Using the web and Internet for democracy – Burma and others

“Images of saffron-robed monks leading throngs of people along the streets of Rangoon have been seeping out of a country famed for its totalitarian regime and repressive control of information.The pictures are sometimes grainy and the video footage shaky – captured at great personal risk on mobile phones – but each represents a powerful statement of political dissent.”It is amazing how the Burmese are able through underground networks to get things from outside and inside,” says Vincent Brussels, head of the Asian section of press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders.“Before, they were moving things hand-to-hand and now they are using the internet – proxy websites, Google and YouTube and all these things.”

Just as RCTV defied the Venezuelan government’s censorship and my own work on the potential of the web and Internet to support democracy in Nepal suggests, blogs and mobile phones are now being used by Burmese pro-democracy dissidents, as this BBC news report highlights.

“Technology will make it increasingly difficult for the state to control the information its people receive,” said Ronald Reagan soon after stepping down as America’s president: “The Goliath of totalitarianism will be brought down by the David of the microchip”.

I’ve written extensively about how the web, Internet and mobile phones can subvert repressive regimes and how simple, practical yet effective and sustainable ideas for ICT in peacebuilding can strengthen democracy. This has also been recognised by Freedom House in How Freedom Is Won: From Civic Struggle to Durable Democracy. And yet, what are the limits of online freedom and activism?However, as I note in Desperate for a Revolution:

The power of the internet and web is such that;

  • you can support these activities through open discussion on the web, which the organisations can then use as a measure of support for their work
  • you can flag initiatives you think are worth supporting financially through donations
  • you can flag projects that people can volunteer in to help build local capacities
  • you can use mobile technologies and Skype to create discussions amongst youth in Sri Lanka and in the diaspora on helping youth affected by the conflict
  • you can flag anecdotal stories from the field that engender hope
  • you can flag story ideas for the media to write on
  • bring to attention the issues of conflict and peace to those in urban areas not usually interested in thempost photos on Flickr that show communities engaged in initiatives that help strengthen democracy, development and human security
  • you can use meeting that bring together young bloggers to talk about ways that collaboratively highlight issues related to democracy and human rights
  • post soundbites and videos from personal interviews with mentors or those working in the field in Sinhala, Tamil and English
  • produce short documentaries that are pod-cast friendly – making content that’s hip and interesting to those in urban areas, but at the same time address issues of peace and conflict

Related posts:Nepal – Technology and DemocracyPublic Service Broadcasting – using technology for democracyBuilding peace through ICT – Ideas for practical ICT4Peace projectsDefeating repressive regimesDefeating repressive regimes – Take 2Related stories from news media:Bloggers silenced as curbs bring internet blackout‘Open-Source Politics’ Taps Facebook for Myanmar Protests 

Towards a new cartography: Mapping a peace process using Information and Communications Technology (ICT)

In exploring the possibilities of constructing a mapping process for peace in Sri Lanka, this monograph engages with the theoretical aspects of process mapping and then explores possible ways in which such mapping exercises can be conducted. The author’s research into the creation of Computer Supported Collaborative Work (CSCW) systems to support negotiations and peacebuilding has fed into this paper, along with his earlier work on systems design for early warning, conflict prevention and the mitigation of communal violence using technology.

Beginning with a brief outline of what constitutes a process and the importance of mapping such an activity, the monograph will follow through an examination of ‘wicked problems’ and the locale foundation and then explore other frameworks that may be useful in the formulation of a comprehensive mapping architecture for a peace process. Ending with some basic recommendations and a blueprint that synthesises the key aspects of other frameworks, the monograph primarily aims to stimulate further discussion on a relatively under-developed topic within the existing academic literature on conflict mitigation.

Download the full paper here.

A conversation with Daniel Stauffacher on ICT4Peace and how it can help conflict resolution

Do you believe that the better use of technology can strengthen peace processes to the extent that there will be more peace 5 years hence than today?

Yes indeed. ICTs and in particular web 2.0 will create even more transparency and efficient tools for actors in the field of conflict prevention, mediation, conflict resolution and peace building.

An interview I conducted with Daniel Stauffacher, with whom I work with at the ICT4Peace Foundation, that address key challenges and opportunities in Information and Communications Technology for conflict mitigation.

