Presidential Statements

Toward a just, inclusive, and peaceable digital society: promises and perils, ethical and moral considerations

Presentation by Liberato C. Bautista, President of CoNGO, at the WSIS Forum 2022 Special Track on “Opening of the ICTs for Industry 4.0 and Emerging Digital Technologies for Sustainable Development”

 

11 April 2022 | Geneva, Switzerland | Hybrid

Toward a just, inclusive, and peaceable digital society: promises and perils, ethical and moral considerations

Excellencies, esteemed UN officials, NGO colleagues, ladies and gentlemen:

Thank you Ms. Sah for inviting me to this panel in my capacity as the President of CoNGO—the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations. The collaboration between WSIS and CoNGO is alive, I want to claim from the outset.

Please allow me to respond to the two questions you asked me to address from the vantage point of a civil society and faith-based NGO leader and as social ethicist. You asked me about what concerns come to mind when today we discuss the matter about emerging digital technologies, especially in relation to sustainable development? 

You also asked me about specific moral and ethical concerns important to consider when talking about emerging digital technologies. On this point, I will focus on WSIS Action Line 10, which is about the ethical dimensions of the Information Society, dealing with the common good, with ethics, with human rights, the prevention of the abusive uses of ICTs and shared values.

Given five minutes to respond, let me attempt a few responses. 

In 2009, during my first term as President of the Conference of NGOs, we entered into a memorandum of agreement with the ITU Director General, for CoNGO to be a  civil society focal point for the WSIS Forum. From the WSIS Summits in Geneva (2003) and Tunis (2005), CoNGO has taken a lead role in organizing civil society presence unprecedented in many ways at a major UN conference. 

The CoNGO President during the WSIS Summits, Renate Bloem, later reflected about her experience in the summits, and her comments then remain our assessment even today. Ms. Bloem recounted that  “the substantial and procedural nature of WSIS have been a major step forward in building a new model for global governance and a constructive way of engaging civil society into the process.” 

Looking back, Ms. Bloem reflected that  “WSIS was a successful test of the capacity of the multilateral system to find alternative and innovative ways to integrate a wider range of actors, including NGOs, academic institutions and local authorities, in a long-standing political process. The stronger involvement of civil society was therefore a very relevant factor in dealing more adequately with the specific challenges raised by the Information Society.” 

Almost 20 years later, civil society participation in the WSIS process remains crucial. CoNGO Presidents Ms. Bloem, Mr. Cyril Ritchie, or I, have spoken annually at these Forums with the message that civil society voice is crucial in elaborating for what makes, among other values, a just, inclusive, solidarious, participatory and sustainable, information society. 

“Competent and responsible civil society input enhances coherent and implementable governmental output”. We remain committed to this enterprise every time we as NGO representatives claim a place at the table, just like this WSIS Forum and this panel.

On the second question, I would like to say that the digitization of knowledge and the digitalization of information—in all its applications, but especially in industry and commerce, are fraught with moral and ethical considerations. These moral and ethical considerations point to digital divide and inequalities already raised earlier, including their intersections with larger economic, political, social and cultural divides.

These moral and ethical considerations are even more crucial as we deal with digital communications technology like the “Internet of Things” (IoT), cloud computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, digital twin, and the like. 

Knowledge is indeed power. We must therefore strive for an information society—including its technologies—so that knowledge is produced and shared justly, equitably, and peaceably. If the magnetic pull of the moral compass were to point to the common good, are these communications and information technologies close to being common good, indeed common public goods? 

Because communication is intrinsic to our humanity and the relations we build, the right to communication and access to it are “basic human rights, essential to human dignity and to a just and democratic society.” Nothing in our pursuit of new technologies should derogate the dignity and human rights of peoples.

Building a future with technologies changing by the second and besieged by intersecting pandemics, including health, economic and social pandemics, is fraught with both promise and peril. It could spell the leaving behind of many that would then frustrate the achievement of the SDGs.

Alarm is already sounded in places where analogue services are going to be cut in favor of digitalized streaming even as more than three billion people coming from developing countries remain dependent on radio for their information source.

Two NGOs that I represent at the UN—CoNGO and United Methodist Church-General Board of Church and Society—has invariably asserted in their advocacy work that a strong moral compass is needed to direct digital communication and technology to the ethical true north whose elements must contitute respect for peace and the upholding of the fundamental values of freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, shared responsibility, and respect for nature and its sustainability.  

