crucial
interfaces vis-à-vis the direct participation of
voters, thereby contributing to significant changes in
electoral systems digital advocacy and lobbying, and
online consultation are all part and parcel of the
transformations of governance shaped by ICTs.
said, however, it is important to note that these
observations are themselves not yet established facts.
An OECD study of e-governance, based on a
series of interviews with information specialists,
public officials and the policymaking community in
eight post-industrial societies in 1996-7, presented
evidence that the overall impact of the Internet has
failed to increase access to policymakers, to improve
the transparency of government decision-making, or to
facilitate public participation in policymaking.
There has been research conducted that supports
the idea that traditional methods like letters,
written submissions and informal meeting continued to
predominate, and that digital technologies have had
greater impact in the dissemination of information to
senior decision-makers and policy elites.
A key problem is the fact that opportunities
for ‘bottom up’ interactivity in communicating
with official government departments are far fewer
than the opportunities to read ‘top down’
websites rarely facilitate un-moderated public
feedback, for example few published public reactions
to policy proposals, or used discussion forums,
listservs and bulletin boards, although there have
been occasional experiments with interactive formats.
to Pippa Norris, there are two camps in the arena of
e-governance: cyber-optimists and
cyber-pessimists. Cyber-optimists are hopeful that the
development of interactive services, new channels of
communication, and efficiency gains from digital
technologies will contribute towards the
revitalization of the role of government executives in
representative democracies, facilitating
communications between citizen and the state.
In contrast, cyber-pessimists express doubts
about the capacity of governments to adapt to the new
environment effectively and with positive result
insofar as the questions of access and digital divide
have repercussions for political participation.
countries have already started to draw up principles
or adapt existing guidelines for discussion in the
online environment, and most have started to digitize
information relevant to the citizenry.
One important question is how governments are
to manage the publication of their information: do
they publish only policies that have been agreed upon
by parliament, or do they also publish information in
the stage of preparation of policies? How complete is
The basis of e-democracy, and thus of online
public consultations, involves giving the public the
chance to consult government information
is not enough to give formal permission for
information to be accessed, which is why a distinction
is made between access and accessibility.
The former refers to the real possibility of
consulting or acquiring government information
electronically, while the latter refers to the ease
with which one can actually make use of the
possibility of consulting government information
is taking rapid hold around the world (See Figure 5,
and Appendix Tables 8 & 9).
Affluent postindustrial societies
characteristically have the widest access to multiple
forms of communication technologies (including
traditional media as well as digital in form of
computers and Internet hosts), and it makes sense that
such an environment is most conducive to the spread of
United Kingdom is a good example of a country that has
been very active in bringing government online.
Amidst changing public perceptions and
expectations of the British Parliament, and
authoritative evidence indicating a decline of public
participation in the political process, efforts are
being made in the U.K. to leverage ICTs in order to
influence public perceptions, help meet public
expectations, and facilitate the inevitable transition
that Members of Parliament are bound to face as new
technologies proliferate amongst their constituencies.
As another example, the United Arab Emirates is
also investing in ICT solutions toward facilitating
e-government, bringing online and working across over
40 government departments employing 25,000 people.
to a biannually released survey conducted by the
American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) and
the United Nations Division for Public Economics and
Public Administration (UNDPEPA), the US was ranked
first for its e-government initiatives ahead of
Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Norway.
In all, sixty-one member state countries scored
above the mean global index of 1.62; geographically by
region, North America, Europe, South America and the
Middle East all registered an index above the global
mean, while Asia, the Caribbean, Central America and
Africa fell below the index.
Of the 190 UN member states, 169 were providing
some degree of information online in 2001, although
for over 25% of these countries, the content of the
websites was deemed to consist of insufficient
information less geared toward public participation
than to pure public relations. The
capacity to conduct transaction of any kind online at
the national government level was available in just 17
member states in 2001.
the 523 journalists killed between 1992 and 2002, 374
were intentionally murdered: 128 for their political
opinions, 67 for having exposed corruption, and 179
because they were in conflict areas but were killed
despite having identified themselves as reporters.”
