The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Acronym: UNHCR

Address: Rue de Montbrillant 94, 1201 Genève, Switzerland

Website: https://www.unhcr.org/

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

Established in 1950 after the end of WWII, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is a UN agency mandated to help and protect refugees, internally displaced and stateless people, and to assist in their voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement to a third country.

Whereas the majority of its activities take place in the field (given that 90% of its staff is based on the ground) and include, among other things, the provision of protection, shelter, emergency relief, and repatriation, it also works with national political, economic and social actors in order to ensure that refugee policies are enacted and laws are compliant with international frameworks. In addition, the organisation also takes on advocacy activities where it works with governments, non-government actors in order to promote practices and provide assistance to those in need.

As recognition for its work, in 1954, the UNHCR was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Digital activities

The UNHCR’s digital activities centre around its core objective – to aid refugees and displaced persons. The organisation, therefore, has been very active in the area of digital inclusion and digital identity. In this context, the UNHCR, for instance, looks for ways how digital identity can facilitate protection and empowerment of refugees and asylum-seekers. In addition, the Refugee agency has conducted substantial work in the field of privacy and data protection and transition to online learning to ensure the right to education.

Digital policy issues

Digital identities 

To promote the inclusion of refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), stateless persons and other vulnerable individuals, the UNHCR focuses a part of its work on digital identity. Within this scope, it published in 2018 its “UNHCR Strategy on Digital Identity and Inclusion”. In this document, the UNHCR defines the challenges faced by individuals, in particular, foreigners, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees who lack their legal identity papers. It highlights the advantages brought about by digitalisation and defines three main objectives for achieving the digital inclusion and digital identity: 1) Empower refugees, stateless and forcibly displaced persons to access, among other things, the job market, education and financial services; 2) strengthen states’ capacity to register and document all individuals living on their respective territories and ensure conformity with international standards of data security and privacy; 3) improve service delivery (e.g. delivery of legal and protection) through the use of the Internet and mobile technologies.

From a practical point of view, the Refugee Agency uses Population Registration and Identity Management Ecosystem (PRIMES) which gathers UNHCR’s digital registration, identity management and case management tools into a single internally connected and interoperable ecosystem. The tool makes use of personal information including biographic and biometric data, to provide necessary assistance, protection and services to protection to refugees and other displaced populations.

Online education 

Online learning plays also features in UNHCR’s work. In a recent publication titled ‘Supporting Continued Access to Education during COVID-19’, the UNHCR underscored its vital role in advocating for and ensuring the inclusion of refugees in national response plans to ensure the continuity of learning. The document sheds light on some of the activities that it has undertaken in light of the health crisis, including, the launch of online learning platforms in Jordan as well as related education programmes in Uganda.

In the broader context of online education, in its ‘Education 2030: A Strategy for Refugee Inclusion’, the UNHCR highlights the increasingly important role played by digital technologies and proposes the strengthening of policies and practices to promote the development of digital and transferable skills through connected and blended learning

methods. Keeping within the broader approach, in 2016, the UNHCR, together with Arizona State University, initiated the Connected Learning in Crisis Consortium (CLCC). The objective of the initiative is to promote, coordinate and support the provision of quality higher education in contexts of conflict, crisis and displacement through Connected Learning that thanks to the use of information technology combine face-to-face and online learning.

To pursue its action in the domain of access to education, the Refugee Agency runs several platforms. To illustrate, its online platform ‘UNHCR Opportunities’ allows refugees, IDPs and other displaced persons to find accredited higher education academic or scholarship programmes that have been verified by UNHCR. The ‘Learn and Connect’ portal enables UNHCR staff and partners to access a comprehensive set of learning activities.

Sustainable development 

The UNHCR is firmly committed to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The interplay between digital and development is evident in the Agency’s contributions in the field of digital inclusion. To this end, the UNHCR has published the above-mentioned ‘Strategy on Digital Identity and Inclusion’.

The Agency has also developed Digital Access, Inclusion and Participation programme, to ensure that refugees and other displaced communities have access to digital technology and connectivity, and increasing their participation in Agency’s work. UNHCR’s Innovation Service leads the programme.

In 2018, the UNHCR launched the Global Compact for Refugees, a  framework for more equitable responsibility-sharing, noting that sustainable solutions to refugee situations cannot be realised without international cooperation. Therefore, it sets out four key objectives: to ease the pressures on host countries, enhance refugee self-reliance, expand access to third-country solutions, and support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity. Moreover, the Agency developed a digital platform for the Global Compact on Refugees, which enables the sharing of experiences and knowledge on the implementation of the Global Compact for Refugees.

The UNHCR has also worked with students and young people to raise awareness on many challenges faced by refugees. For instance, the Agency has launched ‘The MUN Refugee Challenge’ to encourage students worldwide to debate on and shape solutions to numerous refugee crises.

Privacy and data protection 

The UNHCR has been very vocal in the area of data protection, emphasising that ‘Data protection is part and parcel of refugee protection’. Since 2015, the Refugee agency has its own Data protection policy. The Policy is accompanied by the ‘Guidance on the Protection of Personal Data of Persons of Concern to UNHCR’, published in 2018, with the aim of assisting the UNHCR personnel in the application and interpretation of the above Policy.

The Refugee agency has recently published a ‘Data Transformation Strategy 2020-2025’ aimed at strengthening its role as a leading authority on data and information related to forcibly displaced and stateless persons.

Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies

Acronym: IHEID

Address: Maison de la paix, Chemin Eugène-Rigot 2A CH-1211 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://graduateinstitute.ch

The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies is an institution of research and higher education at the postgraduate level dedicated to the study of world affairs, with a particular emphasis on the cross-cutting fields of international relations and development issues.

Through its core activities, the Institute aims to promote international co-operation and contribute to the progress of developing societies. More broadly, it endeavours to develop creative thinking on the major challenges of our time, foster global responsibility and advance respect for diversity.

By intensely engaging with international organisations, non-governmental organisations, governments and multinational companies, the Institute participates in global discussions and prepares future policymakers to lead tomorrow’s world.

Digital Activities

As part of its main strategy, the Institute seeks to develop digitally-driven innovation in teaching and research, as well as information technology (IT) services. At the same time, as a research institution focusing on global challenges and their impacts, digitalisation has become one of its fundamental and policy-oriented research areas.

Over the years, the Institute has developed a performing IT infrastructure with secured data storage space and digital platforms (e.g. Campus, Moodle, TurntIn, Zoom, MyHR, Salesforces, Converis, etc.) to provide seamless services as well as dematerialised/paperless processes (e.g. student applications, course registration, etc.) for students, staff, and professors.

Various publications address topics related to digitalisation and its impact, such as big data, robotics, crypto mining, terrorism and social media, data in international trade and trade law, Internet governance, digital health, microfinance and Fintech, smart cities, etc.

The Institute also organises workshops, seminars, film screenings, and other events that cover Internet-related issues, ranging from the digital divide and the governance and regulatory aspects of data to cybersecurity.

Digital policy issue

Capacity development 

The Institute provides a multidisciplinary perspective on international governance, including research and teaching on Internet governance, digital trade, and artificial intelligence (AI).

In terms of teaching, its Master, PhD, and executive education courses are increasingly focused on the effects of digitalisation on society and the economy, and more generally the global system. Some examples of courses are Internet Governance and Economics’, ‘Internet Governance: the Role of International Law, Cybersecurity and Virtual Insecurity’, ‘Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Work’, ‘Technology and Development’, and ‘Big Data Analysis’. Digital skills workshops are also organised for students to provide them with basic digital competence for their future professional or academic life (e.g. big data analysis, digital communication strategy, introduction to programming with Python, data analysis in various contexts, etc.)

In terms of research, a growing number of researchers and PhD candidates analyse the impact of digitalisation on international relations and development issues. A few examples of research topics are Internet and AI governance, digitalisation of trade, fintech, AI and humanitarian law, regulatory aspects of data, digital inclusion, and open government data. Some of the prominent research initiatives are listed under respective digital policy issues sections below.

The Institute also supports professors in developing pedagogical skills and in using digital tools. Workshops are offered to all faculty members at the end of the summer to prepare them for hybrid teaching and the use of new technological tools in the classroom.

Artificial intelligence 

The Institute hosts the new Digital Health and AI Research Collaborative (I-DAIR) directed by former Ambassador of India and Visiting Lecturer at the Institute Amandeep Gill. I-DAIR aims to create a platform to promote responsible and inclusive AI research and digital technology development for health. This platform is supported by the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator (GESDA).

The faculty also carries out a number of digital policy-related research projects, some of which focus on AI in particular. For example, the project titled ‘Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS) and War Crimes: Who is to Bear Responsibility?’ aims to clarify whether and to what extent the requirements for ascribing criminal responsibility for the commission of an act – and in particular the key concepts of culpability theories – can be applied to the use of LAWS in combat operations. This analysis will serve to identify lacunae and inconsistencies in the current legal framework in the face of the advent of military robotics.

Sustainable development 

A number of projects carried out by the Institute’s members aim to address the relation between digital technologies and sustainable development. For instance, the ‘Modelling Early Risk Indicators to Anticipate Malnutrition’ (MERIAM) project uses computer models to test and scale up cost-effective means to improve the prediction and monitoring of undernutrition in difficult contexts.

The project ‘Governing health futures 2030: growing up in a digital world’, hosted at the Global Health Centre, explores how to ensure that digital development helps improve the health and well-being of all, and especially among children and young people. It focuses on examining integrative policies for digital health, AI, and universal health coverage to support the attainment of the third sustainable development goal.

Focusing on the Global South, the project ‘African Futures: Digital Labor and Blockchain Technology’ strengthens empirical knowledge on changing trends in employment in the region by way of a two-pronged approach to the increasingly interconnected global division of labor: i) App-based work mediated by online service platforms and ii) the use of blockchain technology in mining sites for ethical sourcing, traceability, and proof of origin.

Inclusive finance 

Projects carried out by the Institute’s members also address the role of digital technologies in enhancing financial inclusion. The project ‘Effects of Digital Economy on Banking and Finance’ studies digital innovations and how fintech extends financial services to firms and households and improves credit allocation using loan-account level data comparing the fintech and traditional banking.

Online education 

The Institute has developed digital tools (e.g. app for students, responsive website) and used digital services (e.g. social media, Facebook, Google ads, etc.) for many years in its student recruitment and communication campaigns. Digital tools are also part of the pedagogical methods to improve learning. Flipped classrooms, MOOCs, SPOCs, and podcasts, to name a few, are used by professors in master and PhD programmes, as well as in executive education.

