Report by the Director-General on implementation of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) outcomes

Resolutions and Declarations

15 October 2021


Source: 39 C/Resolution 42, 40 C/Resolution 58.

Background:    By    40 C/Resolution 58,    the    General    Conference    requested the Director-General to submit to it at its 41st session a report for debate on the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), along with a draft resolution on the Organization’s road map towards the WSIS+20 Review in 2025. 

Purpose: This   document   contains   the   Director-General’s   report   submitted in pursuance of the above-mentioned Resolutions. 

Decision required: paragraph 25.


1. The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) was organized in two phases, in Geneva in 2003 and in Tunis in 2005, in order “to build a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society”.

2. In December 2015, the United Nations General Assembly resolution (A/RES/70/125) called upon “the General Assembly to hold a high-level meeting on the overall review of the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society in 2025, involving the input and participation of all stakeholders, including in the preparatory process, to take stock of progress on the outcomes of the World Summit and identify both areas of continued focus and challenges.”

3. The United Nations General Assembly, including through resolution A/RES/75/202 adopted in December 2020, recognized “the Commission on Science and Technology for Development [CSTD] as the United Nations focal point in the system-wide follow-up to the outcomes of the World Summit.”

4. The United Nations Secretary-General’s report to the CSTD on system-wide follow-up to WSIS outcomes is compiled annually by the secretariat of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), per the Economic and Social Council’s Resolution 2006/46 of July 2006, based on reporting provided by UNESCO secretariat and other entities of the United Nations system, international organizations and WSIS stakeholders.

5. UNESCO serves as lead facilitator in the implementation of five of the eleven WSIS Action Lines: on access to information and knowledge (Action Line C3), e-learning (C7) and e-science (C7), cultural diversity and identity, linguistic diversity and local content (C8), media (C9) and the ethical dimensions of the information society (C10), with a cross-cutting focus on gender equality.

6. The United Nations General Assembly Resolution (A/RES/70/125) recognized the value of harnessing ICTs for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, noting that ICTs can accelerate progress across all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In this context, the General Assembly also affirmed fundamental human rights including freedom of expression and privacy, as well as the principle of multi-stakeholder cooperation and engagement in Internet governance. Additionally, relevant to the work of UNESCO, the resolution expressed concern with “serious threats to freedom of expression and plurality of information” and the independence of media.

7. In November 2015, UNESCO’s General Conference, through 38 C/Resolution 56, endorsed the Outcome Document of the “Connecting the Dots: Options for Future Action” conference. It acknowledged the growing importance of ICTs for sustainable development in all of UNESCO’s fields of competence and endorsed the concept of Internet Universality, with an Internet that respects the principles of human Rights, Openness, Accessibility and Multi-stakeholder participation (ROAM).


8. UNESCO’s programmatic mandates have been mainstreamed across the aforementioned WSIS action lines, as the accelerating use of ICTs transforms all spheres of the Organization’s work, generating new opportunities in terms of dialogue and exchange, human empowerment, inclusive development, as well as new impacts of digital innovation and transformation.

9. Initiatives for 2020 and 2021 have spanned UNESCO’s programmatic mandates relevant to the implementation of WSIS outcomes, ranging from addressing the ethical implications of artificial intelligence, to promoting open solutions including open access to scientific and educational resources, to engaging with Member States in implementing Internet Universality indicators underpinning the ROAMprinciples, and in preparing for the launch next year of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032).

10.UNESCO’s work on WSIS outcomes contributes to an evolution of the information society toward the development of knowledge societies, in which information becomes knowledge and can be put to the benefit of human development based on freedom of expression, quality education for all, universal access to  information  and  knowledge,  and  with  respect  for  cultural  and  linguistic  diversity  to  foster  dialogue  among cultures and civilizations.

11.UNESCO, as the annual co-organizer, with ITU, UNDP, and UNCTAD, of the WSIS Forum, has initiated   high-level   discussions   and   broadened   multi-stakeholder   dialogue   linking   ICTs,   frontier   technologies and SDG achievement. The virtual WSIS Forum 2021 drew a cumulative record attendance of  over  50,000  attendees  from  government,  civil  society,  academia,  private  sector  and  international  organizations, compared to 15,000 virtual attendees in 2020.