- Reporters Sans Frontières & Damocles Network.
As referred to in the
introductory quote by Mary Robinson, High Commissioner
for Human Rights, the freedom of expression and
information is vital.
It also happens to be a cornerstone of
democratic, pluralistic systems, as well as a major
indicator for the extent of effective application of
ICTs to human rights causes.
Certainly, full democracy cannot be tacit
without an analogous full enjoyment of the freedom of
expression, and the public debate that it engenders.
This is in line with a wide range of theorists
– from Milton to Madison to Mill – who have argued
that free and independent press within each nation can
play a fundamental role in the process of
democratization by contributing towards the right of
freedom of expression, thought and conscience,
strengthening the sensitivity of governments to all
citizens, and providing a pluralist platform of
political expression for a array of groups.
According to Amartya Sen’s premises, such
political freedoms have an intrinsic link with
economic and human development, particularly in
The monopoly of or interference in ICTs and
media for the purpose of controlling information can
be a core obstacle to the realization of the needs of
a democratic society,
and can be perpetrated by private and state entities
this regard, it lies in the obligation of states
“… to guarantee or promote a climate of open and
plural public debate, and to correct a situation in
which these characteristics are absent or
This obligation has been
articulated in the international arena, confirming the
right of the public to be informed and to free
has been encapsulated as a basic human right in the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the
UN in 1948, the European Convention on Human Rights,
and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.
The European Commission of Human Rights, for
example, has officially affirmed the duty of the state
to protect against excessive concentration of the
press, while the Committee of Ministers of the Council
of Europe declared in 1982 that “states have the
duty to prevent infractions against freedom of
expression and information and should adopt policies
designed to promote… a variety of media and
pluralism in the sources of information...”
The United Nations Human Rights Committee has stated
similarly that, with the development of modern mass
communications media, effective measures are needed to
prevent the control of these media that interfere with
the right of all to express themselves freely,
contrary to the guarantees contained in the
International Covenant in Article 19(3).
many ways, the impact of ICTs in the human rights
context is tempered by the same factors that determine
the extent to which a free press is able to manoeuvre
in those countries where abuses are prevalent.
The ability of the media to function
unfettered by government fosters the creation of
strong social networks, while engaging citizens in
public affairs. Arguably,
the extent to which there is a functioning free press
is indicative of the likelihood that human rights are
going to be effectively impacted through ICTs.
Out of the top sixty countries
(See Figure 6) with the most ‘free press’
violation alerts this past year according to the
International Freedom of Expression Exchange,
twenty-one of them– according to Reporters Sans
have been in active violation of the human rights of
journalists – indicating major challenges to be
faced particularly in Asia and Africa (see Figure 6
for breakout). These
are listed on the ‘Impunity Blacklist’, comprised
of those countries in which murderers, abductors and
torturers of journalists are being granted full or
partial impunity by their government.
Information technology is driving nation-states
toward cooperation with each other.
It has created a new world monetary standard,
an ‘information standard’, which has replaced the
gold standard and the Bretton Woods agreements.
There is no way for any nation to opt out of
the Information Standard.”
is not synonymous with government, and considerable
governance underlies the current order among
electronic global market has produced what amounts to
a giant vote-counting machine that conducts a running
tally on what the world thinks of a government's
diplomatic, fiscal, and monetary policies. That
opinion is immediately reflected in the value the
market places on a country's currency.
Information is the pre-eminent form of
depends on how the characteristics of the global
system are perceived: either as the continuing
dominance of states or states as a part of a larger
new order. There is no clear-cut evidence to support
or reject either of these perspectives, and "a
new or reconstituted global order may take decades to
Power and global trends
discussion on democracy invariably leads to the
broader issue of governance – incorporating the
dynamic of the institutions, the people, and the
various types of agency they wield in the process of
governing a nation.
