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Dialogue on the Implementation of the Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation

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Statement by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.

Excellencies, Colleagues,

I am pleased to address you today, as we move forward towards the implementation of the Secretary-General's Roadmap for Digital Cooperation.

The roadmap is our collective guide to ensure digital technologies better serve humanity. It can also guide us at the United Nations as we strengthen our efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and protect the human rights of all.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made us even more reliant on these technologies. Together with recent demonstrations around the world against gross racial injustice, the pandemic is a striking reminder of existing inequalities, and of the potential consequences of those inequalities for human rights, peace and security, and development.

The digital revolution is about all of us.

The inclusive approaches of the Secretary-General's High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation, and the virtual roundtables co-led by the UN, Member States and civil society organizations have been essential.

Their multi-stakeholder, inclusive model was remarkable in breaking down silos. And as we look towards our 75th anniversary and how we can leverage digital technologies 'to shape our future together', it may also offer a reflection of how a future UN may operate.

My Office has been working alongside the Republic of Korea, the European Union, and the NGO Access Now as Co-Champions of the High-Level Panel Report recommendations 3A and 3B, related to human rights.

I thank them for their collaboration, as well as that of over 40 stakeholders who took part in our virtual roundtable process.

Human rights concerns and opportunities, however, cut across all of the recommendations of the High-Level Panel report on digital cooperation.

Keeping human rights central to all efforts to implement the report will be crucial to ensuring meaningful impact – in relation to digital connectivity, digital inclusion, artificial intelligence, trust and security, digital cooperation architecture and other issues.

Excellencies, Colleagues,

The vision and recommended actions emerging from this consultative process are closely aligned with the Secretary-General's Call to Action for Human Rights earlier this year, especially its highlighted 'New Frontiers of Human Rights'.

My Office is currently working closely with more than 30 other UN entities on the implementation of the Call to Action. We should join up those efforts with work to implement the Roadmap.

Both the Secretary-General's Road Map and his Call to Action underscore the fundamental importance of Member States placing 'human rights at the centre of regulatory frameworks and legislation on the development and use of digital technologies', including AI-powered technologies.  

In that context, it is important that the Human Rights Council, and the Special Procedures mandate holders continue and expand their roles in reviewing and providing guidance on how human rights standards and principles apply in the digital space, in particular to governance frameworks.

The private sector also has a crucial role to play in making clear commitments to respecting human rights in their development of new technologies.

My Office is deeply engaging with tech companies with regard to the application of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights when designing, developing, and deploying tech products, policies, practices, and terms of service.

We will progressively share the results of this work over the coming months, and hopefully years.

Excellencies, Dear colleagues,

The Secretary-General's roadmap also compels us to look internally.

It is crucial that the UN lead by example, serving as a model for Member States, tech companies and others in carrying out human rights due diligence in our own use of digital technologies and in our own data protection and privacy policies and procedures.

As the SG's Call to Action points out: 'within the United Nations, human rights must be fully considered in all decision-making, oper­ations and institutional commitments'.

UN entities should routinely carry out human rights impact assessments before and during the employment of new technologies in operations and programs. My Office looks forward to working with other members of the UN family and external stakeholders in developing System-wide guidance.

Simply put, digital technologies are here to stay.

They hold an enormous potential to help us build a better future for all – but they also bring many risks.

The Road Map calls upon all of us – the UN, Member States, civil society, and the private sector -- to work together in new and inclusive ways to make sure we seize the many opportunities digital technologies present to the common good, while avoiding potential threats.

My Office looks forward to continuing work with you all in this journey.

Thank you.