Thanks to the above developments, the Institute was able to respond quickly and effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. In a week, the Institute moved to distance working and online teaching.

Digital tools

  • Digital collections that allow free access to historical documents, texts, and photographs on international relations from the 16th to 20th century;
  • Two free online courses (MOOC) on globalisation and global governance.
  • Podcasts showcasing professors and guests’ expertise (What Matters Today, In Conversation With, Parlons en).
  • Podcasts are also integrated into the curricula of several international history and interdisciplinary master courses to encourage students to use social network platforms to popularise their findings.

Future of Meetings

Any reference to online or remote meetings?

  • Events, sessions, and seminars are held online (usually in Zoom), e.g. information sessions for admitted and prospective students are taking place online.

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Acronym: UNECE

Address: Palais des Nations, 8-14 Avenue de la Paix CH-1211, Geneva 10, Switzerland

Website: https://unece.org

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) is one of five regional commissions of the UN. Its major aim is to promote pan-European economic integration. To do so, it brings together 56 countries in Europe, North America, and Asia, which discuss and co-operate on economic and sectoral issues.

UNECE works to promote sustainable development and economic growth through policy dialogue, negotiation of international legal instruments, development of regulations and norms, exchange and application of best practices, economic and technical expertise, and technical co-operation for countries with economies in transition. It also sets out norms, standards, and conventions to facilitate international co-operation.

Digital Activities

UNECE’s work touches on several digital policy issues, ranging from digital standards (in particular in relation to electronic data interchange for administration, commerce, and transport) to the Internet of Things (e.g. intelligent transport systems and automated driving). Its UN Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) develops trade facilitation recommendations and electronic business standards, covering both commercial and government business processes. UNECE also carries out activities focused on promoting sustainable development, in areas such as sustainable and smart cities for all ages; sustainable mobility and smart connectivity; and measuring and monitoring progress towards the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

UNECE’s work in the field of statistics is also relevant for digital policy issues. For example, the 2019 Guidance on Modernizing Statistical Legislation – which guides countries through the process of reviewing and revising statistical legislation – covers issues such as open data, national and international data exchanges, and government data management.

Digital policy issues

E-commerce and trade 

UNECE’s subsidiary, CEFACT, serves as a focal point (within the UN Economic and Social Council) for trade facilitation recommendations and electronic business standards, covering both commercial and government business processes. In collaboration with the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standardisation (OASIS), UNECE developed the Electronic Business using eXtensible Markup Language (ebXML). Another output of UNECE is represented by the UN rules for Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Transport (UN/EDIFACT), which include internationally agreed upon standards, directories, and guidelines for the electronic interchange of structured data between computerised information systems. UNECE has also issued recommendations on issues such as electronic commerce agreements and e-commerce self-regulatory instruments. CEFACT also works on supporting international, regional, and national e-government efforts to improve trade facilitation and e-commerce systems.

Digital standards 

UNECE’s subsidiary body CEFACT has developed, together with OASIS, the Electronic Business using eXtensible Markup Language (ebXML) standard (containing specifications which enable enterprises around the world to conduct business over the Internet). UNECE’s standardisation work has also resulted in the development of EDIFACT), as well as other digital standards in areas such as agriculture (e.g. electronic crop reports, electronic animal passports, and fishering languages for universal eXchange), e-tendering, and transfer of digital records.

Internet of things 

As part of its work in the field on intelligent transport systems, UNECE carries out several activities in the field of automated driving. It hosts multilateral agreements and conventions ruling the requirements and the use of these technologies (such as the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic). Its activities (e.g. facilitating policy dialogue and developing regulations and norms) are aimed at contributing to enabling automated driving functionalities and to ensuring that the benefits of these technologies can be captured without compromising safety and progress achieved in areas such as border crossing and interoperability. It also collaborates with other interested stakeholders, including the automotive and information and communication technology (ICT) industries, consumer organisations, governments, and international organisations.

Another area of work for UNECE is related to harnessing smart technologies and innovation for sustainable and smart cities. In this regard, it promotes the use of ICTs in city planning and service provision and it has developed (together with the ITU) a set of key performance indicators for smart sustainable cities. UNECE also works to facilitate connectivity through sustainable infrastructure. For instance, it assists countries in developing smart grids for more efficient energy distribution, and it administers international e-roads, e-rail, and e-waterway networks.

Blockchain 

UNECE’s subsidiary body CEFACT has been exploring the use of blockchain for trade facilitation. For instance, work carried out within the Blockchain White Paper Project has resulted in two white papers: One looking at the impact of blockchain on the technical standards work of CEFACT and another looking at how blockchain could facilitate trade and related business processes. The ongoing Chain Project is focused on developing a framework/mechanism for the development and implementation of blockchain services infrastructure, and creating a whitepaper on strategy for development and implementation of interoperable global blockchain technology infrastructure. Another blockchain-related project looks into the development of a standard on the creation of a cross-border inter customs ledger using blockchain technology.

Digital and environment 

UNECE’s work in the area of environmental policy covers a broad range of issues, such as the green economy, shared and safe water, environmental monitoring and assessment, and education for sustainable development. Much of this work is carried out by the Committee on Environmental Policy, which, among other tasks, supports countries in their efforts to strengthen their environmental governance and assesses their efforts to reduce their pollution burden, manage natural resources, and integrate environmental and socioeconomic policies. UNECE has put in place an Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Programme to assist member states in working with environmental data and information and enable informed decision-making processes. As part of this programme, it promotes the use of electronic tools for accessing information and knowledge on environmental matters and is developing a Shared Environmental Information System across the UNECE region. The system is intended to enable countries to connect databases and make environmental data more accessible.