As ICTs propagate, the power to influence is
more increasingly widely distributed, and hence the
tasks of governance – on both national and
international levels – become progressively more
complex and challenging. A wide variety of modern trends are affecting the
state-centric system of governance from all angles:
these include international organizations like the UN
and the E.U., nationalist separatist movements,
international terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda,
multinational organizations like General Motors, and
international NGOs like Amnesty International.
The majority of these fall squarely within the
confines of the ‘realist’ paradigm – in part
because they are statist in orientation, or because
they seek the control of power in the form of land and
that distinguish themselves from the rest are groups
like those referred to by R.B. Walker in 1988,
espousing ‘critical social movements’– women’s
movements, environmental movements, antinuclear
movements, and movements struggling for human rights.
These types of entities are unique because they
are geared toward the “… general transformation of
public consciousness, which in turn affects the
parameters of legitimacy within which traditional
institutions must operate.”
– like Wriston – believe that the information
revolution is profoundly threatening to existing power
structures in the international system because the
nature and powers of the sovereign state are being
challenged in fundamental ways. The constitutions of national governments and their treaties
have been challenged by the demands of increasingly
well-defined ethnic and other subgroups,
confrontations to traditional borders created by new
information technologies, and the globalization of
economies. “As power increasingly resides in the people, the world
will become more complex, and we will live “in a
kind of international democracy.”
On the other hand, Hirst
and Thompson argue that the nation state retains its
power in the modern era and the main trend has been
towards the growth of regional blocs, where
nation-states remain the primary actors, not the
emergence of a new world order that transcends states.
any case, the more information is disseminated in the
direction of those who have not been privy to it in
the past, the more of a challenge there will be to
political ‘incumbents’; escalating pressures on
governments for attention to freedom and human rights
causes are a case in point.
Nye, Joseph S., “Information Technology and
Democratic Governance”, Governance.com (Cambridge,
MA: Visions of
Governance in the 21st century),
various entities presented in Figure 7 – including
transnational corporations/banks/ financial
institutions, and investors engage with counterparts
at the sub-national and national levels, they
increasingly serve as a bridge for the propagation of
human rights norms and advocates for human rights
to the U.S. State Department, some of the most
successful transnational networks are those that
partner with, respond to, or support government
initiatives on behalf of democracy and human rights.
While there is no international consensus on
how best to address the questions of past human rights
violations, particularly in the context of complex
democratic transitions, a great deal of concrete
progress has nonetheless occurred, including the
establishment of International Criminal Tribunals.
Certainly, no international consensus yet
exists on international justice issues, the
controversial subject of the International Criminal
Court being one example of this debate.
Legitimacy and violence
is a cornerstone of good governance, and to a very
large extent, civil society representatives like NGOs
and the tools they use to heighten global awareness
and public sensitivities are indispensable to the
solid construction of that legitimacy.
“… Citizens express more confidence in the
system of government where, according to the Freedom
House classification, there are widespread
opportunities for civic participation and protection
of human rights.”
is also extremely important, through the course of a
discussion on global governance, to point out that
mention of a ‘global civil society’ in no way
implies the obliteration of discord or conflict within
its framework – for the rights of individuals can
easily come in conflict with the rights of groups, and
the means by which entities (like councils in
traditional villages) resolve such issues are not
necessarily exclusive of violence or power-mongering.
The role of violence has indeed been considered
central in state-centric politics, and in the process
of state formation and evolution of the state system.
States are in fact the main perpetrators of
human rights abuses within their own borders – with
examples of genocide and ethnic extermination rife
even in the last fifty years.
Yet, “… while critical social movements are
not free of violence altogether, sundry cases
illustrate that a philosophical commitment to
non-violence is a prominent feature of the globalist
“The same Internet that has facilitated the spread
of human rights and good governance norms has also
been a conduit for propagating intolerance and has
diffused information necessary for building weapons of
- Kofi Annan, "The
Work of the Organization", A/54/1; para. 254
the largest survey of public opinion ever conducted -
of 57,000 adults in 60 countries, spread across all
six continents … the
centrality of human rights to peoples’ expectations
about the future role of the United Nations was
showed widespread dissatisfaction with the level of
respect for human rights.
