World Summit on the Information Society Opens in Tunis
Tunis, 16 November — Phase two
of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) opened today with more
than 16,000 delegates from 176 countries meeting in Tunis to focus on forging
strategies to improve the accessibility and affordability of information and
Speaking at the Summit’s opening ceremony, Secretary-General of the
International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Yoshio Utsumi, who is also serving
as Secretary-General of WSIS, urged world leaders to put information and
communication technologies (ICTs) at the heart of their national economic and
social development policies.
Mr Utsumi spoke passionately about the unprecedented opportunities offered by
new technologies, and warned of the threat of increasing global inequality if
access to these powerful tools for economic growth remained predominantly in the
hands of the world’s richest nations.
"We have within our grasp the opportunity to build a more just and equitable
society, an Information Society in which developing countries, even with their
lack of industrialization, geographical challenges or troubled past, have –
perhaps for the first time in human history - a very real chance to catch up
with their more affluent neighbours," Mr Utsumi said in discussions after the
The Summit was officially opened by His Excellency Mr. Zine El Abidine Ben
Ali, President of Tunisia, who welcomed delegates to Tunis Carthage, ancient
city of dialogue, for the purpose of building a knowledge and communication
society aimed at ensuring a brighter future for all humanity. The President
stressed the need for more cooperation between all international players, to
reduce disparities between peoples and ensure a balanced, safe and equitable
President Ben Ali’s comments were followed by remarks by the
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who focused attention on the issue of Internet
governance, and stressed that the UN is striving to protect and strengthen the
Internet and to ensure that its benefits are available to all. "Let me be
absolutely clear," he said. "The United Nations does not want to ‘take over’,
police or otherwise control the Internet." Mr Annan went on to express his hope
that the future global information society will be one that fosters development,
dignity and peace.
The importance of enshrining open access to information was also taken up by
Switzerland’s president Samuel Schmid, who made a plea for freedom of expression
and information to be made central themes of this World Summit and beyond.
Other opening speakers included Craig Barrett, Chairman of Intel Corporation,
Ambassador Janis Karklins, president of the WSIS Tunis phase preparatory
process, and Ms Shirin Ebadi, winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize.
Speaking as the representative of civil society, Ms Ebadi recommended that a
special committee be set up under the UN, with representatives from ITU, UNESCO,
the UN Commission for Human Rights, UNICEF, UNDP, and various NGOs, to monitor
problems like Internet filtering and constraints on freedom of expression.
Mr Barrett, as the representative of the business community, spoke of the
Internet’s as the medium of choice for information access, commerce,
communication, and most importantly, education, stressing the need for
knowledge-based decision-making through education and skills development.
Ambassador Karklins called the Summit a critical milestone in our vision of
the future. The Summit is not a response to a problem, he said, but
rather to a challenge: to improve the lives of people the world over.