Uighurs urge UN rights chief to ask tough questions in Xinjiang

NEW YORK: Digital technologies have profoundly transformed all facets of society. They offer endless opportunities for development, education and social inclusion, and transform the process of advocacy on issues such as human rights and humanitarianism, allowing large numbers of people to be mobilized quickly in the world around important topics that require urgent attention.

However, technological advances are also increasingly being misused by governments and terrorist groups to cause instability and exacerbate conflict, including through the dissemination of disinformation and hate speech online.

These are the main points raised by Rosemarie DiCarlo, UN Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, on Monday during a Security Council meeting on technology and security. It was the second signing event hosted by the US delegation, which holds the council’s rotating chair this month, following a debate last week on conflict and food security.

The Security Council has become increasingly involved in efforts to address cybersecurity issues and the role of information and communication technologies in influencing and shaping events in modern societies. The UN has also been working to leverage digital technologies to improve its work on the ground.

In a briefing at the start of the US presidency of the Council, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US envoy to the UN, said the issue is “a new and important priority for the Security Council” and that ” it is high time for the board to fully address the impact of digital technologies.

DiCarlo said digital tools are helping to strengthen the UN’s information-gathering and early-warning capabilities in many places. In Yemen, for example, the United Nations Support Mission for the Hudaydah Accord has used mapping tools, geographic information systems and satellite technologies to improve its monitoring of the ceasefire in the governorate.

New technologies have also helped remove barriers to access for groups traditionally excluded from political and mediation processes and, therefore, helped promote inclusion, DiCarlo said. She gave as an example the digital discussions conducted with thousands of Libyans from all walks of life, which were broadcast on television and on social networks.

“This effort increased the legitimacy of the process, as different communities saw that their voices could be heard,” she added.

Similarly, in Yemen, digital technologies allowed the UN special envoy to engage with hundreds of women across the country, DiCarlo said, “which provided insight into the gendered dimensions of the war.” .

However, she also warned that incidents involving the malicious use of digital technologies for political or military purposes have quadrupled since 2015, and said activities targeting infrastructure that helps deliver essential public services are of particular concern.

A United Nations Secretary-General’s report released in May 2020 noted that new technologies are too often used for online surveillance, law enforcement, censorship and harassment, and called for more efforts to develop guidance on how human rights standards apply in the digital age.

The UN Human Rights Council last month adopted a resolution regarding the role of states in addressing the negative effects of disinformation on human rights. He called on members to refrain from conducting or sponsoring disinformation campaigns.

“Non-state actors are increasingly adept at using low-cost, widely available digital technologies to pursue their agendas,” DiCarlo said.

“Groups such as (Daesh) and Al-Qaeda remain active on social media, using messaging platforms and apps to share information and communicate with their followers for recruitment, planning and fundraising purposes.

Referring to the pernicious use of technology by “superpowered non-state actors”, Lana Nusseibeh, permanent representative of the United Arab Emirates to the UN, said commercially available drones are now able to fly faster , travel greater distances, carry larger payloads, and leverage artificial intelligence and other tools to operate without manual control.

“Drones don’t just work in the air,” she said. “On March 3, 2020, the Houthi terrorist group used an explosive-laden remote-controlled drone boat to attack an oil tanker off the coast of Yemen.

“If successful, the attack would have had devastating effects not only on the tanker and crew, but also on the environment, local supply routes and communities along the Yemeni coast that depend of the sea for their subsistence.”

The misuse of social media can also fuel polarization and violence, spreading misinformation, radicalization, racism and misogyny, DiCarlo said.

She also expressed concern about the increasing use of internet shutdowns in times of active conflict which, she said, “deprive communities of their means of communication, work and political participation”.

She called on Member States to seize what she described as a critical opportunity to build consensus on how digital technologies can be used for the good of people and the planet, while tackling their risks.

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