Fostering an Open International Community
The Global Conference, held to commemorate the International Day for Universal Access to Information and jointly organized by UNESCO and the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, unfolded its significance at the prestigious Bonavero Institute of Human Rights, University of Oxford, on September 28, 2023.
In this gathering of global leaders, scholars, and advocates, there resounded a resolute, shared commitment to advancing access to information and fortifying digital connectivity.
The Pillars of Our Collective Resolve
Underpinning the discussions, several critical principles were underscored:
- A Digital Path to Prosperity – The conference participants firmly emphasized digital connectivity and the unrestricted flow of information as essential components for nurturing an open international community. This digital lifeline bolsters stability, security, the rule of law, prosperity, and sustainable development.
- Online Human Rights – Participants emphatically asserted the applicability of human rights in the digital realm, mirroring their offline counterparts. They acknowledged that access to information, particularly through the Internet, serves as a catalyst for a broad spectrum of human rights, with a dedicated commitment to ensuring accessibility for persons with disabilities.
- Preserving the Internet’s Integrity – The conference unequivocally acknowledged the importance of preserving an open, free, global, interoperable, reliable, safe, secure, and sustainable Internet. It championed a multi-stakeholder approach to address the escalating global challenge of Internet shutdowns and restrictions.
- Empowering Elections – The conference underscored the pivotal role of the Internet’s free flow of information in upholding democracy’s integrity through free and fair elections. Participants viewed technology, including the responsible use of Artificial Intelligence, as an empowering tool in the electoral process.
- Democracy’s Bedrock – The conference deemed access to information as vital for supporting democratic processes, strengthening institutional commitments to individuals and communities, and reinforcing inclusion and accountability.
- Gender Equity in Public Life – The conference highlighted the online space’s role in promoting gender equity in public life. Participants criticized divisive narratives and gendered disinformation as threats to women’s political participation and democratic institutions.
- Independent Media’s Pivotal Role – The conference wholeheartedly acknowledged the indispensable role that independent media plays in facilitating access to information, particularly through the Internet. Moreover, it’s concerning that shutdowns frequently accompany attempts to suppress press freedom, stifle debates, and propagate misinformation. Notably, participants expressed strong support for UNESCO’s ongoing efforts to align judicial decisions with International Human Rights Law.
- Global Collaborations for a Connected World – The conference warmly embraced and welcomed the collaborative efforts of the international community, spearheaded by renowned organizations such as UNESCO, the Freedom Online Coalition, the Taskforce on Preventing Internet Shutdowns, the Media Freedom Coalition, the Open Government Partnership, and the International Conference of Information Commissioners. These commendable initiatives play an absolutely critical role in safeguarding the free flow of information, ensuring digital connectivity, and effectively countering the pervasive threats posed by internet shutdowns and disinformation.
Voices of Leaders
In his statement, Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon emphatically emphasized the United Kingdom’s dedication to empowering citizens with transparent and trustworthy information. Furthermore, he underscored the pivotal role of the internet and independent media in nurturing thriving democracies.
He also expressed the UK’s unwavering commitment to combatting politically motivated internet shutdowns and disinformation, recognizing the significant threats these pose to democracy
UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, Jelassi, highlighted the critical nature of internet accessibility in bridging the digital divide and ensuring equal opportunities for all, regardless of their location or socioeconomic status. Jelassi noted that limited internet accessibility, characterized by slow or unreliable connections, can perpetuate inequalities, especially in marginalized communities and remote areas lacking robust internet infrastructure.
The Oxford Conference has sent a resounding message, thereby reinforcing the importance of a connected world, where the free flow of information is upheld as a cornerstone of democracy and human rights. In an era marked by digital transformation, these commitments made here undeniably pave the way for a more inclusive, transparent, and equitable global society.