In one region fewer than one in 10 citizens
believed that human rights were being fully respected,
while one third believed they were not observed at
by race and gender were commonly expressed concerns.
Gallup International, 1999
the earliest emergence of new ICTs like radio,
proselytizers of all kinds, since the era of the
telegraph, have evoked images of the ‘welding of
humanity into one composite whole…”, and the
“…[revitalization] of citizen-based democracy”;
as it has turned out, radio did not eliminate the
inequalities of the world, and the capacity of the
Internet or other new technologies to do the same is
While indeed the Internet does create a new
digital ‘public sphere’ due to its
disintermediated nature, whether or not it can be
actually free from the control of dominant political
and economic powers is a tenuous point. Theorists like Habermas believed that the existence of such a
sphere would be a stepping-stone toward a higher
quality of public participation in governance provided
it was characterized by equality, inclusion,
rationality and transparency.
Yet, can “informed interactive debate
[facilitated by ICTs]… flower independent of
government or commercial control”,
and actually make a difference to the predicament of
those who suffer human rights abuses?
Some like Leggewie simply point to the
under-utilization of multi-directional communication
in cyberspace in refutation of the above notion of
‘informed debate’, citing instead an increasing
trend of centralization that renders ICTs unable to
fulfill their potential to bring about true “digital
participatory democracy… and tele-democracy”.
to optimists, however, the Internet serves multiple
functions for organizations fighting for human rights
and democracy, including email lobbying of elected
representatives, public officials, and policy elites;
networking with related associations and
organizations; mobilizing organizers, activists and
members using action alerts, newsletters and emails;
raising funds and recruiting supporters; and
communicating their message to the public via the
traditional news media.
The Internet is most useful for transnational
advocacy networks, exemplified by diverse campaigns
such as the movement against the production and sale
of land mines, demonstrators critical of the WTO
meeting in Seattle, environmentalists in opposition of
genetically modified foods, and anti-sweatshop
Indeed, see information technologies as the
“backbone of NGO collaboration.”
Conducting research in this
area yields a great deal of information vis-à-vis
online initiatives created by aforementioned civil
society stakeholders, that espouse international human
rights protection and target the general development
goals encapsulated in the Millennium Declaration
through the application of ICTs.
In conjunction with the relevant websites of UN
organizations like the ITU, UNHCHR, etc., the
following list provides a sampling of what can be
- Human Rights Watch (www.hrw.org)
is a good example of a website dedicated to
investigating and exposing human rights
violations, in the attempt to hold abusers
Stated goals include the prevention of
discrimination, upholding political freedom,
protecting people from inhumane conduct in
wartime, and bringing offenders to justice.
The organization challenges governments and
those who hold power to end abusive practices and
to respect international human rights law by
publishing findings in numerous books and reports
every year, thereby generating extensive coverage
in local and international media.
- Amnesty International (www.amnesty.org)
is a very prominent online campaigning movement
that works to promote all the human rights
enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights and other international standards.
Amnesty International campaigns to free
prisoners of conscience; ensure fair and prompt
trials for political prisoners; abolish the death
penalty, torture and other cruel treatment of
prisoners; end political killings and
‘disappearances’; and oppose human rights
abuses by opposition groups.
The organization has around a million
members and supporters in 162 countries and
- Derechos (www.derechos.org
works online for the promotion and respect of
human rights all over the world, for the right to
privacy and against impunity for human rights
violators, using the Internet as a primary
information and communication tool.
