Digital technologies have profoundly transformed every facet of our societies. They offer boundless opportunities – for sustainable development; for education; for inclusion.
Social media, for example, has transformed human rights and humanitarian advocacy, making it possible to mobilize people around the world quickly and efficiently around issues requiring urgent attention.
They have also created fresh possibilities for our peace and security work. Technological developments have improved our ability to detect crises, to better pre-position our humanitarian stocks, and to design data-driven peacebuilding programming.
We are using digital technologies in our work in conflict prevention, peacemaking, and peacebuilding. Allow me to share a few examples.
Digital tools strengthen our information-gathering and early-warning capacity. In Yemen, the UN Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA) has used various mapping, GIS and satellite technology tools to enhance its monitoring of the ceasefire in the Governorate.
They have increased our preparedness to understand, analyze and respond to crises that may have a digital dimension, and to address digital risks. We have, for example, worked with partners to build an e-learning platform on digital risk management.
New technologies can be beneficial in support of political processes, particularly to promote inclusion. In various peace negotiations, we have used artificial intelligence-assisted digital dialogues to reach out to thousands of interlocutors, to hear their views and priorities. This has been a particularly useful way to reach traditionally excluded groups, including women.
In Libya, the UN Mission held five digital dialogues, each with over 1,000 participants. This effort increased the legitimacy of the process, as different communities saw that their voices could be heard.
In Yemen, through digital consultations the Special Envoy engaged hundreds of women from different governorates, which provided deeper insight on the gender dimensions of the war.
The use of digital technologies also can improve the safety and security of our peacekeepers and civilian staff on the ground. The launch of the Strategy for the Digital Transformation of Peacekeeping presents an essential step towards this goal, and towards more effective mandate implementation – increasing early warning capacities.
Finally, with these tools we are able to visualize information and convey data-rich analysis to support the Security Council’s decision making. Our recent virtual reality presentation to the Security Council on Colombia shows how we can bring our work on the ground to the attention of this body in new ways.
The benefits of digital technologies for the maintenance of international peace and security are manifold. However, advances in technology have also created significant new risks and can affect conflict dynamics for the worse.
There are several areas of concern.
The number of State- and non-State- sponsored incidents of malicious use of digital technologies for political or military ends has nearly quadrupled since 2015, according to some estimates. Of specific concern is activity targeting infrastructure that provides essential public services, such as health and humanitarian agencies.
Meanwhile, lethal autonomous weapons raise questions regarding human accountability for the use of force.
The Secretary-General has made clear, machines with the power and discretion to take lives without human involvement are politically unacceptable, morally repugnant, and should be prohibited by international law.
Also, non-state actors are becoming increasingly adept at using low-cost and widely available digital technologies to pursue their agendas. Groups such as ISIL and Al-Qaida remain active on social media, using platforms and messaging applications to share information and communicate with followers for the purposes of recruitment, planning and fundraising.
And the increasing availability of digital payment methods such as cryptocurrencies brings additional challenges.
Further, digital technologies have raised major human rights concerns, from artificial intelligence systems that may be discriminatory to the widespread availability of surveillance technologies that can be deployed to target communities or individuals.
We are also concerned about the increasing use of internet shutdowns, including in situations of active conflict, which deprive communities of their means of communication, work, and political participation.
In Myanmar, for example, internet and mobile shutdowns have grown in number and duration since the military coup on 1 February 2021, particularly in areas of military operations.
Social media can fuel polarization and, at times, violence. The misuse of social media – and the sometimes limited or not fully adequate response of social media companies – is enabling the spread of disinformation, radicalization, racism, and misogyny.
This can heighten tensions, and in some instances exacerbate conflict. In Ethiopia, as the fighting escalated, there was an alarming rise in social media posts spreading inflammatory rhetoric, with some going as far as inciting ethnic violence, as recognized by the Security Council in its press statement of 5 November 2021.
We have seen how online disinformation and hate speech can result in offline harm – including violence.
We know that disinformation can hinder the ability of our missions to implement their mandates, by exacerbating falsehoods and fueling polarization.
We are undertaking a number of actions to mitigate these risks, driven by the Secretary-General’s Plan of Action on Hate Speech and initiatives such as Verified.
In Iraq, for example, after reports of increased on-line harassment of women candidates in last year’s election, UNAMI partnered with civil society organizations to monitor hate-speech, issue public reports and strengthen voter education.
We must fully embrace the opportunities offered by digital technologies to advance peace. But to do this, we must also mitigate the risks that such technologies pose, and promote their responsible use by all actors.
Through the General Assembly, Member States have made important progress in establishing a normative framework to ensure responsible behavior in cyberspace.
Member States are also cooperating to develop and apply a range of confidence building measures to prevent conflicts, avoid misperceptions and misunderstandings, and reduce tensions.
However, more must be done to advance, elaborate and implement this emerging normative framework.
In his report on “Our Common Agenda”, the Secretary-General called for a Global Digital Compact that would outline shared principles for an “open, free and secure digital future for all”.
Together with other aspects of Our Common Agenda, such as the New Agenda for Peace and the proposed Code of Conduct for Integrity in Public Information, we have a critical opportunity to build consensus on how digital technologies can be used for the good of people and the planet, while addressing their risks.
But collective action by Member States remains essential towards this goal.
Thank you, Madam President.