These are values of moral significance in the crafting of normative multilateral  frameworks. At the core of these ethical values are the voice and agency of human beings who must be conscious rather than passive producers and consumers of digitalized knowledge and information.

Crucial to the principle of access to and stewardship of information communications technology is the recognition that vulnerable and marginalized peoples, especially migrants, indigenous peoples, internally displaced peoples, older persons, people with disabilities, and refugees will have varying difficulties accessing such digital technologies. 

For indigenous peoples, two concerns about digitization of indigenous knowledge and the digitalization of information they have produced have to do with whether the principle of free, prior and informed consent has been recognized or not, and whether indigenlous peoples will the technology to access back what is digitally stored. 

Nothing in the storing of knowledge and information should alienate these from their owners and producers. Speaking of perils, digital technologies must refuse to be the purveyor of the evil of systemic racism, xenophobia and racial discrimination. Digitalization must be the handmaiden of transborder solidarity and global citizenship. These and more are concerns related to the achievement of what is called digital justice which also includes free and equitable access by people to information communication technologies, respect for privacy, freedom from being manipulated, misinformed, and from undue appropriation of people’s information by digital media.

The Digital Society we ought to foster must be peaceable and secure—for the people and the planet. This is in keeping with a global ethic already inscribed in Agenda 2030, and the 17 SDGs. We must ensure that technologies of digitization and digitalization do not diminish but rather enhance and flourish human,  social and planetary connections. 

Thank you for your kind attention.

________________

The Rev. Dr. Liberato C. Bautista is President of CoNGO–the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations and represents the United Methodist Church–General Board of Church and Society at the United Nations.

Statement by Liberato C. Bautista President of the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CoNGO) at the joint meeting of ECOSOC with the Chairs of its Functional Commissions and Expert Bodies

Educate to Increase Hope and Decrease Fear in a Time of Intersecting Pandemics Joint Statement on the International Day of Education

Education is a human right, essential to well-being and dignity, and is key to achieving the United Nations Agenda 2030. Further, an ethos of global citizenship is required in order to fulfil this bold, people-centered, universal, and planet-sensitive development framework. (Gyeongju Action Plan).

CoNGO President’s New Year Message, 2021

IPPNW, PEAC Institute and CoNGO welcome 50 states ratifications and imminent entry into legal force of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

JOINT STATEMENT
16 November 2020

Always immoral, now a new treaty bans nuclear weapons

On October 24, 2020, exactly 75 years to the day the United Nations opened for business, Honduras became the 50th member state to ratify the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). By crossing the 50 ratifications threshold, this means that in 90 days, on 22 January 2021, the treaty will enter into legal force and become international law, binding on the states that have already ratified it, and all those which subsequently ratify the treaty.

Outlawing these genocidal weapons, which International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and Peace, Education, Art, Communication (PEAC) Institute have been working for as partner organizations in the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)—now joined by the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CoNGO) in this statement, representing the will of nongovernmental and humanitarian organizations worldwide, is an essential step toward the prevention of nuclear war. The TPNW’s entry into force is an enormous win for planetary health.

The growing danger

The treaty is especially needed in the face of the real and present danger of nuclear war climbing higher than ever. All nine nuclear-armed states are modernizing their arsenals with new, smaller, and more accurate weapons; and some of their leaders are making irresponsible explicit nuclear threats. The cold war is resurgent—hard won treaties reducing nuclear weapons numbers and types are being trashed, while nothing is being negotiated to replace them, let alone build on them. We expect that the incoming Joe Biden administration, in cooperation with the administration of Vladimir Putin, will not allow the New START Treaty to expire before 5 February 2021, narrowly averting a situation where, for the first time since 1972, there would have been no treaty constraints on Russian and US nuclear weapons. This close call demonstrates the risky environment we have entered.  Armed conflicts which could trigger nuclear escalation are increasing in a climate-stressed world.  Armed conflicts which could trigger nuclear escalation are increasing in a climate-stressed world. The rapidly evolving threat of cyber-warfare puts nuclear command and control in jeopardy from both nations and terrorist groups. Close to two thousand nuclear weapons remain on hair-trigger alert, ready to be launched within minutes of a leader’s fateful decision.

The radioactive incineration unleashed by nuclear war involving even less than 1% of the global nuclear arsenal targeted on cities in one part of the world would be followed by a worldwide nuclear ice age and nuclear famine, putting billions of people in jeopardy.