UNECE Environmental Conventions (not necessarily covering digital issues directly, but relevant)

Sustainable development 

UNECE assists countries in its region to address sustainable development challenges (in areas such as environment, connectivity, and urbanisation) through leveraging its norms, standards and conventions, building capacities, and providing policy assistance. It focuses on driving progress towards the following SDGs: 3 (good health and well-being), 6 (clean water and sanitation), 7 (affordable and clean energy), 8 (decent work and economic growth), 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), 11 (sustainable cities and communities), 12 (responsible consumption and production), 13 (climate action), and 15 (life on land). SDG 5 (gender equality) and 17 (partnerships) are overarching for all UNECE activities. Activities undertaken by UNECE in relation to these SDGs converge under 4 high-impact areas: sustainable use of natural resources; sustainable and smart cities for all ages; sustainable mobility and smart connectivity; and measuring and monitoring progress towards the SDGs.

UNECE has developed a series of tools and standards to support countries in measuring and monitoring progress towards the SDGs. It has also put in place an Innovation Policy Outlook which assesses the scope, quality, and performance of policies, institutions and instruments promoting innovation for sustainable development.

Data governance 

UNECE carries out multiple activities of relevance for the area of data governance. To start with, its work on trade facilitation also covers data management issues. For example, it has issued a White Paper on a data pipeline concept for improving data quality in the supply chain and a set of Reference Data Model Guidelines. Several projects carried out in the framework of UNECE’s subsidiary CEFACT also cover data-related issues. Examples include the Cross-border Management Reference Data Model Project (aimed to provide a regulatory reference data model within the CEFACT semantic library in order to assist authorities to link this information to the standards of other organisations) and the Accounting and Audit Reference Data Model Project.

Secondly, UNECE has a Statistical Division which coordinates international statistical activities between UNECE countries and helps to strengthen, modernise, and harmonise statistical systems, under the guidance of the Conference of European Statisticians. Its activities in this area are guided by the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics, adopted in 1992 and later endorsed by the UN Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly. Areas of work include: economic statistics, statistics on population, gender and society, statistics related to sustainable development and the environment, and modernisation of official statistics. In 2019, UNECE published a Guidance on Modernizing Statistical Legislation to guide countries through the process of reviewing and revising statistical legislation. The guidance covers issues such as open data, national and international data exchanges, and government data management.White Paper: Data Pipeline (2018)

Digital tools

UNECE Dashboard of SDG indicators

UNECE digital tools facilitating access to statistical information:

UNECE online platforms and observatories gathering updates and policy resources to help member states respond to the COVID-19 crisis:

Future of meetings

Any reference to online or remote meetings?

  • Yes, UNECE Executive Committee – Special procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic (adopted in April 2020 and extended in July 2020 authorise the Chair of the Commission to convene remote informal meetings of the members of the Executive Committee. It also encourages UNECE subsidiary bodies to explore innovative formats to conduct business remotely. The Executive Committee held a remote informal meeting of members on 20 May 2020. Subsequently, its 110th meeting was also held online, on 10 July 2020.
  • The Conference of European Statisticians held its 68th plenary as a hybrid meeting on 22 June and as an informal virtual meeting on 23–24 June 2020.
  • Several UNECE groups have been holding online meetings. For instance, the 118th session of the Working Party on General Safety Provisions (GRSG) (15–17 July) was held via Webex, without interpretation, and is considered an informal meeting

Any reference to deliberation or decision making online?

  • UNECE Executive Committee – Special procedures during the COVID-19 period (adopted in April 2020 and extended in July 2020) refers to use of the silence procedure for decision-making.
  • Proceedings of the 118th session of GRSG: ‘Decisions taken during the informal virtual meeting will be circulated after the meeting in the three ECE official languages to the delegations of Contracting Parties via their missions in Geneva for final approval under silence procedure of 10 days.’

International Labour Organization

Acronym: ILO

Address: Rte des Morillons 4, 1211 Genève, Switzerland

Website: https://ilo.org

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The International Labour Organization (ILO) was established in 1919 and is therefore the first and oldest specialised agency of the UN. It is the only UN agency that has a tripartite structure consisting of government representatives, employers, and workers, and aims to promote labour rights, including the right to decent work. The ILO also works towards better dialogue on work-related issues and supports adequate employment opportunities.

It maintains over 20 economic sectors that are focused on industries such as health services, oil and gas production, and textiles. As part of its work, the ILO addresses many different topics including child labour, green jobs, and workplace health and safety.

Digital activities

Digital issues are present in a number of areas of the ILO’s work. One of these areas is the postal and telecommunication services sector that encompasses activities related to the Internet, in which  the ILO works on assisting governments, employers, and workers to develop policies and programmes aimed at enhancing economic opportunities and improving working conditions. It pays particular attention to major trends in this sector such as deregulation, and privatisation and how they affect the labour force. More recently, the organisation has started addressing digitalisation through topics such as skills knowledge, employability, and the future of work.