12.At the WSIS Forum 2021, UNESCO organized 16 thematic sessions, events and live interviews, raising visibility around the work of UNESCO across its Action Lines: from addressing Open Science for Sustainable Development, to countering online disinformation while upholding Freedom of Expression, to  a  High-Level Dialogue on “Ensuring Inclusion in the AI world”. A WSIS Action Lines side event was organized at the sixth annual Multi-Stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the SDGs (STI Forum 2021) and at the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF 2021).

13.The WSIS Forum 2021 closed with the handover to UNESCO of the rotating Chair (through May 2022) of the United Nations Group on the Information Society (UNGIS). The group was established by the  United  Nations  Chief  Executives  Board  (CEB)  in  2006  as  the  first  inter-agency  digital  cooperation  platform, in order to support implementation of WSIS outcomes through the work of entities of the United Nations system.

14.At  the  fifteenth  Internet  Governance  Forum  (IGF)  held  virtually  in  November  2020,  UNESCO launched the IGF Dynamic Coalition on Internet Universality Indicators and presented the results from ongoing  and  completed  national  assessments  in  21  countries  across  the  five  continents.  UNESCO  hosted an IGF workshop inviting multi-stakeholder cooperation to combat the COVID-19 “disinfodemic” and,  with  UNDP,  organized  a  digital  workshop  on  elections  in  times  of  disinformation.  A  workshop  organized  by  UNESCO  with  GIZ  and  youth,  as  well  as  civil  society  partners,  also  highlighted  the  importance of strengthening multilingualism through datasets in low resourced languages.

15.UNESCO has strategically advocated for a human-rights based and human-centred approach by promoting  Internet  Universality  principles  in  the  WSIS  implementation.  The Internet  Universality  Indicators framework is structured around the ROAM-X framework, and includes 303 indicators. These indicators serve as an internationally recognized toolkit to help stakeholders to assess their own national environment  and  develop  Internet  policies  that  will  effectively  advance  human  rights  and  contribute  to  achieving the 2030 Agenda.

16.Article 15 of the 2003 WSIS Declaration of Principles states: “In the evolution of the Information Society, particular attention must be given to the special situation of indigenous peoples, as well as to the preservation of their heritage and their cultural legacy.” As the lead United Nations agency for the organization  of  the  International  Decade  of  Indigenous  Languages  (2022-2032),  UNESCO  is  bringing  together stakeholders engaged in policy-making, international cooperation, civil society and human rights activities,  and  industrial  development  with  the  aim  to  share  their  experiences  in  the  area  of  digital  inclusion.

17.UNESCO  has  also  implemented  the  WSIS  framework  through  its  co-lead  of  the  Broadband  Commission for Sustainable Development, which was launched by ITU and UNESCO at the WSIS Forum 2010.  In  2020-2021,  working  groups  co-chaired  by  UNESCO  published  two  reports  endorsed  by  the  Commission: “Balancing Act: Countering Digital Disinformation while respecting Freedom of Expression” and  “The  Digital  Transformation  of  Education:  Connecting  Schools,  Empowering  Learners”. The latter led to a further report initiated by UNESCO on Digital Learning, to be launched at the autumn session of the Broadband Commission in September 2021.


18.Since  the  adoption  of  the  WSIS  outcomes  in  2005,  societies  have  been  transformed  by  information and communication technologies in ways that could not even be imagined a decade and a half  ago.  In  many  cases  these  technologies  have  lived  up  to  their  promise  for  development  and  the  dramatic expansion of inclusion and participation in society. However, awareness of new risks has grown, including misinformation and hate speech, digital surveillance, data privacy, and now the rise of artificial intelligence,  all  of  which  carry  important  implications  for  human  rights  and  fundamental  freedoms.  Massive inequalities also remain, and tremendous power and wealth have also been entrenched in the hands of a few global private sector companies, calling into question the open and entrepreneurial spirit that defined ICT development during the first part of the century. While the vision at the heart of the WSIS process is undoubtedly as relevant as ever, it is now critical to ensure that the coordination mechanisms set up to pursue it are adapted to these new realities. The upcoming twentieth anniversary of the Tunis Summit provides an important opportunity to do so.

