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Wim Geerts, MFA: „Technology as a vital enabler of the enjoyment of fundamental human rights”

Speech delivered by Wim Geerts, Human Rights Ambassador, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands at the launch of Commit Global, September 14th 2023, The Hague

Good afternoon.  It's great to see you all.  And on behalf of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs,  I would like to warmly congratulate the Commit Global team on your launch here in The Hague.

And, as Diana was saying, we're thrilled that you are calling The Hague  a home from now on, and I think you took the best possible decision. You said objectively. But indeed, it's fitting that you are basing your civic infrastructure group in this international city of peace and justice.  We wholeheartedly agree with Commit Global that civil society  cannot thrive without technical support. And it's exciting to see how Commit Global is unlocking the promise of tech for the benefit of society. The Netherlands is committed to protecting and enhancing civic space and the human rights defenders working in it, both online and offline.

Promoting and protecting human rights has become increasingly difficult in a world where the space to express yourself and speak truth to power is being restricted. During my time as the Dutch Ambassador to China from 2019 until last month, I saw this with my own eyes, and it was not pretty.  That's an understatement. Technological progress can be a driving force of global cooperation and innovation.  But it can also be a tool of oppression. Repressive actions by governments and corporations are limiting the maneuvering room for human rights defenders. For instance, when states resort to Internet shutdowns that silence them  and block them from reaching their audience. Or when defenders are placed under surveillance without due cause. This can instill fear and drive self-censorship. And it limits their ability to organize actions in their networks. Those most at risk are often not well equipped to defend themselves digitally.

They have limited capacity to anticipate risks and to respond to threats. And this shows how important it is to equip human rights defenders to respond. For instance, using the technology that Commit Global gives them.

At the Dutch Foreign Ministry, we've seen how the technical solutions  that Commit Global provides empower responders to fight human rights violations. Commit Global’s work to ensure IT security for the Save Ukraine team allowed them to scale up their efforts to return Ukrainian children  who had been forcibly deported to Russia.  An appalling act. Without ensuring online safety, operations of this kind could not take place because everyone involved would be at risk of being tracked and or wiretapped. We commend Commit Global for working on the technological resources and building the capacity needed to protect civil society from digital security threats.

The rapid digitalization of our global society is beyond any measure. A significant proportion of everyone's time is spent online. Technology can be a driving force in accelerating progress around the globe. It's giving more and more people a voice. And it can promote open societies and foster public debate. This makes technology a vital enabler of the enjoyment of fundamental and universal human rights such as freedom of expression and the right of peaceful assembly. That's why we fully support Commit Global's mission to unlock the promise of tech for social good and its efforts to provide civil society with a comprehensive civic infrastructure.

We welcome Commit Global's focus on reusing technology to lower the cost of maintaining digital infrastructure.  We look forward to having you here in The Hague and wish you every success in your endeavors. Thank you.

we fully support Commit Global's mission to unlock the promise of tech for social good and its efforts to provide civil society with a comprehensive civic infrastructure.

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