As medical organizations including the World Health Organization, International Committee for the Red Cross, the World Medical Association, the World Federation of Public Health Associations, and the International Council of Nurses have confirmed, health and emergency services could not respond substantively to the needs of the victims of even a single nuclear weapon exploded on a city. When there is no cure, prevention is imperative.

Treaties work

A consistent lesson is provided by experience with biological and chemical weapons, antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions. Treaties which have codified the rejection of an unacceptable weapon in international law have provided a crucial basis and motivation for the progressive work of eliminating these weapons. Providing one legal standard for all nations has been essential to the substantial progress made in controlling banned weapons. All the weapons subject to treaty prohibition are now less often justified, produced, traded, deployed and used. No indiscriminate and inhumane weapon has been controlled or eliminated without first being prohibited.

Nine nuclear-armed states, the 30 nuclear-dependent members of NATO, Australia, Japan and South Korea appear unlikely to soon join the TPNW. Yet they are already being affected by it, just as some of them have been influenced by the other treaties banning inhumane weapons, even if they opposed and haven’t joined them. Their hostility to the TPNW and shameful pressure on other states not to support or join it show that the treaty matters, stigmatizes nuclear weapons and puts them on the wrong side of history. Already the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, major banks and pension funds have divested from companies manufacturing nuclear weapons. Now that the treaty is entering into force, every responsible financial institution should do the same.

The TPNW fills a gap in international law that for far too long saw the most destructive weapon ever invented, the only weapon which poses an acute existential threat to all humanity and to the biosphere, as the only weapon of mass destruction not expressly prohibited under international law.

In a dark time, the TPNW shines a light on the most promising path to free the world from the risk of indiscriminate nuclear violence. Not only does the treaty provide a comprehensive and categorical prohibition of nuclear weapons, it also provides the only internationally agreed framework for all nations to fulfill their legal obligation to eliminate nuclear weapons.
Further the TPNW obliges nations which join to provide long neglected assistance for the victims of nuclear weapons use and testing, and to undertake feasible remediation of environments contaminated by nuclear weapons use and testing.
The NGO community—including humanitarian, development, peace and human rights organizations worldwide—calls on all states to add their signature and ratify the treaty as a matter of utmost urgency and to faithfully implement it. Time is not on our side. The TPNW provides our best hope against our worst weapons.

Liberato C. Bautista, President
Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in
Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CoNGO)
president@ngocongo.org

Rebecca Irby, President
Peace, Education, Art, Communication (PEAC) Institute
rebecca@peacinstitute.org

Michael Christ, Executive Director
International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW)
mchrist@ippnw.org

 

Presidential Statement on 2020 Nobel Peace Prize to UN World Food Programme

Liberato C. Bautista, CoNGO President

12 October 2020

 

On behalf of the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CoNGO), I congratulate the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) on its receiving the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize, in recognition both of its many years of action to alleviate hunger across the world and of its relief work during this time of pandemic.

The award to the WFP is a yes to food security and a no to “the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.” In their announcement of the award, the Norwegian Nobel Committee stated: “The link between hunger and armed conflict is a vicious circle: war and conflict can cause food insecurity and hunger, just as hunger and food insecurity can cause latent conflicts to flare up and trigger the use of violence. We will never achieve the goal of zero hunger unless we also put an end to war and armed conflict.”

Funded by the voluntary contributions of UN Member States and of civil society worldwide, the World Food Programme is a shining example of cooperation between government on the one hand and civil society on the other. Much of its work is dependent on partnership with non-governmental organizations of the kind that the Conference of NGOs is proud to represent.

At this time of crisis, when many governments are struggling to feed their people, and in which the incidence of poverty is rising because of economic disruption, CoNGO calls on UN Member States to support the global work of the World Food Programme, on nongovernmental organizations to work increasingly together to redouble their efforts to achieve the same goals, and on people of goodwill everywhere to play their part both in supporting the World Food Programme and in urging their governments to do the same.

Presidential Statement on United Nations Charter Day 2020

Liberato C. Bautista, CoNGO President

26 June 2020

 

On June 26, 1945 a new dawn arose. On that day the United Nations Charter was signed in San Francisco, creating a successor to the League of Nations, and declaring unambiguously that the new United Nations Organization’s goals were, inter alia,

  • to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,
  • to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained,
  • to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good

The UN Charter, from the outset, established the world organization to be at the apex of solutions to the major global challenges that are necessary conditions for building a peaceful world, including international economic and social cooperation to ensure social and economic progress for all on the basis of equal rights and self-determination of peoples. For the first time human rights was made into a central objective of a world organization.

