(To be checked against delivery)
Rio de Janeiro, 12 November 2007
· The revolution in information technologies has changed society fundamentally and will probably continue to do so in the foreseeable future. Information technology has in one way or the other pervaded almost every aspect of human activities and concern us all: children too.
· IT developments have given rise to an unprecedented economic and social changes, but they also have a dark side: the emergence of new types of crime as well as the commission of traditional crimes by means of new technologies.
· We at the Council of Europe have sought, on the one hand, to protect children from crimes they may be faced with on the Internet and, on the other hand, to empower them in the IT environment.
· As to the first, we have first of all adopted and opened to signature in 2001 the Convention on cybercrime, the first and so far only international treaty to tackle comprehensively all crimes committed on, against and through the Internet. Few people know that initially this Convention was intended to cover only crimes committed against the Internet, against the machines. However, during the negotiation, it became clear that certain behaviour on the net had reached an intolerable level and required a firm and immediate response. After all, the information society may well be very high tech, but at the end of the day – like every society – it is about people, not machines. This is why the Convention provides for the criminalisation of pedopornography on the Internet.
· This provision criminalises various aspects of the electronic production, possession and distribution of child pornography. Most States already criminalise the traditional production and physical distribution of child pornography, but with the ever-increasing use of the Internet as the primary instrument for trading such material, it was strongly felt that specific provisions in an international legal instrument were essential to combat this new form of sexual exploitation and endangerment of children on the Internet.
· Moreover, the Cybercrime Convention requires States to set up 24/7 networks to track down cybercriminals wherever they are and whenever the offence is committed. There should be no safe haven for cybercriminals.
· The Convention on cybercrime was never and is not intended as a European treaty: it is a treaty which was since its very conception drafted to serve the world community. It is not an accident that non-European States like the United States, Japan, South Africa, and Canada, participated in the negotiation alongside the Council of Europe’s 47 member States. Indeed, the fight against cybercrime either is a global one or it makes no (or little) sense.
· This Convention has so far been signed by some 43 European and non-European States and ratified by 21 States, including the United States (and Costa Rica, Mexico, and the Philippines have asked to accede to it and the procedure is ongoing). I can only urge all States to join: the more we are, the less loopholes remain for cybercriminals to hide.
· This Convention has been recently completed by a new Council of Europe Convention on the protection of children against sexual exploitation and abuse. This new Convention, opened for signature less than a month ago and open to European and non-European States, in particular criminalises the “grooming”. This is a novelty in international law and in many national criminal laws. The “grooming” process is a strategy used by sex abusers to manipulate the child, and potentially the adults too, so that the abuse can take place in a situation in which the abuser has total control over the victims. It is an extremely dangerous process, which increasingly uses the new technologies (Internet, mobile phones, etc..) to guarantee the anonymity of the perpetrator, where the latter gradually overcomes the child’s resistance through a sequence of psychologically manipulating acts.
· It is also used to silence the child after the abuse has taken place. I consider this provision as an important added value which will help to harmonise criminal law in member States and further the protection of children by bringing perpetrators of these serious acts to justice.
· Of course, the Internet is not and must not be a “pirate cage” for children: it must first and foremost be a place where children learn, play, exchange, grow up. The Internet must guarantee everyone’s enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms: there is no footnote in the European Convention on Human Rights which says that it applies to adults only. So, the Human Rights Convention applies to adults and children alike. This is why the Council of Europe has adopted a policy recommendation to the governments of all our 47 member States to empower children in the new information and communications environment.
· Member states are invited to develop a coherent information literacy and training strategy which is conducive to empowering children and their educators in order for them to make the best possible use of information and communication services and technologies.
· Member states should ensure:
o that children are familiarised with, and skilled in, the new IT environment and that, to this end, information literacy and training for children become an integral part of school education from an early stage in their lives;
o that children acquire the necessary skills to create, produce and distribute content and communications in the new IT environment;
o that such skills enable children to better understand and deal with content (for example violence and self-harm, pornography, discrimination and racism) and behaviours (such as grooming, bullying, harassment or stalking) carrying a risk of harm.
· We need to develop pedagogical material and learning tools for the use of educators, and strategies to raise awareness, inform and train educators so that they may effectively empower children in their care.
· States should pursue a multi-stakeholder approach to empowering children in the new IT environment. In particular, the private sector, as one of the key actors in the information society, should be encouraged to promote and facilitate children’s skills, well-being and related information literacy and training initiatives.
· Civil society actors, as key catalysts in promoting the human rights dimension of the information society, should be encouraged to actively monitor, evaluate and promote children’s skills, well-being and related information literacy and training initiatives. The media should be encouraged to be attentive to their role as a vital source of information and reference for children and their educators.
· In conclusion, my message is simple: let’s make of the Internet a safe and better place for children.