Daniel Stauffacher

The interview, conducted over email, covers a broad range of issues including international aid coordination, the role of technology in peacebuilding and the challenges of putting into action policies adopted by WSIS in support of ICT4Peace.

Read the full interview here.

For an audio podcast with Daniel, conducted in 2006 at the site of Strong Angel III, please click here. (Download directly from here.)

Launch of ICT4Peace inventory wiki: A global database ICT in crisis management, humanitarian aid and peacebuilding


27th August 2007, Geneva, Switzerland: The ICT4Peace Foundation is pleased to announce the launch of its ICT4Peace Inventory Wiki, accessible immediately from

The ICT4Peace inventory wiki is one of three key foci of the ICT4Peace Foundation. It will be updated regularly and highlight emerging best practices from the field, significant research initiatives and well-grounded examples of ICT4Peace as defined in the Foundation’s mandate. This will include cataloguing at least 100 existing ICT tools and mechanisms – operational, legal and conceptual – geared towards conflict mitigation. The inventorisation will include initiatives identified by the report on ICT4peace by the ICT4Peace Foundation published in 2005, along with more recent examples from around the world in the use of ICT for conflict mitigation using PC’s, mobile phones, the web and the Internet.

“This tool provides a comprehensive overview of the many ways in which ICT is already used in crisis management.” said Daniel Stauffacher, Chairman of the ICT4Peace Foundation on the occasion of the launch of the launch of the ICT4Peace Inventory Wiki. He went on to say that “Over time, it will be an invaluable resource for policy makers, academia as well a practitioners in the field to share and learn from best practices and examples of ICT4Peace across the world.”

The ICT4Peace process spearheaded by the Foundation aims to enhance the performance of the international community in crisis management through the application of information and Communications Technology (ICT) – technologies that can facilitate effective and sustained communication between peoples, communities and stakeholders involved in crisis management, humanitarian aid and peacebuilding. Crisis management is defined, for the purposes of this process, as civilian and/or military intervention in a crisis that may be a violent or non-violent with the intention of preventing a further escalation of the crisis and facilitating its resolution.

Two other key foci of the Foundation are to enhance the performance of the international community in crisis management through ICT and develop templates for ICT, media and communications in conflict management. From 2007 – 2008, key partners in ICT4Peace will work with the United Nations, bilateral and multilateral donors, international NGOs, civil society organizations, academia and Universities as well as global business to establish ICT4Peace as integral to their approach to and understanding of crisis management. ICT4Peace will establish broad principles derived from operational best practices, integrate them into UN processes and make ICT part of UN evaluation exercises.

For more details on ICT4Peace and the Foundation’s work, please read our mission statement – The Foundation also has a growing library of content related to ICT4Peace and a list of events that can be accessed through its library and events database respectively. Please visit our website for more information –

We encourage you to get in touch with the Foundation with details of your work and to find out more about the ICT4Peace process. Please email Mr. Daniel Stauffacher, Chairman of the ICT4Peace Foundation, at

ICT as a tool for Peacebuilding, Conflict Prevention and Crisis Management: Some pertinent questions

I was invited to attend a panel discussion on “ICT as a Tool for Peace, Conflict Prevention and Crisis Management” on 17 July 2007 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Participants of the panel were asked to respond to questions that pushed them to address the realities of using ICT in conflict prevention, mitigation and transformation. Time permitting, I hope to answer these in a far more comprehensive manner, but for now, some thought pointers to content on this blog that flesh out in detail some of the vital issues raised by these questions.

Do ICT have a special role in promoting peace and if so, how do you see the future of ICTs in conflict and crisis management, what will the priorities and challenges be in coming years? Can ICT be used in other ways, by other actors, to diffuse a situation leading to conflict, help end a conflict, or allow the stabilization of a post conflict situation?

ICT4Peace before ICT4D: Why it is important to look at ICT for peacebuilding and conflict resolution

Negotiating extremism – How to talk with terrorists…
Writing in pacifism to technology – An impossible vision?
What is ICT4Peace?
Academic research on ICT4Peace
Is technology neutral – Redux

How can we enable a greater degree of cohesion, transparency and accountability to processes of conflict transformation? Can ICT augment existing stakeholder interventions, enable marginalized actors to participate more fully in peacebuilding processes, empower grassroots communities, and bring cohesion to full-field peacebuilding activities?

