Freedom of speech
In the UNESCO high-level round table 'Shaping the Future through Knowledge' on Thursday 18 November 2005 director-general Koïchiro Matsuura presented the four main pillars of knowledge societies: respect for human rights, especially for freedom of speech, universal access to information, respect for cultural and linguistic diversity and quality education for all. Those pillars have been described in detail in the recently launched UNESCO report 'Towards knowledge societies'. The report was prepared in three earlier conferences organised by Unesco in 2005, described in EDRI-gram 3.3 and 3.10.
The panel members were asked to reflect on the 4 mission goals. Improving universal access to education turned out to be the most prominent concern of the panel. Also the attempts to safeguard indigenous knowledge and the
Together with the internet blogging project Global Voices online, the Dutch NGO Hivos organised a two day program on 17 and 18 November on freedom of expression. On the first day two panels and two lectures were scheduled, the second day was devoted to a workshop on secure communication tools for NGOs. It was only thanks to the Dutch embassy that the event could actually take place. The event was the subject of immense and incredible pressure from Tunisian authorities. They pulled every trick to cancel the event, including the presence of 20 grey-clothed unidentified representatives from some law enforcement services in the back of the room. They threatened to close the doors halfway during the event, if the announced coffee break was to be held, to make sure nobody could get back in.
On 17 November 2005 Reporters without Borders (RSF) released a new report during the WSIS on the 15 enemies of the Internet, and 15 countries to watch. RSF writes: "The 15 'enemies' are the countries that crack down hardest on the Internet, censoring independent news sites and opposition publications, monitoring the Web to stifle dissident voices, and harassing, intimidating and sometimes imprisoning Internet users and bloggers who deviate from the regime’s official line." Amongst those enemies Tunisia is prominently mentioned, next to predictable countries such as China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The report says about Tunisia: "President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, whose family has a monopoly on Internet access inside the country, has installed a very effective system of censoring the Internet. All opposition
APC, the association for progressive communication, reports on the civil society press conference on 18 November. Civil society representatives from all continents lined up on a panel to deliver a stark closing statement. The civil society statement was not finalised, but four points are addressed: internet governance, human rights, financing and development, and follow-up. The press conference essentially driven by questions of the audience, revolved around issues of development through ICTs.
Renate Bloem of the Civil Society Bureau kicked off the conference by saluting some language used in the official Tunis Commitment such as multistakeholderism. She held up that civil society has become a force to be reckoned with. "We have moved to become a partner in negotiations," she
While the Tunisian authorities did all they could to prevent civil society events outside the Kram exhibition centre, on Wednesday 16 November civil society activists succeeded in getting the upper hand against state repression. A press conference to announce the cancellation of the Citizens Summit transformed into a major human rights event.
When civil society activists and journalists moved from the official WSIS Kram centre to the offices of the Tunisian Human Rights League on Wednesday afternoon – the day of the opening of the WSIS summit – they didn't know what to expect. All earlier meetings and press conferences outside the official summit area had been forcefully prevented by Tunisian police and secret service. What they found, however, was a room packed with international journalists, civil society and government delegates,
As host country of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), Tunisia has not lived up to the optimistic expectations of some UN officials, but in stead exceeded the worst expectations of civil society. Many individuals searched their souls whether to attend the Summit or not. But the promise of a Citizens Summit, dedicated to the human rights demands of civil society and inclusive of the Tunisian people and organisations purposefully excluded by the Tunisian government, convinced many of them to come to Tunis and mingle amongst the 23.000 official participants.
In an opinion article titled 'No place to talk about Internet freedom' for the International Herald Tribune, Kamel Labidi, the former director of Amnesty International-Tunisia, describes Tunisia as "one of the Arabs
A broad coalition of human rights organisations has announced they will organise a Citizens' Summit on the Information Society in Tunis, from 16 to 18 November 2005, to coincide with the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).
Citizens groups, civil society organisations, national, regional and international institutions, government delegations and all other interested parties and individuals are invited to participate in the Citizen's Summit on the Information Society.
The CSIS program will consist of a series of panels and conferences addressing main WSIS issues from the public perspective. CSIS aims to first of all send a strong message of support and solidarity from the international civil society to the local civil society and citizens in Tunisia. Secondly, CSIS wants to offer a specific civil society perspective on the main issues debated at the WSIS. In the first phase, in Geneva in 2003, thanks also to constant pressure from civil society, the conference focussed on human rights and social justice as cornerstones of the Information Society.
Today the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has launched a new 18 month panel on terrorism, counter-terrorism and human rights. "The legal community worldwide must now take a leadership role in articulating how the rule of law can be respected in addressing terrorism in its many complex global and local forms." The ICJ has formulated 10 legal and policy issues the panel should address. One of them addresses the issue of blanket electronic surveillance: "Do we need to have intrusive surveillance of public places and transports, data on travel, phone calls and Internet use in order to protect people from terrorism?" Other issues are freedom of speech (How can we criminalise incitement to violence without eroding freedom of speech, the press and religion?), discrimination (how to increase security without discriminating,