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Internet Governance 26 November 2012

From Tunis to Baku and Bali

Should the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) have gone to Baku? This question dominated discussions before and during the recent IGF and was an issue discussed widely among participants as well as in the blogoshpere. Many people, who I highly respect, held the view that hosting the IGF in countries, like Azerbaijan, was a mistake: “Azerbaijan is the wrong place to hold a forum on Internet freedom. The government has been vicious in its attacks on journalists and bloggers. The UN must choose more carefully next time.” [1]

I understand the reasoning behind these remarks, but I disagree. The same question was discussed when the second phase of WSIS was held in Tunis in 2005. During the first phase of WSIS, which was held in Geneva in 2003, I worked for the Swiss Government and it would be an exaggeration to say that we felt comfortable in our role as a co-host to be associated with a Government that was known for clamping down on freedom of expression. I recall the then Swiss President Samuel Schmid noting in his speech in Tunis that freedom of expression must be respected “inside and outside this conference hall” (a clear reference to the attempts by the Tunisian authorities to block Tunisian human rights activists joining an event held in down-town Tunis in the German Goethe Institute). His remarks were met with applause by delegates – unfortunately, what was justified as a ‘technical glitch’ by the State TV prevented a wider audience outside the conference hall from hearing this message. However, the call for freedom of expression and access to information was nevertheless heard outside, as it was in Egypt, where the 2009 IGF meeting was held. I am not claiming that there was a cause and effect between WSIS, the IGF and the Arab Spring – but freedom of information, access to information and the right to freedom of assembly and association were without any doubt at the heart of this awakening and these are also some of the core values at the heart of the IGF. This is in line with what I stated to a BBC journalist when asked to reflect on the IGF and its effectiveness: here

The BBC interview was held before our workshop on Internet and human rights, which came to confirm the importance of not only the IGF as a forum for the exchange of ideas, but for holding the IGF in such places like Azerbaijan. At this human rights workshop, the last word came from one of our participants, an Azeri blogger who had served a prison sentence in his country for having exercised his right to express opinions about his Government. . Emin Milli welcomed and applauded holding the IGF in Baku as it gave the Azeri civil society a global platform for talking about issues they would otherwise not be able to talk about. See here what he has to say about the IGF: here

Along the same lines, an Indonesian participant said it will be equally important for civil society when the 2013 IG is held in Bali. Irrespective of all academic arguments, hearing from people who are directly affected, like Emin Milli, validates bringing the message also to countries with a questionable human rights approach!

_____________________________

[1] Ian Brown, Oxford Internet Institute, Guardian, London, 13 November 2012:

– Markus Kummer

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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