Derechos works with human rights
organizations in Latin America and around the
work consists of educating the public about human
rights and human rights violations; investigating
human rights abuses (including their causes,
development and consequences), contributing to the
development of international and national human
rights law and the rule of law, preserving the
memory of victims of human rights violations, and
carrying out projects of assistance to human
rights NGOs, activists and victims
- OneWorld.net (www.oneworld.net)
– founded in 1995 - is another good example of
such an initiative, dedicated to harnessing the
democratic potential of the Internet to promote
human rights and sustainable development,
promoting the rights of individuals to inform and
be informed (with access for all to the benefits
of new technology), and aiming to be the online
media gateway that most effectively informs the
world about human rights and sustainable
development, while empowering local communities
and encouraging mutually rewarding partnerships
between organizations and individuals in the
The site (available in four languages)
contains approximately 15,000 pages with almost
100,000 links to progressive organizations
promoting human rights and sustainable
development. Oneworld is an excellent example of
an organization exploring various channels of ICTs,
with their use of video on the Internet – dubbed
OneWorld TV - as a powerful tool in raising the
impact of organizations working on human rights.
This represents, in a sense, a different
kind of ‘reality TV’.
According to some, “… we have never had
so much reality TV; the only problem is, it has
never been less real”.
OneWorld International has the support of
more than 1,250 partner NGOs around the world,
with supporters including Oxfam, Greenpeace,
Unicef, the Rockefeller Foundation, BT and the
optimal exposure, meetings are currently underway
with the BBC in order to discuss the possibility
of a broadcast version via digital satellite.
is an international NGO working with partners in
Africa and Asia in order to stimulate informed
public debate, particularly by working with the
media and building media capacities.
Along with catalysing debate on national
and regional levels, Panos works to ensure that
perspectives from developing countries reach the
Northern public through the media, thereby
increasing the exchange of ideas, information and
experience between developing countries and the
industrialised world. Panos has a decentralised
structure with regional centers in Africa, Asia
and Latin America.
founded in 1985 with the aim of producing
follow-up reports on catastrophes that the
established press has been criticized of
homepage features a daily count of illegally
imprisoned journalists, and the Internet is widely
leveraged as a source of detailed information as
various countries are featured with their latest
news on Internet freedom, human rights and
incarcerated media professionals.
is a proponent of democratic values and a
steadfast opponent of dictatorships, led by a
Board of Trustees composed of leading American
Democrats, Republicans, & Independents; as
well as business and labour leaders; former senior
government officials; scholars; writers; and
This organization leverages its presence on
the web and is widely used as a reference point
for those seeking indicators of the extent of
political rights and civil liberties afford to
citizenry in nations around the world.
- Fahamu.org (www.fahamu.org)
is a website committed to supporting progressive
social change in the South through ICTs by
producing electronic newsletters, disseminating
information about social justice in Africa,
producing distance learning materials for human
rights and humanitarian organizations, providing
training through face-to-face workshops, managing
websites, making web-based resources available for
offline use, and undertaking general social policy
research on the continent.
- The Institute for Global Communications (www.igc.org)
was established in 1990, serving as an umbrella
site containing several hundred thousand links to
a wide variety partner sites like Idealist/Action
Without Borders, Project Change, Entango,
Independent Source, MetaEvents and Protest.net.
As early as 1987, IGC was officially formed
to manage PeaceNet and the newly acquired EcoNet
(among the first computer networks dedicated to
environmental preservation and sustainability).
The mission of IGC is to advance the work of
progressive organizations and individuals for
peace, justice, economic opportunity, human
rights, democracy and environmental sustainability
through strategic use of online technologies.
- Witness.org (www.witness.org)
is a human rights website that focuses on
strengthening local activists by giving them video
cameras and field training.
Witness uses an arsenal of computers,
imaging and editing software, satellite phones and
email, and partner groups are committed to
revealing human rights violations that go
unnoticed and unreported -- to governments and
communities, to international tribunals and UN
committees, and to TV viewers worldwide via
outlets like the BBC, CNN, ABC, Court TV and
Worldlink Satellite Television.
