Good causes on the information highway

The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) is a growing international partnership of networks providing low-cost public access computer communications services to individuals and organisations working for peace, human rights, environmental and economic sustainability.

It has thousands of users in 94 countries — individuals and organisations, from local public schools to international non-government organisations. They contribute to 1200 on-line conferences covering virtually every environmental and human rights topic.

Partner networks of APC are: AlterNex (Brazil), GlasNet (Russia), Chasque (Uruguay), Web (Canada), Pegasus (Australia), PeaceNet/EcoNet/ConflictNet/LabourNet (USA), NordNet (Sweden), GreenNet (England), ComLink (Germany), Nicarao (Nicaragua), Ecuanex (Ecuador), SangoNet (South Africa), Wamani (Argentina), GLUK (Ukraine), LaNeta (Mexico) and Histria (Slovenia). As well as exchanging information with one another, these networks also exchange information with small, affiliated networks serving NGOs in more than 50 other countries.

In 1987, the APC grew substantially when it began collaborating with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), which allocated funding to establish computer network services for NGOs and academics in Latin America. Two early additions to the expanding APC family were AlterNex and Ecuanex — both of which were formed out of that effort.

Currently the APC is working closely with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on its ChildNet project. In addition, several UN offices use the APC networks to communicate extensively and to fulfil their mission in collecting and disseminating information on global issues.

In the two years of meetings in preparation for the UN Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED), the secretariat collaborated with the APC to provide documentation during the Preparatory Committee negotiations. More than a dozen computer conferences were created within the APC network that carried information on a variety of the issues under debate.

At the 1992 UNCED conference in Rio de Janeiro, APC operated extensive communications and information centres where news and official documents were exchanged between participants and sent out to organisations unable to attend the conference.

This community of users continues to collaborate over the network. In addition, the entire text of Agenda 21, the primary document resulting from UNCED, other official documents and information on UNCED follow-up committees are available from any of the APC Networks.

At the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, the Centre for Human Rights endorsed APC as the sole provider of telecommunications services for states, NGOs, and individuals. As at UNCED, preparation and collaboration by NGOs began on APC a full year before the conference. Discussion and drafts of documents were posted, as was information surrounding particular human rights issues.

At WCHR itself, APC established a communications centre and computer lab where participants shared information about the discussions taking place. In addition, APC provided access to important databases on human rights, such as the Amnesty International database and the Human Rights Internet database.

Ibrahima Fall, secretary-general of the conference, later said: “I would like to express my appreciation for the outstanding contribution by the APC towards the success of the World Conference on Human Rights. The electronic distribution of documentation during the preparatory process and the Conference itself enabled the widest possible access to information for the benefit of all participants and especially for grassroots NGOs. Furthermore, the workshops and briefings organised by the APC on information technology proved to be extremely useful for all NGOs.”

Planning is under way to provide similar services in preparation for the 1994 UN International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, the 1995 UN World Summit on Social Development in Copenhagen and the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

In May 1993, APC, in cooperation with the Non-Governmental Liaison Service (NGLS), set up a communications and information centre at the PrepComm meeting for the Population Conference in New York. Similar computer centres were set up in New York at the first meeting of the Commission for Sustainable Development in June 1993 (in cooperation with NGLS and the Earth Council), and at the PrepComm meeting of the Conference on Sustainable Development in Small Island States (in cooperation with UNDP), September 1993.

For all of these events, APC is continuing to work with the organising UN divisions as well as the NGO planning committees to make sure information and communications systems are available before, during and after the conferences. APC provides tools to make sure that all the effort and resources put into these events are well used, that participants are knowledgeable about the issues relating to the conference, and that the partnerships and progress made at the conference continue on-line long after the event is over.

Pegasus Networks is a founding member of the APC and based in Australia. It provides public access to the Internet as well as networking carrier services, electronic mail, conferencing, database facilities, LAN/WAN UUCP services and local dial-up from anywhere in Australia.

Pegasus clients range from the non-government sector to local government (CouncilNet), land care (LandcareNet), public health, (PHNNet), the arts (ARTSNET), indigenous groups, education and special project services and users in the Pacific Islands and South East Asia. One such project is the collaboration with Canadian development agency, IDRC, Pactok Asia Pacific Community Networks, Interdoc — Asia Pacific, and Asia-Link to provide networking facilities in Indochina, east and south Asia.

For more information, contact Pegasus Networks Communications, PO Box 284, Broadway, Brisbane Qld 4006 , phone (07) 257 1111, fax (070 257 1087.

A sample of on-line UN information: Daily highlights and profiles of United Nations activities. Also includes special press releases and announcements of activities and press conferences at the United Nations Information Centre in Sydney.

un.general: News about the United Nations from various sources including the InterPress Service, World Radio Transcription Services, NGO reports and other sources. Publications of the United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service, covering government and non-government issues and activities relating to the UN.

A sample of on-line information on specific UN conferences

csd.general: Sponsored by the International Task Group on Legal and Institutional Matters of UNCED to provide a clearing house for information, ideas and notices about the UN Commission on Sustainable Development.

icpd.general: Information on the preparations for the International Conference on Population and Development, Cairo, September 1994.

inc.desert: Official documents and information on the negotiations within the United Nations for the International Convention to Combat Desertification.

unhr.documents: Official documents pertaining to human rights, including the Vienna Declaration.

un.wcw.doc.eng: Information and official documents from the Secretariat for the Fourth World Conference on Women.

Andrew Garton, 1994 (Online Services/Special Projects Manager, Pegasus Networks).

Published by GreenLeft Weekly, Issue 144, 1994.

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