A roundtable organised in the framework of the Capacity Development Programme in Multilateral Diplomacy for Pacific Island States (CD Pacific), run by DiploFoundation and the Geneva Internet Platform, an initiative of the Swiss authorities operated by DiploFoundation. It is designed to complement the 2014 UN International Year of Small Island Developing States.
The Internet as a critical resource for Pacific island states
Policy immersion – exposing Pacific Islands representatives to Geneva as an international hub for global policy
Geneva, Switzerland – 20 June 2014: A panel discussion on The Internet as a critical resource for Pacific island states, introduced by Ms Andrea Aeby, Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the UN and moderated by Jovan Kurbalija, DiploFoundation, convened in Geneva on Wednesday to discuss the Internet and its importance to Pacific island states.
Contributions panellists Ms Maureen Hilyard (PICISOC), Ms Anju Mangal, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Ms Christina Wini, Permanent Mission of the Solomon Islands to the UN, Mr Tomas Lamanauskas, ITU, and Mr Jackson Miake, ICT Program Manager, Government of the Republic of Vanuatu wove a compelling narrative about the challenges faced by Pacific island countries.
In her welcoming remarks, Ms Aeby underlined how crucial it is for countries with limited resources at their disposal to have their voices heard at a global level on issues that are vital for their development: e.g. climate change, trade, migration, Internet governance. Switzerland is committed to the long-term development of the region as evidenced by its support of the Capacity Development Programme for Pacific Island States (CD Pacific) run by DiploFoundation.
Panellists highlighted the challenges faced by the lack of accessibility to the Internet and the cost of infrastructure. Spread over an area of 30 million square kilometers of the Pacific Ocean, this is the least densely populated region in the world, consisting of 22 small island countries and territories that strongly depend on international order and law. For some nations, it is a question of their very existence: for example, without effective global action on climate change, states such as Kiribati may disappear because of the rise in sea level.
Couple this with the abstract nature of the Internet and its lack of priority for many of governments in the region, becoming part of multilateral negotiations and collaborating in the global arena on key governance issues like privacy and cybersecurity, remains a challenge. ‘Medicine, housing, and water supply all are critical issue facing some Pacific island states. The Internet is still abstract for many – people can’t drink it’, commented one member of the audience.
The event was part of a ten-day policy immersion programme that has brought representatives of Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Samoa, and the Cook Islands to Geneva. Supported by the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs and operated by DiploFoundation, this is the final phase of a three-month programme that began with a six-week interactive online learning phase and a four-week policy research phase.
As diplomats from the Pacific island states often lack the experience and exposure to Geneva-based institutions and processes that would allow them to ensure that the interests of their nations are well represented, Ms Aeby expressed her hope that the programme would offer opportunities to participants to meet with experts, to forge networks amongst selves and others. Multilateral diplomacy conducted in International Geneva is particularly important for the social and economic development of Pacific small island states, as Geneva is the main governance hub for issues such as trade, climate change, health, and migration. ‘Geneva is rich in knowledge and expertise and Diplo plays an important role among top-quality actors’, she added.