Untying the Gordian Knot: ICT for Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding
Thoughts on ICT, ODR and Peacebuilding
Discussions on International Applications of ODR and/or Use of Mobile Technology in Conflict Transformation
How can IT be used for pol. conflict transformation? (Cyberweek 2005 discussion)
Discussions on Information Technology and Disaster Relief and Mitigation – Cyberweek 2005
Discussions on on Information Technology and Disaster Relief and Mitigation – Cyberweek 2006
Humanitarian aid and peacebuilding

Establishing computers and internet connections is insufficient if the technology is not used effectively, if people are discouraged from using it or if local economies and patterns of access cannot sustain long term application. How do we make sure that a strong political will supports these transformations?

Desperate for a revolution
Humanitarian aid and peacebuilding
Discussions on International Applications of ODR and/or Use of Mobile Technology in Conflict Transformation
How can IT be used for pol. conflict transformation? (Cyberweek 2005 discussion)
Wikis, Webs and Networks: Creating Connections for Conflict-Prone Settings

One important application of technology is enabling communication and connection between people beyond their immediate environment. Modern communication technologies such as live satellite broadcasting, the Internet or video cameras have the potential to create empathy and understanding on a global scale. Depending on how technology is deployed, can enable or disable public expression and elaboration of contending interests and give voice to the differences of identity, experience, values and histories that inform conflicts. Does this open up new possibilities for an international public sphere of understanding and solidarity?

Citizens + Media: Amplifying voices for peace through citizen journalism
Citizen Journalism and Peacebuilding: Is there a connection?
Public Service Broadcasting – using technology for democracy
Terrorists also use Google: So what?

How do we integrate ICT in enhancing the competency and profesionalism of the international community in crisis management?

Interview with Information Technology and Crisis Management (ITCM) on ICT4Peace
Technology for humanitarian aid – 6 mantras
Diplomacy and blogs
Open Source Disaster Recovery: Case Studies of networked collaboration

How do we improve inter-agency interoperability and collaboration within the international community (UN system, EU/EC efforts, etc.) to harnessing ICT for peace-keeping, conflict prevention and crisis management?

Strong Angel III
Soldiers and State-Building
How much information should we share in peacebuilding and humanitarian operations?
SSTR – Observations and Recommendations from the Field
The military and the use of technology

How do we promote information-sharing in places of conflict and/or crises?

Building peace through ICT – Ideas for practical ICT4Peace projects
Looking back, moving forward – ICT4Peace in Sri Lanka
SSTR – Observations and Recommendations from the Field
Darfur through Google Earth: The reality of conflict through “Crisis in Darfur”
Darfur is Dying : Using games for political activism

Access Denied: The Practice and Policy of Global Internet Filtering

Internet filtering takes place in over two dozens states worldwide including many countries in Asia and the Middle East and North Africa. Related Internet content control mechanisms are also in place in Canada, the United States and a cluster of countries in Europe. Drawing on a just-completed survey of global Internet filtering undertaken by the OpenNet Initiative (a collaboration of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, the Oxford Internet Institute at Oxford University, and the University of Cambridge) and relying on work by regional experts and an extensive network of researchers, Access Denied examines the political, legal, social, and cultural contexts of Internet filtering in these states from a variety of perspectives. Chapters discuss the mechanisms and politics of Internet filtering, the strengths and limitations of the technology that powers it, the relevance of international law, ethical considerations for corporations that supply states with the tools for blocking and filtering, and the implications of Internet filtering for activist communities that increasingly rely on Internet technologies for communicating their missions.

Read the full details here – I haven’t read this tome, but if Sri Lanka isn’t already in it, I suspect that the way things are going here, it may not be too long before we are.

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ICT4Peace before ICT4D: Why it is important to look at ICT for peacebuilding and conflict resolution

Growing up in conflict does one of two things – it teaches you the limitations of violence to engender sustainable social change, or it compels you to enter the cycle of violence itself. Especially when the well-springs of hope have run dry, violence is often perceived to be an effective way to change the order of things. The internal logic of martyrdom and suicide terrorism may be inexplicable to those outside terrains of hopelessness, but easier to understand when juxtaposed against the backdrop of a perceived lack of alternatives and indoctrination. ICTs, often touted as a panacea for development, fail to make any sense for those enmeshed in violent conflict, those touched by its long tail and those who fall outside our circumscribed vision or oftentimes, our urbane westernised bias.

