74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly
Item 16: Information and communications technologies for development
Ms. Savitri Panabokke, Minister
Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations
18th October 2019
Sri Lanka aligns itself with the statement delivered by the distinguished representative of the State of Palestine on behalf of the Group of 77 and China.
My delegation thanks the Secretary-General for his reports on this Agenda Item which provide important insights into the subject.
As we witness the unfolding of the fourth industrial revolution, a new and rapidly growing wave of innovative ICTs and “frontier technologies” are providing mankind with tremendous opportunities to address development challenges. Innovative technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, genetics, nanotechnology and space science are powerful tools that must be harnessed in a balanced and integrated manner to advance the 2030 Development Agenda. In this regard, Sri Lanka welcomes the annual resolution on “Information and Communications Technologies for Sustainable Development.”
It is indeed noteworthy that an increasing number of people worldwide now have access to ICTs and more than half the global population is using the Internet. While this is a landmark achievement in connectivity and inclusivity, it also provides people with greater opportunities to enhance their lives.
Access to ICTs can make positive contributions to economies and societies, there by intensifying opportunities to achieve sustainable development. Yet huge gaps exist in accessing and using ICTs, leading to a digital divide. While it is heartening to note that 80% of the population has access to the Internet in Europe, it is a cause for concern that such access just 20% in the Least Developed Countries. In addition, those who live in rural areas and on lower incomes are less connected and therefore unable to benefit fully from ICTs to improve their economic and social status. The gender digital divide continues to be a cause of concern as women are 12 per cent less likely than men to be online. This trend is particularly high in least developed countries and exacerbates gender inequality.
It is imperative therefore that global initiatives on sustainable development focus on incorporating solutions to address the issue of the digital divide. International efforts must be enhanced to provide education and capacity building to developing countries to enable them to derive optimal developmental gains from ICTs. In this regard, Sri Lanka welcomes the outcome of the 22nd Session of the Commission on Science and Technology Development which provided a platform for all stakeholders to share experiences and pursue partnerships for capacity building.
Rapid technological innovation has created significant changes in employment opportunities. Artificial intelligence and automation while creating new jobs, also threaten to replace existing jobs, thereby leading to unemployment. It is imperative that countries adapt to these rapid changes by making the required adjustments to school curricula and work place training, to build the digital and non-digital skills needed for the workplace of the future. Aware of the need to create such a workforce, Sri Lanka has identified three flagship programmes and 10 priority projects under the National Digital Economy Strategy (2018 – 2025) to create skilled workers that would promote the development of the ICT industry and other vital sectors such as tourism, manufacturing and agriculture.
Innovative technologies and rapidly growing ICTs afford a wealth of opportunities for countries while also posing new challenges. Cybersecurity is a major concern for Governments and other stakeholders, including businesses and individuals.
The gap between countries in their capacity to protect citizens against cyber-threats is increasing. This is particularly a cause for concern for most developing countries, which lack the proper legislation to protect their citizens’ from these threats. Such a situation calls for enhanced cooperation among countries to develop appropriate legal and regulatory frameworks and also develop processes to deal with the ethical aspects arising from developments in ICTs, especially relating to social media.
Sri Lanka is of the view that Social Media platforms should be subject to a code of conduct to regulate their obligation to tackling intolerance and hate online. In this regard we encourage an All-of-UN approach to national, regional and global efforts to prevent religious intolerance and hate speech online.
In conclusion Mr. Chair, my delegation affirms its strong support to global initiatives to harness the benefits of ICT while remaining strongly committed to addressing the challenges arising from these rapid developments.
I thank you!