Digital policy issues

Future of work 

Perhaps the most visible digital issue in the ILO’s activities is the future of work. To address it, the ILO established the ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work as part of its Future of Work Initiative. The Commission is composed of government, civil society, academia, and business association representatives. In 2019, the Commission published a landmark report titled ‘Work for a Brighter Future’ that calls for a human-centered agenda for the future of work and explores the impacts of technological progress in the fields of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics and on issues such as the gender labour gap and the automation of work. That same year, the ILO issued the ILO Centenary Declaration that, among other things, calls for ‘full and productive employment and decent work’ in the context of the digital transformation of work, including platform work.

The ILO has published several other research documents and reports on the subject including ‘Digital labour platforms and the future of work: Towards decent work in the online world’ that tackles working conditions on digital platforms and ‘Global employment trends for youth in 2020: Technology and the future of jobs’ that covers inequalities in youth labour markets arising from digital transformation, as well as investment in young people’s skills and many other underlying questions.

Through the non-standard forms of employment topic, the ILO also addresses crowdwork and the gig economy, as well as working from home (e.g. teleworking).

Privacy and data protection 

In regard to privacy and data protection, the ILO has published a set of principles on protection of workers’ personal data that tackles digital data collection and the security and storage of personal data.

Sustainable development 

The ILO, in line with the 2030 Agenda and more specifically sustainable development goal 8 (‘Decent Work and Economic Growth’) has created the DW4SD Resource Platform that maps out the interplay between sustainable development and decent work. The platform provides guidance and working resources to ILO staff, development partners, UN country teams, and other stakeholders.

Capacity development 

Capacity development is another digital-related issue addressed by the ILO. As part of its skills, knowledge, and employability initiatives, the ILO together with the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has developed the ‘SKILL-UP programme’ that aims to assist developing countries to build capacity and improve their skills systems in relation to digitalisation and technological innovation. Aside from providing training to help empower women with digital skills, the programme also develops digital tools such as skill trackers where surveys covering different aspects of skills development are collected in real-time.

The iiO also has a Help Desk for Business on International Labour Standards that provides assistance to businesses on how to align their business operations with labour standards.

Data governance 

The ILO has a world employment and social outlook platform that provides datasets on measures such as the global labour force, unemployment, and employment by sector. The organisation also has a development co-operation dashboard with data on labour-related policy areas.

Digital tools

The International Training Centre, established by the ILO, provides online courses on a variety of labour issues. The ILO also organises webinars and uses a number of social media accounts.

Future of meetings

Any reference to online or remote meetings?

Any reference to holding meetings outside HQ?

Any reference to deliberation or decision making online?

International Committee of the Red Cross

Acronym: ICRC

Address: Av. de la Paix 19, 1202 Genève, Switzerland

Website: https://icrc.org

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

Established in 1863, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is an independent international humanitarian organisation headquartered in Geneva. The ICRC defends and promotes the respect of international humanitarian law (IHL) and is dedicated to protecting the lives and dignity of victims of war and to the provision of assistance. Along these lines, it co-operates with governments, the private sector, and other entities affected by international and internal armed conflict and violence.

Together with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and 190 individual national societies, the ICRC makes up the so-called International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

Digital Activities

Digitalisation is increasingly present in the context of armed conflict and violence: States use cyber operations and artificial intelligence (AI) as part of warfare and humans are affected by the consequences of such operations and other digital risks. To this end, humanitarian organisations also use digital tools to improve their operations. The ICRC addresses the implications of technology which are multifold and range from data protection for humanitarian actions to the application of IHL to cyber operations in armed conflict. It hosts expert and intergovernmental discussions and has developed a number of (digital) tools to help improve awareness and understanding of IHL and relevant standards.

The ICRC co-operates with other organisations on digital policy issues.

Digital policy issues

Artificial intelligence 
The ICRC has also explored the role of AI tools in armed conflict. In a document titled ‘Artificial intelligence and machine learning in armed conflict: A human-centred approach’ published in 2019, it argues that ‘any new technology of warfare must be used, and must be capable of being used, in compliance with existing rules of international humanitarian law.’ It also touches upon the use of AI and machine learning technologies capable of controlling physical military hardware. It argues that from a humanitarian perspective, autonomous weapon systems (AWS) are of particular concern given that humans may not be able to exert control over such weapons or the resulting use of force. While the ICRC recognises that not all weapon systems incorporate AI or machine learning, it emphasises that such software components could eventually give way to future AWS. It also emphasises the potential misuse of AI and machine learning in the development of cyber weapons and capabilities. The ICRC calls for a human control-based approach to the application of AI and machine learning in AWS.

The question of AI has been further explored in other reports such as its ‘Autonomy, artificial intelligence, robotics: Technical aspects of human control’.

Cyberoperations during armed conflict 

The use of cyber operations during armed conflicts is a reality in today’s armed conflicts and their use is likely to increase in future. Through expert discussions, participation in intergovernmental processes, and bilateral confidential dialogue, the ICRC is raising awareness of the potential human cost of cyber operations and the application of IHL to cyber operations during armed conflict. Its efforts on this matter data back to over two decades ago. Ever since, the ICRC holds the view that IHL limits cyber operations ‘during armed conflict just as it limits the use of any other weapon, means and methods of warfare in an armed conflict, whether new or old.’

