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Media – The use of information and communication technologies in order to promote peace in the world. This is the challenge of the ICT4Peace foundation, based in Geneva. Interview with its president.

During the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), that was held in Geneva in 2003, Daniel Stauffacher, Ambassador for Switzerland at that time, had a revelation. He became conscious of  the role that information and communication technologies (ICT) could have in preventing conflicts and keeping peace and launched, together with former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and others, an organization  (ICT4peace) that is dedicated to this subject. Interview with its president.

Le Temps: The WSIS revealed the link between ICT and development. What about peace?

Daniel Stauffacher: The fight against poverty, injustices and the protection of human rights are necessary factors in order to promote peace. The role of the media and ICT is equally important. There are different levels: prevention of conflicts, crisis management as well as reconstruction and reconciliation.  In the Near East, for example, interviews are given on either side of the wall, and this can help to gain mutual understanding. Of course, this can never replace negotiations around a table, but it is important to inform the public about it. Those who run the conflicts have always used new technologies to perfection, e.g. for propaganda; we want to turn around this tendency.

- Darfour was a war without images and with little information. Are communication tools missing in this African region?
- Infrastructures are effectively missing, but the development is speeding up. The growth of mobile telephones is especially enormous and text messages are becoming an important transmitter of information. Soon, nobody will be able to say “I didn’t know” or “I haven’t seen it”. But often, the problem is not the lack of technology, but the wrong use of it.

- What does this mean?
- You cannot blame a child in Darfour that he did not send a photo with his mobile phone. On the other hand, humanitarians, militaries and other actors in crisis management should do it. The role of our organization is, to get them there. It is essential to coordinate and exchange information about the needs of a population during a crisis. The problem is, that all these actors compete against each other. They all work with the same donors and each one of them tries to be the first one to inform in order to appear more credible. There is also the question of leadership: the old generation does not necessarily recognize the importance of ICT. That’s why we launched a workshop to raise awareness among key leaders at the United Nations in New York.

- What about other mandates of your foundation?
- The second mandate consists of training and development of the concerned parties. Together with the “Cairo Center for Crisis prevention and Peacekeeping in Africa”, we developed a module that we will test in Cairo, starting in August. Police, the military, NGO’s, UN diplomats, donors and members of the government will be brought together to facilitate cooperation among each other.  The third mandate of our foundation involves inventory and research about existing initiatives and tools in the domain of ICT.