Statement by ms shirin ebadi
Chairman of "the defenders of human rights center"
on BEHALF of "the CIVIL society"
international federation for human rights
Mr Summit Chairman,
Mr Kofi Annan,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am very honoured to represent NGOs and civil society
before this assembly.
I hope that the United Nations Organization will add to
its strength day by day, by increasingly taking into
consideration the organizations representing civil society.
This is particularly crucial because some governments are
not genuinely elected by their people, and fail to respect
their people’s desires and interests when taking decisions
at the international level.
In so doing, however, care must be taken so that
undemocratic governments do not manipulate decision-making
in international forums by stacking them with pseudo-NGOs
that they have set up to spread disinformation about the
situation within the country.
It should never be forgotten that governments are
supposed to be serving their people; for how is it possible
to imagine that people are born into this world only to be
dominated by those who govern them and take decisions
without their consent.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We live in an age in which access to information is the
main factor in development, progress and hope. For this
reason, the digital divide that we see between the
industrialized countries and the developing countries will
create a growing gulf between the rich and the poor, within
individual countries and at the global level.
The burgeoning of the information society has, on the one
hand, created a golden opportunity for development, a chance
to improve the conditions under which people live; but it
has also highlighted the precarious situation of the
non-industrialized countries. Thus it is the people, who are
the main users, the end-users for these information systems,
who pay the price for their governments' negligence in
dealing with this important issue and making the necessary
By way of illustration, if we look at the national
military budgets, whether in the developed world or in poor
countries, we see how greatly the digital divide could be
reduced if only military spending were trimmed.
There is also a need for the industrialized countries to
make a contribution to all of humanity by helping the
Around the globe, thirty developed countries, making up
only 16 per cent of the total world population, spend some
USD 750 billion every year on the military budget; compare
this with the USD 100 billion that would be needed to lift
the undeveloped countries out of IT poverty, and bring their
information and communications infrastructure up to a decent
If we think of the world as a village, then everyone
should benefit from its riches, especially knowledge;
globalized aspirations and claims are incompatible with a
situation where the greater part of the world’s population
is maintained in a situation of information impoverishment.
The other subject that is of concern to us is the degree
of control, situated in Western countries, over the
organizations that provide access, and over the internet
itself. The question that weighs on the minds of people in
other countries, who make up the majority of internet users
is this: what guarantee is there that the governments of
those countries will not one day decide, for political
reasons or because of an economic embargo, to deprive part
of the world of internet access?
Another problem facing the peoples, who are the principal
internet players, is that of censorship. There are
governments that use national security, morality or illegal
commerce as an excuse to selectively block internet content,
expose sites to selective filtering, and prevent people from
gaining ready access to information that they need, and
making themselves heard outside. Even worse, these
governments punish loggers who dare to express the slightest
Tragically, in some countries human rights activists,
authors and translators are imprisoned for nothing more than
exercising their freedom of expression and opinion. Today,
as the NGO representative, I call for political prisoners
and prisoners of conscience to be freed, along with all
those who have been detained for exercising their freedom of
expression; I also propose that a Committee be struck, under
the supervision of the United Nations Organization, and with
the participation of representatives from the Office of the
High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNESCO, UNDP and ITU,
with one or more representatives of NGOs, to monitor the
problem of content filtering, so as to eliminate the
difficulties I have cited and prevent states from
sacrificing their people’s interests for political gain.
Thank you for listening.