Statement: UN Global Digital Compact Informal Consultation

In September 2024, the United Nations will hold Summit of the Future as a follow-up to the UN Secretary-General’s “Our Common Agenda” report. The Summit intends to reshape and advance the Internet’s future to address the challenges of 2030 and beyond. As part of the Summit, the UN Secretary-General tasked the Envoy on Technology to initiate the negotiation of a Global Digital Compact (GDC) to “outline shared principles for an open, free and secure digital future for all.”

On February 13th and March 1st, the United Nations Permanent Representatives of Rwanda and Sweden, as co-facilitators of the Global Digital Compact (GDC) held informal consultations with Member States and stakeholders.

Tech Global Institute welcomes the opportunity to share our feedback, particularly to highlight the equity gaps in the Global South and opportunities for the GDC to address them. We have advocated extensively for inclusive multi-stakeholder processes to be central to how the Internet is shaped and governed and that these processes need to be grounded on international human rights principles. In our intervention, we also highlighted that the GDC should not duplicate efforts, rather focus on strengthening existing UN instututions and approaches to ensure that it can address current and emerging technology issues.

The following is the statement from Sabhanaz Rashid Diya that was submitted on behalf of Tech Global Institute to the GDC co-chairs as part of their consultation with non-governmental stakeholders. 


Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

My name is Sabhanaz Rashid Diya and I am the executive director of Tech Global Institute, a tech policy nonprofit focused on the Global South, covering global Internet governance and technology accountability. I am also a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Canada. Today, I am speaking on behalf of the Tech Global Institute and an invested citizen of the Global South.

I would like to thank the excellencies of Sweden and Zambia for co-facilitating inclusive, multi stakeholder consultations since the announcement of the Global Digital Compact (GDC).

Over the past 20 years, multi-stakeholder collaboration and participation have shaped the Internet. Today, the Internet faces a significant risk of fragmentation as a result of both State and commercial overreach, often concentrated within a handful of actors and at the expense of communities in the Global South. Everyday, new technologies are developed and deployed without the active participation of communities in its design and governance, exacerbating the concentration of power while leaving the rest vulnerable to harm.

The Global Digital Compact (GDC) provides a platform to change this uneven power distribution. But in order to do so, it is critical that the platform leverages the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a guiding principle and proactively facilitates digital cooperation through multi-stakeholder collaborations.

We urge the GDC to consider four recommendations to achieve the above.

Firstly, the preamble of the structural elements of the GDC should acknowledge the necessity of robust multi-stakeholder processes, both nationally and internationally, and the right to meaningful public participation. The Internet Governance Forum, WSIS and the Internet Engineering Taskforce provide useful templates, but more importantly, lessons on robust stakeholder engagement. It is imperative that the GDC does not reinvent the wheel and emphasizes on existing principles and strengthening of procedural guidelines to foster authentic, inclusive multi-stakeholder collaboration.

Secondly, we urge the GDC to mainstream human rights throughout its process, intergovernmental negotiations and recommendations using existing instruments such as the International Bill of Human Rights and the UN Guiding Principles. Nation States should not become the sole custodians and arbiters of human rights, rather be held to the same human rights standards as private companies, for example, in its implementation of digital public goods and infrastructures. It is critical that the GDC encourages and strengthens the role of non-governmental bodies, particularly civil society and independent news media, to be included in the process of designing of both public and private technologies, and enable mechanisms to hold actors and systems accountable to international human rights standards.

Thirdly, under principles of the GDC’s structural elements, we emphasize that achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) should be centered on safeguarding human dignity and fundamental freedoms. This is especially critical for Global South communities who are often subject to the fictitious tradeoff between economic and social mobility and safeguarding their individual rights. We urge the GDC to reaffirm the importance of preserving human dignity in the course of economic development, for example, through encouraging independent human rights impact assessments throughout the technology lifecycle, similar to how the EIA Convention subjects lending partners and infrastructure projects to environmental risk assessments.

And finally, we propose that Internet fragmentation is differentiated from regulatory fragmentation. While the Internet needs to be universal, open and secure, it does not necessarily mandate that regulatory interventions need to be homogenized. The GDC can ensure that the principles of human rights, and openness form the basis of any national regulatory intervention, while enabling countries and their communities to have sovereign rights over how they govern technologies fitted to their unique contexts. States and communities should be held accountable to prevent Internet fragmentation without having to homogenize their governance approach, particularly because the latter risks exacerbating the same concentration of power.

Thank you for your time and consideration.