Their videos have been used as evidence in
legal proceedings, for grassroots education, in
news broadcasts, and for web broadcasting via the
have been applied in a wide variety of cases and
contexts, many of which have positively contributed to
the protection of human rights in a given country by
raising international awareness and mobilizing public
opinion accordingly. The cases of South Africa and East Timor are most notable in
this context. New
technologies have been instrumental in the development
of networking between all kinds of inter-communal and
inter-ethnic groups, who have as a result of their
coordinated activities, succeeded in having a real
impact on all manner of government initiatives and
examples abound in India (where they particularly
numerous), Brazil, Canada, etc. On the other hand, there have also been many cases in
which these same technologies have been used to
provoke violence and promote hatred amidst the
struggle of various entities to maintain power in
their various locales.
most authoritarian regimes pass laws, monitor and
censor with the greatest fervour.
And yet, nothing reconfirms the potency of ICTs
better than the formalized actions taken by
governments in attempt to repress them; Cases A-H
reflect positive applications of ICTs in the human
rights sphere, Cases J and K are examples of
banning/prohibition of new technologies for the
purpose of retaining control, while Case I illustrates
how ICTs can actually have an extremely detrimental
roles in places where democracy, governance and rule
of law are not intact.
A: Electronic media as a grassroots weapon of
NGO groups, through the use of websites, camcorders,
and email, convey their uncensored messages to the
world in order to activate and motivate.
For example, the success of many international
grassroots campaigns have been contingent upon usage
of the web and the collaboration of a variety of
international citizens’ groups as they coordinate
their positions, exchange information, and alert
WTO meeting in Seattle in late November 1999 is a good
example of this phenomena, bringing together an
alliance between labor and environmental activists –
the Turtle Teamster partnership – along with a
network of consumer advocates, anti-capitalists, and
grassroots movements that attracted a media ‘feeding
Groups integrated the Internet into their strategies,
for example the International Civil Society website,
which provided hourly updates about the major
demonstrations in Seattle to a network of almost 700
NGOs in some 80 countries, including groups of human
rights organizations, environmentalists, students,
religious groups, and others.
Other well-known examples include the anti
land-mine campaign in the mid to late-1990s, the
anti-globalization protests against the World Bank and
IMF in Prague, against the EU meetings in Gothenberg,
and the G8 in Genoa, and the widespread anti-fuel tax
protests that disrupted European politics in October
B: Using the internet to gain pledges and defend
global Internet campaign (entitled "Say
Yes") was launched in London, New York and other
capitals last year to amplify the cause of children's
goal was to leverage the power of the Internet to gain
millions of individual pledges supporting the
Convention on the Rights of the Child, with pledges
gathered online and offline to be delivered to world
online hub of this Global Movement for Children was
Netaid.org, designed to enable organizations and
individuals to download ballot papers and carry them
to poor communities on the ‘other side of the
C: Bangladesh: Creating a Human Rights Portal*
Bangladesh Human Rights Portal (www.banglarights.net)
will actively promote human rights reforms within
Bangladesh and across geographical, social and
political boundaries, supporting marginalized
communities, women and children. More information is
available at: http://www.banglarights.net/HTML/significantcases.htm.
Bangladesh also happens to be home to one of
the key global success stories
of cellular telephony access provision (GrameenPhone)
to the rural poor, leveraging Bangladesh-based Grameen
Bank’s networks to bring ICTs to village-based
D: El Salvador: Probidad*
promotes democratization efforts through
diverse and integrated anti-corruption initiatives,
most of which rely on the use of ICTs and an extensive
network of contacts.
The activities are designed to monitor
corruption and control mechanisms, mobilize awareness
about the complexities and costs of corruption and
increased interest and participation in curbing it,
enhance the anti-corruption capacity of other civil
society organizations, media, government, business,
and researchers in our region; and contribute to more
informed local and context-specific measures that
undermine corruption and promote good governance.
E: Armenia: Promoting democratic participation through
National Academy of Sciences has launched a new
with support from UNDP to harness information and
communications technology to promote democracy.
The website helps to increase public
participation in governance, create new opportunities
to broaden public awareness about democratic issues
and establish new opportunities for interaction.