This is why I have proposed a deep and meaningful exploration into the way ICT can help engender peace and conflict transformation. I am interested in how democracy and peace can be strengthened in countries such as Sri Lanka, Nepal, Colombia, Timor Leste – how they could be made more resilient to the mercurial actions and policies of political leaders and non-state actors that often sow the seeds for more conflict, how they could give voice to the voiceless and marginalised, how they could strengthen the participation of youth, children and empower women in reconciliation.

Many mature theories of conflict transformation and peacebuilding were developed before the information age. Many of today’s leading peace theorists and practitioners are those who grew up in a generation markedly different from that which exists today, in terms of their access to information technology. Today’s world of connectivity enables the flow of information and knowledge in ways unimaginable even a few years ago. No longer are news services cut off from the frontlines of conflict. Citizens with mobile phones are the new reporters of our information age. The web is ubiquitous and multi-lingual. I was interested in how these developments could engender a radical revision in the way peace processes are designed and implemented.

The world over, ICT4D has demonstrably failed to live up its early promise. In many regions, the lack of emphasis on the socio-political and economic foundations of violent conflict has led to assumptions that in turn have influenced theories of development that simply don’t fit to local needs and are by definition unsustainable. They are, as a noted Sri Lankan commentator once observed, pilots waiting to land – meaning that pilot projects driven by donors stand little chance of scaling up once funding dried up. This is why we need to look at ICT4Peace as a mechanism through which the use of ICTs can be constructively critiqued and strengthened.

We need to look at peacebuilding in all ICT initiatives, not as a passive after-thought, but as an active, committed and sustained exploration that fleshes out the complex interplay between peace and development. This need for mainstreaming ICT4Peace within the well-established ICT4D discourses was recognised at the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in November 2005 in Tunis. Paragraph 36 of the Tunis Commitment states that:

“We value the potential of ICTs to promote peace and to prevent conflict which, inter alia, negatively affects achieving development goals. ICTs can be used for identifying conflict situations through early warning systems preventing conflicts, promoting their peaceful resolution, supporting humanitarian action, including protection of civilians in armed conflicts, facilitating peacekeeping missions, and assisting post conflict peace-building and reconstruction.”

The recognition at a global policy level of the importance of ICT in engendering peace is a significant boost ICT4Peace, as was the publication of a report titled The Role of ICT in Preventing, Responding to and Recovering from Conflict by the UN ICT Task Force.

However, sustainable social transformation in the midst of violence is a difficult process to envision, harder implementing, even harder to sustain. Cognisant of these challenges and yet recognising the need to address them head on, in 2003 I helped form a small organisation based in Sri Lanka, called InfoShare, to help further the practice and theory of some of the ideas I had for the use of ICT in peace processes. Our work has no historical precedent. I have since conducted extensive and groundbreaking research into the possibilities of using ICT for all aspects of peacebuilding. However, as Robert Frost would say, we have miles to go before we sleep.

It is inevitable that advancements in technology find their way into peacebuilding – we are not even scratching the surface of what is possible today. The future of ICT4Peace, however, is pegged to the availability of funding to explore ways that technology can best help communities transform violent conflict. To date, donors, international agencies and local bodies are reluctant, at best, to approach ICT4Peace initiatives. This needs to change, and soon.

Precisely because of its growing importance and global recognition, ICT4Peace is no longer the domain of geeks or early visionaries. Ranging from Online Dispute Resolution (ODR), inter-cultural mediation, and virtual secure spaces for international collaboration to decision support systems in peace negotiations and advanced information visualisation, ICT4Peace spans a gamut of technologies, theories and communities of practice. From mobile phones to PC’s, from wireless to wired, from the village to the city, from citizen to politician, the future of ICTs in general, and ICT4Peace in particular, is invariably entwined with how well it vitiates violent conflict that mars our world today.

So much of ICT these days is about the use of big words. The core vision and raison d’etre of ICT4Peace however is quite simple.

It exists to generate hope, where little or none exists.

And that’s something truly worth supporting, for all our futures.

This article was originally written for Flightplan 1.5.

See also:
What is ICT4Peace?
My research on ICT4Peace
Our Common Humanity in the Information Age: Principles and Values for Development