Over the years, the ICRC has been actively involved in global policy discussions on cyber-related issues, including those held within the UN (various GGEs and the OEWG). The ICRC has also been an observer in the expert processes that developed the Tallinn Manuals. More recently, the ICRC has organised expert meetings and developed reports on ‘The Potential Human Cost of Cyber Operations’ and on ‘Avoiding Civilian Harm from Military Cyber Operations during Armed Conflicts’ (forthcoming). Its legal views on how IHL applies to cyber operations during armed conflict are found in a 2019 position paper that was sent to all UN member states in the context of the different UN-mandated processes on information and communication technology security. The ICRC’s Law and Policy blog maintains an ongoing blog series on the potential human cost of cyber operations, featuring tech expert, legal, and policy perspectives.

Privacy and data protection 

The ICRC plays an active role in regard to privacy and data protection in the context of humanitarian action. The ICRC has a data protection framework compliant with international data protection standards that aims to protect individuals from a humanitarian standpoint. The framework consists of ICRC Rules on Data Protection, which were revised in 2020 in response to the rapid development of digital technologies, while supervisory and control mechanisms are overseen by an independent data protection commission and a data protection officer.

Despite the wide range of data sources employed and dealt with by the ICRC, specific attention is dedicated to biometric data which is often used in forensics and the restoration of family links. In order to manage this highly sensitive information and to ensure the responsible deployment of new technologies (including new biometric identification techniques), the ICRC has adopted a Biometrics Policy, which sets out the roles and responsibilities of the ICRC and defines the legitimate bases and specified purposes for the processing of biometric data.

Data protection is also addressed by the ICRC Handbook on Data Protection in Humanitarian Action. The Handbook provides suggestions how existing data protection principles apply to humanitarian organisations and builds on existing regulations, working procedures, and practices. The second edition of the document specifically provides guidance on the technical aspects of data protection by design and by default and covers technological security measures. In addition, it also addresses through dedicated chapters the potential and risks of digital technology such as blockchain, AI, digital identity, and connectivity for data protection in humanitarian action. The ICRC recently hosted a digital launch event for the second edition of the handbook focusing on data protection and COVID-19.

The ICRC further explored the issue of data and privacy in a joint report that it published with Privacy International titled ‘The humanitarian metadata problem: ‘Doing no harm in the digital era.’ The report looks into how different types of metadata are derived from internal and external humanitarian exchanges (i.e. exchanges between humanitarian organisations and individuals affected by armed conflict and violence or communication within humanitarian organisations) through telecommunications and messaging, cash transfer programmes, and how social media can be accessed and misused for profiling of individuals, surveillance, repression, or commercial exploitation. In line with the humanitarian ‘do no harm’ principle, the report underscores that the humanitarian community has to consider that there is a risk that it can hinder the safety and the rights of persons needing protection when using digital technologies. The ICRC also hosted an event on this topic, the Digital Risk Symposium, which was hosted in London in December 2018. The event explored what organisations can do to ensure they do not create additional vulnerabilities for people already at risk, as well as the potential for collaboration in the sector.

More recently, the ICRC has been involved in the Road to Bern via Geneva dialogues ahead of the 2020 World Data Forum. As part of its contribution, the ICRC collaborated with the World Intellectual Property Organization in the second dialogue dedicated to data collection entitled ‘Protecting data against vulnerabilities: Questions of trust security and privacy of data’. Specific attention was paid to three challenges: data anonymisation, loss of data through cloud processing, and limited use of biometric data.

Digital tools

The ICRC has argued in favour of digitalisation of the Geneva Conventions and on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of these very treaties and additional protocols, released an IHL digital app. The app provides access to over 75 treaties including the Geneva Conventions, and allows users to read through the content and therefore familiarise themselves with the text. The ICRC has a number of databases on IHL including its customary IHL database and the ICRC national implementation database.

Online learning is also used by the ICRC to promote the implementation of IHL. In 2019, it launched an e-learning course entitled ‘Introduction to International Humanitarian Law’ that is aimed at non-legal practitioners, policymakers, and other professionals who are interested in the basics of IHL. Other online courses are available through the ICRC training centre as well as e-briefings which are available on its e-briefing library.

The ICRC also maintains a digital library and an app with all ICRC publications in English and French.

Internet Governance Forum

Acronym: IGF

Address: Villa Bocage Palais des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 10 Switzerland

Website: https://intgovforum.org

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) was established in Paragraph 72 of the Tunis Agenda of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) as a forum for multistakeholder policy dialogue. The mandate of the Forum is to discuss public policy issues related to key elements of Internet governance, in order to foster the sustainability, robustness, security, stability, and development of the Internet. Even though the IGF is not a decision-making body, its great potential lies in open discussions among all stakeholders on challenges and best practices related to the use and evolution of the Internet.

Starting 2006, the IGF holds annual meetings: Athens (2006), Rio de Janeiro (2007), Hyderabad (2008), Sharm El Sheikh (2009), Vilnius (2010), Nairobi (2011), Baku (2012), Bali (2013), Istanbul (2014), João Pessoa (2015), Guadalajara (2016). The programme of the annual meeting and the general direction of the IGF work are deliberated by the Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) to the UN Secretary General.

The IGF Secretariat, currently based at the United Nations Office at Geneva, conducts the preparations for the annual IGF meetings, coordinates the IGF intersessional activities (between two annual meetings), and assists the MAG in its work.

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

Acronym: UNCTAD

Address: Palais des Nations, Av. de la Paix 8-14, 1211 Genève, Switzerland

Website: https://unctad.org

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) is a UN body dedicated to supporting developing countries in accessing the benefits of a globalised economy more fairly and effectively. It provides analysis, facilitates consensus-building, and offers technical assistance, thus helping countries use trade, investment, finance, and technology to support inclusive and sustainable development.