F: Vietnam: CD-ROM puts laws in citizens' hands*
Lawyer”, a new CD-ROM, is making Vietnam's laws and
information on citizens' rights readily accessible,
spelling out in simple language how to start a
business, protect land rights and get a divorce. As a
first step, the Office of the National Assembly (ONA)
is distributing copies of the CD-ROM to offices of
delegates to the National Assembly in all 61
provinces, offices of provincial People's Councils,
and media organizations.
G: Zimbabwe: Harnessing email and the Internet*
The NGO Network Alliance
Project (NNAP) aims to strengthen the use of email and
Internet strategies (www.kubatana.net)
in Zimbabwean NGOs and civil society organizations.
The NNAP will make human rights and civic education
information accessible to the general public from a
centralized, electronic source.
H: South Africa: The PIMS Monitor*
Political Information and Monitoring Service (PIMS) (www.pims.org.za/monitor)
aims to support democracy and promote good ethical
governance in South Africa through the building of
government and civic capacity for democracy, in
particular through training and related activities. The Monitor aims to help audience engage with democracy,
intervene in the legislative process and make
submissions to parliament.
The PIMS Monitor also offers comprehensive,
plain-language summaries of complicated documents.
I: Radio as a tool for inciting violence and human
radio is a very democratic medium, which, when used in
a decentralized manner may give local people and
communities an opportunity to express their grievances
in representative discussions.
This however presupposes the establishment of
decentralized structures and local and community radio
stations as well as radio stations representing the
views of organizations in civil society such as trade
use of ICTs in a manner exceptionally detrimental to
the protection of human rights is best exemplified in
the case of Country C, wherein NGO human rights
organizations and UN officials asserted publicly that
radio transmissions were used to incite ethnic tension
and murder on a mass scale.
This took place in a country wherein the
inadequacies of basic information infrastructure
provided a stark contrast to the highly systematic and
synchronized manner in which ethnic extermination was
from the military, the government, and business
communities were responsible in this case for the
widespread use of broadcasted communications to
achieve their political aims.
In many ways, this case became a hallmark
example of the dilemma posed to the international
community vis-à-vis the rights of sovereign states
under international law and justifications for radio
J: Dual-use technologies increase surveillance
In Country J, the very
transnational companies responsible for developing
communications technology developed for commercial
purposes are also now being reviewed due to the
dual-use of the technology, which is being used by
police and security forces to refine the targeting and
repression of political dissidents.
The networks apparently allow main authorities
an unprecedented ability to conduct surveillance and
to monitor the activities of human rights and
more than 20 million Internet users already, this
country trains brigades of police officers to fight a
war against anti-governmental articles published on
the Web, and passes highly repressive laws:
cyber-crime is punishable by the death penalty.
K: Cutting Internet access to international human
countries have categorically decided: no servers, no
According to information collected by
Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) in a news report at the end of 2001, fixed and mobile
telephone lines of many government opposition figures
in Country K have been cut, preventing access of
nationals of the country to RSF, the International
Federation of human Rights (IFHR), Human Rights Watch,
as well as to various journalists and members of the
European Parliament. Access to the Internet has been curtailed in some areas, and
many news sites – particularly those associated with
human rights protection – have been blocked.
The RSF, in the meantime, pointed out that the
president of Country K is included on its list of the
world’s thirty-nine press freedom predators.
In another Country L, the government
telecommunications monopoly’s decision to regulate
the Internet in the country to block cheap telephony
and pornography has come under fire for intruding on
personal rights and freedoms.
like Country M, prefer to build huge ‘national
intranet’ systems to filter addresses and content.
“All the world’s a stage…”
- William Shakespeare
Just as ‘equality must begin
in real life before permeating cyberspace’,
so must human rights movements be translatable to the
real world as their mission expands along with the
proliferation of ICTs. If the exponential growth of cost efficiencies associated
with Moore’s Law, combined with the
network incentives associated with Metcalfe’s Law
had half as much impact on human rights as they do on
computer prices and network value, one could posit
indeed that analyses of ‘ICTs and human rights’
would not be relevant for long.