The United Nations Charter created the prime multilateral international institution that would be the linchpin for a complex but indispensable system of interdependencies. Governments and peoples had learnt that the alternative to multilateralism—unilateralism and rote nationalism—had led the world to the disasters of two World Wars.

As civil society celebrates the values enshrined in the UN Charter—signed by governments on behalf of”We, the peoples”—and celebrates the values enshrined in the UN Charter, we cannot but ask: Why have wars between, among, and within nations so frequently recurred? Why are inequalities and uneven development between rich and poor increasing both at the international and national level? Why can the international financial institutions continue to practice policies that are at odds with the UN, while the Charter calls for the coordination of all specialized agencies? Why is unaccountable power of transnational corporations expanding? Why have the legacies of centuries of slavery, colonialism and racism not been repaired? Why have treaties and international law been so frequently neglected or undermined? Why has disarmament become a forgotten topic when the resources squandered on arms could well add needed resources to sustainable development for all?

Civil society salutes the aims and purposes of the United Nations as defined in the Charter and will continue, as it has done untiringly for 75 years, to work for their achievement. We plead and we demand that the governments of UN member states do no less: that they live up to their commitments and promises, and that they take their Charter commitments seriously and unremittingly. As it has done for 72 of those years, since its founding in 1948, the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CoNGO) pleads and demands that governments recognize that the civil society organizations in their countries and internationally are a powerful force working for the public good, acting selflessly to promote and expand those same causes for which the United Nations was established.

Article 71 of the UN Charter opened the door to non-governmental organizations, and over the years there have been innumerable beneficial interactions between the UN and NGOs—in all their operational and terminological diversity. The establishment of formal consultative  status  for NGOs with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) was groundbreaking for the system of international relations. ECOSOC Resolution 1996/31  governs  the  establishment  of consultative status as well as that of accreditation of a broader group of civil society to United Nations conferences and consultations. It contains principles and modalities for regular NGO participation in designated United Nations bodies that has stood the test of time  and  enjoys  broad NGO support. It is in that context, and in furtherance of the UN Charter values, that CoNGO pleads and demands that governments take every opportunity to further incorporate into their deliberative and decision-making processes the competent voices of NGOs and all civil society. The encouragement and acceptance by governments of the input of the knowledge, competence, and experience of peoples and communities will in consequence enhance the output of governmental mechanisms, thus making treaties, conventions and other decisions more realistic and implementable. That would be wholly in line with the goals of the Charter.

It is time now to reaffirm the benefits, indeed the indispensability, of multilateralism. Renewed and reinvigorated multilateralism, especially in this year of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the UN, is fundamental to achieving two other of the UN Charter principles:

  • to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security
  • to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all

The UN Charter principles are key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, which encapsulate the fundamental purpose of having an effective and reliable United Nations Organization devoted to “the advancement of all peoples”, and to shaping a more just, participatory, peaceable and equitable world.

But for the United Nations System to be effective and reliable, it must be adequately resourced—in finance and personnel. CoNGO repeats its oft-expressed alarm over the negative effects of the continuous shrinking of the regular budget of the United Nations. Significantly more than in 1945,   a multitude of today’s world problems respect neither physical nor territorial boundaries. The unfinished agenda of decolonization and corollary issues related to self-determination cry out for attention

The United Nations System is more and more the world’s “plumber” not of last but of first resort, called into service to “stop the leaks” before a deluge (climate change, a pandemic, natural disasters, weapons of mass destruction, endemic poverty, global hunger, forced migration, gender violence and injustice, racism…) overwhelms our only planet. For this, we plead and demand that governments adopt this year a sufficiently increased UN regular budget, and over the long term a generous increase. And of course, that governments then pay their contributions fully and on time!

“Building Back Better” is not just a slogan for the post-COVID-19 recovery period (long as that may yet be), but a challenge to build better on the UN Charter. Even more urgent now is to build back beyond pandemic management and into addressing the roots of our global maladies by acting justly and peaceably, and ensuring that peoples and communities reap and enjoy equitably the benefits   of multilateral negotiations, foremost of which are agreements in the protection of human rights and ecological justice. And we must build back in such a way that neither war, nor poverty, nor systemic racism, are inevitable. The Charter is a tool and an opportunity. “We the peoples” plead and demand that governments work with us—in consultation, collaboration and cooperation—to save succeeding generations from the scourges of the twenty-first century.

New York City

For further information:
Liberato C. Bautista, president@ngocongo.org

Intervention at the ECOSOC Presidency Briefing for Civil Society