UNCTAD also works to facilitate and measure progress towards achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs), through a wide range of activities in areas such as technology and innovation, trade, investment, environment, transport and logistics, and the digital economy.

UNCTAD’s work often results in analyses and recommendations that can inform national and international policy-making processes, and contribute to promoting economic policies aimed at ending global economic inequalities and generating human-centric sustainable development.

Digital Activities

UNCTAD is particularly active in the field of e-commerce, trade, and the digital economy, carrying out a wide range of activities from research and analysis to providing assistance to member states in developing adequate legislative frameworks and facilitating international dialogue on the development opportunities and challenges associated with the digital economy. UNCTAD also works to facilitate and measure progress towards achieving the SDGs, in particular through (but not limited to) its activities in the field of science, technology, and innovation (STI) for development. Consumer protection, gender equality, and privacy and data protection are other digital policy areas where UNCTAD is active.

Digital policy issues

E-commerce and trade 

UNCTAD’s work programme on e-commerce and the digital economy (ECDE Programme), encompasses several research and analysis, consensus building and technical assistance activities, as follows:

Research and analysis

UNCTAD conducts research and analysis on e-commerce and the digital economy and their implications for trade and development. These are mainly presented in its flagship publication, the Digital Economy Report (known as Information Economy Report until 2017), and in its Technical Notes on ICT for Development.

Consensus building on e-commerce and digital economy policies

UNCTAD’s Intergovernmental Group of Experts on E-commerce and the Digital Economy meets regularly to discuss ways to strengthen the development dimension of e-commerce and the digital economy. The group’s meetings are usually held in conjunction with the eCommerce Week, an annual event hosted by UNCTAD and featuring discussions on development opportunities and challenges associated with the digital economy.

E-Commerce assessments and strategy formulation

The eTrade Readiness Assessments (eT Readies) assist least developed countries (LDCs) and other developing countries in understanding their e-commerce readiness in key policy areas in order to better engage in and benefit from e-commerce. The assessments provide recommendations to overcome identified barriers and bottlenecks to growth and enjoying the benefits of digital trade.

UNCTAD’s work on information and communication technology (ICT) policy reviews and national e-commerce strategies involves technical assistance, advisory services, diagnostics, and strategy development on e-commerce, and national ICT planning at the request of governments. Through an analysis of the infrastructural, policy, regulatory, institutional, operational, and socioeconomic landscape, the reviews help governments to overcome weaknesses and bureaucratic barriers, leverage strengths and opportunities, and put in place relevant strategies.

Legal frameworks for e-commerce

UNCTAD’s E-commerce and Law Reform work helps to develop an understanding of the legal issues underpinning e-commerce through a series of capacity-building workshops for policymakers at the national and regional levels. Concrete actions include: Assistance in establishing domestic and regional legal regimes to enhance trust in online transactions, regional studies on cyber laws harmonisation, and the global mapping of e-commerce legislation through its ‘Global Cyberlaw Tracker’.

Measuring the information economy

UNCTAD’s work on measuring the information economy includes statistical data collection and the development of methodology, as well as linking statistics and policy through the Working Group on Measuring E-commerce and the Digital Economy, established by the Intergovernmental Group of Experts on E-Commerce and the Digital Economy. Figures are published in the biennial Digital Economy Report and the statistics portal UNCTADstat. Technical co-operation here aims to strengthen the capacity of national statistical systems to produce better, more reliable, and internationally comparable statistics on the following issues: ICT use by enterprises, size and composition of the ICT sector, and e-commerce and international trade in ICT-enabled services. UNCTAD also produces the B2C E-commerce Index which measures an economy’s preparedness to support online shopping.

Smart Partnerships through eTrade for all

The eTrade for all initiative (eT4a) is a global collaborative effort of 32 partners to scale up co-operation, transparency, and aid efficiency towards more inclusive e-commerce. Its main tool is an online platform (etradeforall.org), a knowledge-sharing and information hub that facilitates access to a wide range of information and resources on e-commerce and the digital economy. It offers a gateway for matching the suppliers of technical assistance with those in need. Beneficiaries can connect with potential partners, learn about trends, best practices, up-to-date e-commerce indicators, and upcoming events all in one place. The initiative also acts as catalyst of partnership among its members for increased synergies. This collaboration has concretely translated into the participation of several eT4a partners as key contributors to the various eCommerce Weeks organised by UNCTAD and in the conduct and review of eTrade Readiness Assessments.

Consumer protection 

Through its Competition and Consumer Policies Programme, UNCTAD works to assist countries in improving their competition and consumer protection policies. It provides a forum for intergovernmental deliberations on these issues, undertakes research, policy analysis and data collection, and provides technical assistance to developing countries. The Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Consumer Protection Law and Policy monitors the implementation of the UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection and carries out research and provides technical assistance on consumer protection issues (including in the context of e-commerce and the digital economy).

UNCTAD’s work programme on consumer protection is guided, among others, by the UN Conference of Competition and Consumer Protection (held every five years). In 2020, the conference will hold high-level consultations on strengthening consumer protection and competition in the digital economy, and international enforcement co-operation among consumer protection authorities in electronic commerce.

Given the significant imbalances in market power in the digital economy, competition policy is becoming increasingly relevant for developing countries. UNCTAD addresses this issue in the Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Competition Law and Policy.