One would assume in such a world that the
mission of the civil society organizations that work
in this realm would resonate clearly with all
concerned entities, and that good governance and rule
of law would be attainable in as much time as it takes
for communication networks to be fully deployed in
nations around the world.
Unfortunately, the simplicity of such economic
formulations is easily undermined in the reality of
complex social systems of the international arena.
The intricate nature of the
various systems that comprise governance at its
various supranational, national and sub-national
levels require more than a single model or trend line
to explain key dynamics.
Likewise, the goals of the Millennium
Declaration are manifold, and its principles inclusive
of a great many topics that each equally comprises a
rung on the ladder of development.
Therefore, examining ICTs in the context of the
realms of human rights, democracy and broader
governance yields a few key lessons.
One lesson lays in a realistic
conceptualization of the power of ICTs vis-à-vis
those in the international system who wield them:
communications technologies are unlikely to bring
about anything better than the best intentions of
those who use them.
While many look at modern technology as a
panacea for old problems, unfortunately it appears
that their power for enhancing transparency, imposing
international accountability and fostering cooperation
stretches only as far as the will of respective nation
states bends to embrace and adopt them.
Even assertions about the enhancement of
democratic participation by ICTs must be tempered by a
broader understanding of the dynamic between the
entities of greatest influence, and how much the
empowerment of the public can affect those who govern
and sell to them.
Fortunately, with the
increasing commodification of information and
decreasing costs of access (in most, but not all
places) has emerged a sense of urgency (in LDCs and
developed countries alike) to partake in ‘the
Herein lies the power of a ‘virtuous cycle’
associated with ICTs: as inclusion translates to the
physical realm technology deployment, so does
deployment translate in large part to global
accessibility, and ultimately, to government and
business accountability across a wide spectrum of
as a new ICT network may provide a nation the eyes
with which to see across the global ‘information
superhighway’, so too does it render it an object of
Another lesson comes from
assessing the expansion and maturation of the
international political landscape, as it grows to
incorporate the voices of those entities not
traditionally infused with power. The efforts of civil
society transnational actors are being increasingly
rewarded as global/national public opinion becomes
significant in international relations.
With them, organizations like the ITU are
providing the international legal framework upon which
cooperation between governments, the private sector,
and other actors can be forged.
It appears all told that governance is not so
much about imposing rigid control as it is building an
environment that fosters cooperation and trust.
To conclude, ICTs have proven
to be very effective instruments for disseminating
information relating to human rights violations on a
How governments of the world react to the
various claims and complaints they facilitate does
actually now translate to the realm of international
commitments to uphold universally agreed upon
principles for human rights. Violations of these commitments can no longer be covered by
the cloak of national sovereignty, or even indeed by
the suppression of free press.
The instant, asymmetrical nature of digital
communication networks increasingly lends to the
subversion of attempts of human rights transgressors
to hide their deeds.
Meanwhile, what remains is again the
implementation and application of the conclusions that
are drawn from having seen or learned what images and
information ICTs can convey.
Certainly, as long as NGOs and their civil
society counterparts can continue to be an integral
part of strengthening a bottom-up approach to
governance, ICTs will continue to be vitally important
tools for democratization and the formation of the
infrastructure and content of the ‘information
despite the fact that the enforceability of
UN-sanctioned mechanisms may still be limited, it
appears increasingly valid that in today’s world,
the reputations of human rights violators who defy the
rule of law and shirk good governance do indeed matter
on the world stage.
J. N. Rosenau, and E. Czempiel, (Eds.), Governance
without government: Order and change in world
politics, (Cambridge & New York: Cambridge
University Press, March 1992), Link: http://horizon.unc.edu/projects/OTH/13_poli1.asp
Rosenau and Czempiel, Link: http://horizon.unc.edu/projects/OTH/1-3_poli1.asp