High-level events in Mauritius celebrate International Day for the Universal Access to Information

2017-09-28

UNESCO’s International Day for the Universal Access to Information was commemorated today in Balaclava, Mauritius, through a high-level series of workshops and round tables addressing themes ranging from Cyberlaws to Information Ethics to Open Educational Resources and Digital Inclusion, YouthMobile App development, software preservation and the role of space technology and S.M.A.R.T strategies to support African countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. 

The 3-day series of events in Balaclava, Mauritius, are being held on the theme of “Overcoming Divides and Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in Africa.” The 2017 International Day was organized in coordination with the eLearning Africa/12th International Conference on ICT for Development, Education and Training, with the support of the Government of Mauritius and key partners Talkmate, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, INRIA (French National Institute for research in informatics), the Global Rainbow Foundation, and the UNESCO Information for All Programme.

Indrajit Banerjee, moderating the opening session in his capacity as director of UNESCO Knowledge Societies Division, Communication and Information Sector, emphasized that “the universal right to information is vital for societies to develop and thrive, to function democratically and for the well-being of each individual.”

H.E. Barlen Vyapoory, Vice-President of the Republic of Mauritius, underscored the importance of access to information as a fundamental right: “The Sine qua non is of course availability and universal access to information…the key not only to human rights, personal success and fulfillment, but also the key contributor to all of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.” He expressed gratitude to UNESCO for the range of issues covered in the event, noting that this work is well aligned to the agenda for the Africa We Want.

Firmin Matoko, UNESCO Assistant Director General, Africa Department, as part of his welcoming address, conveyed a message of UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova which stated: “being informed starts with the commitment of Governments to develop, promulgate and enforce policies and laws on the Right to Information to guarantee the respect of this human right. This requires efficient implementation mechanisms and a culture of transparency across all types of institutions. Citizens need also to have the critical thinking, literacy and digital skills required to access, analyse and use the information in different ways, offline and online.

The gender divide remains a serious area of focus for the Government of Germany. “250 million fewer women are online than men, and women hold only 25% of tech jobs worldwide,” noted Gunter Nooke, German Chancellor’s Personal Representative for Africa, Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Ms Xiao Hu of TalkMate, an online language learning portal offering courses in 100 languages, highlighted endangered languages as the rationale for establishing a partnering with UNESCO on the World Atlas of Languages programme, a scalable ICT-supported model to access data on linguistic diversity around the world, encourage collaboration among different stakeholders and raise awareness on the importance of linguistic diversity and multilingualism for sustainable development.

Parsuramen Armoogum, President of the Global Rainbow Foundation, highlighted the importance of UNESCO to Africa and the need to create a world where all persons with disabilities can have equal access to ICT-based learning. Kenneth Kam Boon Hee, founder of the Kenn Foundation, highlighted his commitment and close work with the Global Rainbow Foundation, as well as Jane Constance, UNESCO Artist of Peace, to support digital empowerment for persons with disabilities.

The International Day was established in 2015 by 195 Member States at the 38th session of the UNESCO General Conference to recognize that: “the right to information is an integral part of the right to freedom of expression, as recognized by Resolution 59 of the United Nations General Assembly adopted in 1946, and defined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

During the high-level event, experts from around the world discussed prerequisites and challenges for universal access to information and knowledge, international cooperation on achieving peace, justice and good institutions as well as how the right contributes towards leaving no one behind. 

The events brought together ministers, government officials as well as high-level participants from governmental bodies, private sector and civil society and called upon UNESCO to continue to support relevant initiatives and play its advocacy role promoting access to information and knowledge, freedom of expression, privacy and ethical norms and behavior online as keystones to the development of inclusive knowledge societies.  UNESCO is committed to Agenda 2030 and this event is part of the United Nations effort to acknowledge the fundamental right to information and forging partnerships with all relevant stakeholders, to ensure that young and new generations will be enabled to comprehend information in the digital age, as one of the fundamental means to the realization of their aspirations.

The celebrations on 28 September 2017 formed part of a 3-days of workshops and seminars that discussed inter alia the importance of cyber laws for African countries, implementing policies on Open Educational Resources (OER) and Free and Open Source Software, software preservation and the role of space technology and S.M.A.R.T strategies to support African countries towards sustainable development.  A one-day workshop on YouthMobile also took place for training school teachers in the development of Mobile Apps using App Inventor, complementing the training of trainers of Africa Code Week.

This high-level event in Mauritius forms part of several events organized around the world to commemorate the 2nd annual International Day for the Universal Access to Information. Events to commemorate the International Day have been organized this year in Brazil, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Madagascar, Mongolia, Palestine, Senegal, South Africa, South Sudan, Tunisia and Vietnam, in addition to UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France, through the 2017 IPDC Talks: Powering Sustainable Development with Access to Information.