UNCTAD also runs the Research Partnership Platform, aimed at contributing to the development of best practices in the formulation and implementation of competition and consumer protection laws and policies.

Sustainable development 

UNCTAD works to facilitate and measure progress towards achieving the SDGs, in particular through (but not limited to) its activities in the field of STI for development. The organisation supports countries in their efforts to integrate STI in national development strategies, through initiatives such as Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Reviews and capacity building programmes (such as the Innovation Policy Learning Programme). The eT4a initiative is also intended to contribute to several SDGs, especially in relation to decent work and economic growth, innovation and infrastructure, global partnerships, and gender equality. Moreover, UNCTAD’s SDG Pulse offers statistical information on developments related to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

UNCTAD’s Investment Policy Framework for Sustainable Development provides guidance for policymakers in formulating national investment policies and in negotiating investment agreements. The organisation is also part of the Toolbox for Financing for SDGs – a platform launched in 2018 at the initiative of the President of the UN General Assembly to assist countries and financial actors in exploring solutions to the challenges of financing the SDGs.

UNCTAD carries out research and analysis work covering various development-related issues, examples being its Digital Economy Report and the Technical notes on ICT for development. As the body responsible for servicing the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CTSD), UNCTAD also assists the CSTD in its sustainable development-related work, for instance by preparing studies and reports on issues such as the impact of advanced technologies on sustainable development.

Other UNCTAD activities designed to contribute to sustainable development cover issues such as climate change, the circular economy, and intellectual property.

Capacity development 

Many activities undertaken by UNCTAD have a capacity development dimension. For instance, its work on e-commerce and trade includes supporting developing countries in establishing adequate legal frameworks in these areas (e.g. its eCommerce and Law Reform work) and in producing statistics that can guide effective policy-making (e.g. the Measuring E-commerce and the Digital Economy activities and the ICT Policy Reviews ). UNCTAD’s E-Learning on Trade platform provides courses and training on issues such as trade, gender and development and non-tariff measures in trade.

UNCTAD also works to build capacity in STI policy-making in developing countries, through initiatives such as the Innovation Policy Learning programme and STI training provided in the context of the P166 programme.

Additionally, UNCTAD’s Virtual Institute – run in co-operation with universities worldwide – is dedicated to building knowledge for trade and development. Another area where UNCTAD provides capacity building for developing countries is that of statistics: The organisation and its partners assist national statistics organisations in the collection, compilation and dissemination of their statistics in domains such as trade, sustainable development, and investments.

Gender rights online 

UNCTAD runs a Trade, Gender and Development Programme dedicated to assisting countries in developing and implementing gender-sensitive trade policies, conducting gender impact analyses of trade policies and agreements, and strengthening the links between trade and gender. One notable initiative is the eTrade for Women initiative, dedicated to advancing the empowerment of women through ICTs.

Other initiatives undertaken in this area include capacity building on trade and gender, the Women in STEM: Changing the narrative dialogues, and the  Data and statistics for more gender-responsive trade policies in Africa, the Caucasus and Central Asia project.

Data governance? 

As data has become a key resource in the digital economy, data governance is a fundamental part of the work of UNCTAD. This is illustrated, for example, in the research and analysis work of the Digital Economy Report 2019, which focused on the role of data as the source of value in the digital economy and how it is created and captured. Moreover, some of UNCTAD’s work on e-commerce and digital trade touches specifically on privacy and data protection issues. For instance, the eCommerce and Law Reform work dedicated to supporting developing countries in their efforts to establish adequate legal frameworks for e-commerce also covers data protection and privacy among the key issues addressed. The Global Cyberlaw Trackers offers information on data protection laws in UNCTAD member states.

Also relevant for data governance discussions is UNCTAD’s work on statistics, as the organisation collects and analyses a wide range of data on issues such as economic trends, international trade, population, and the digital economy. Moreover, UNCTAD’s SDG Pulse offers statistical information on developments related to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

UNCTAD is also running several projects focused on improving the efficiency of data management in the context of activities such as maritime trade (e.g. the Digitising Global Maritime Trade project) and customs operations (e.g. the Automated System for Customs Data).

Digital tools

 UNCTAD has developed several digital tools and online platforms in recent years. Examples include:

Future of meetings

Any reference to online or remote meetings?

Any reference to deliberation or decision making online?

United Nations Human Rights Council

Acronym: UNHRC

Address: Palais Wilson 52, rue des Pâquis, CH-1201 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/Pages/HRCIndex.aspx

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The Human Rights Council is a United Nations intergovernmental body whose mandate is to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe, and to make recommendations on cases of human rights violations. The Council is made up of 47 member states, as elected by the UN General Assembly.

The Council works closely with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), headed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who is the principal human rights official of the United Nation.

Freedom of expression and privacy in the online space are two of the issues covered by the Council in its activities. These have been discussed at UNHRC sessions, and covered in resolutions adopted by the Council, as well as in reports elaborated by the special rapporteurs appointed by the Council. The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression has issued reports on issues such as: the use of encryption and anonymity to exercise the rights to freedom of opinion and expression in the digital age; states’ surveillance of communications on the exercise of the human rights to privacy and to freedom of opinion and expression; the right to freedom of opinion and expression exercised through the Internet; etc. The Special Rapporteur on the righ to privacy has within its mandate the responsibility to make recommendations for the promotion and protection of the right to privacy, including in connection with challenges arising from new technologies.