19.In this context, and pursuant to A/RES/70/125, the United Nations General Assembly will hold a high-level meeting in 2025 to take stock of progress on the WSIS outcomes and identify both areas of continued focus and challenges among stakeholders. The United Nations General Assembly resolution A/RES/75/202  also  “requests  United  Nations  system  entities  facilitating  the  World  Summit  on  the  Information Society action lines to review their reporting and workplans to support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda”.

20.It  is  noted  that  many  of  the  most  pressing  urgent  challenges  in  the  field  of  ICTs  relate  not  to  connectivity  and  access,  but  rather  to  usage  and  content  issues,  including  skills  development,  multilingualism and the abovementioned risks, all of which fall directly within the mandate of UNESCO. In this sense, it is critical for the Organization to play a leading role in shaping discussions on the future direction of coordination mechanisms such as WSIS.

21.In this light, UNESCO, in its capacity as annual rotating Chair of the United Nations Group on the Information Society, launched earlier this year a process to jointly develop a WSIS+20 review roadmap through  consultation  with  the  WSIS  co-lead-facilitators  ITU,  UNDP,  UNCTAD  and  other  Action  Line  facilitating international organizations, emphasizing the necessity of a coordinated and multistakeholder approach.

22.In 2022, a multistakeholder consultation process on the WSIS+20 Review process will be held at the WSIS Forum 2022. Afterwards, UNESCO will present the WSIS+20 review consultation outcomes to the UNGIS membership and will as co-vice UNGIS chair contribute to its refinement and implementation.

23.In  2023,  UNESCO  will  be  able  to  submit  to  the  General  Conference  at  its  42nd  session  a  consolidated roadmap on UNESCO’s vision and planned contributions to the WSIS+20 Review process, including  an  outreach  and  consultation  process  to  engage  UNESCO  National  Commissions,  Chairs,  networks and relevant category 1 and 2 institutes and centres.

24.In 2024, and depending on the feedback of Member States, UNESCO plans to organize a high-level  conference  to  review  international  coordination  on  ICT  issues,  in  close  coordination  with  other  United Nations  entities  and  aligned  to  agreed  United  Nations  General  Assembly  processes,  thereby  further  contributing  to  an  overall  stocktaking  of  progress  made,  of  potential  gaps  and  continued  focus  areas and the need to further harness ICT for development and to close existing digital and knowledge divides.

Proposed draft resolution

25.In light of the above, the General Conference may wish to adopt a resolution along the following lines:

The General Conference, 

Recalling 39 C/Resolution 42 and 40 C/Resolution 58,

Also recalling resolution 70/125 adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 16 December 2015  on  the  overall  review  of  the  implementation  of  the  World  Summit  on  the  Information  Society (WSIS) outcomes,

Recognizing that, a decade and a half since the adoption of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) outcomes, information and communication technologies have fundamentally transformed the world, bringing new challenges that require urgent attention,

Also  recognizing  that  many  of  these  challenges  fall  within  UNESCO’s  areas  of  competence  and  impact directly upon its constitutional mandate to build peace in the minds of men and women,

Having examined document 41 C/27,

1. Takes note of the report by the Director-General on the implementation of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) outcomes and roadmap to support coherent system-wide reporting on WSIS outcomes to inform Member States; 

2. Confirms its  commitment  to  harnessing  the  potential  of  information  and  communication  technologies (ICTs) to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs);

3. Invites Member  States  and  all  other  stakeholders  to  strengthen  their  participation  in,  and  contribution to, the implementation of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) outcomes;

4. Requests the Director-General to continue reinforcing UNESCO’s leading role in the United Nations system in the implementation of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) outcomes, by building on UNESCO’s comparative advantages in this field;

5. Invites the Director-General to ensure a leading role for the Organization in the twenty-year review  of  the  World  Summit  on  the  Information  Society  (WSIS+20)  by  implementing  the  outlined road map in alignment with agreed United Nations reporting mechanisms on WSIS outcomes;

6. Also requests the Director-General to submit to it at its 42nd session a report for debate on the Organization’s implementation of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)  outcomes  and  how  the  vision  of  WSIS  of  a  ”people-centred,  inclusive  and  development-oriented”  society  can  best  be  fulfilled,  taking  into  account  current  and  future  technological  realities and challenges, along with a draft resolution on the Organization’s consolidated road map towards the twenty-year review (WSIS+20) in 2025