Belarus Internet Governance Forum: No Civil Society Dialogue from Behind Bars

Anastasiya Zhyrmont is Policy Manager for Eastern Europe & Central Asia at Access Now. The fifth Belarus Internet Governance Forum (IGF.BY 2023) took place November 15 in Minsk under the tagline of open dialogue on the development of Bynet. Bynet is Belarus’ “national internet” — and the use of the term was the conference’s first major red flag. Organizers welcomed a myriad of international stakeholders, but essentially excluded civil society. Representatives from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the Réseaux IP Européens Network Coordination Center (RIPE NCC) were fundamentally the only delegates from non-corporate, non-governmental entities (the third sector)  — the conference’s second major red flag. Speakers ranged from government officials to cyber security experts and software developers; only a mere three of whom appeared to be women — of course, another red flag.  At Access Now, a global human rights organization fighting for human rights in the digital age, we question the integrity of such an exclusionary structure, and ask how a conference purporting to bring stakeholders together “as equals in discussions on issues pertaining to the Internet” can do so while some of the most integral, informed voices are stricken. The IGF.BY 2023 farce goes against the IGF’s core principles, and here we explain why. There is no dialogue behind bars  Earlier this month, Belarusian and international NGOs penned an open letter to IGF’s international stakeholders, underscoring how “open and transparent, inclusive, bottom-up, multistakeholder and non-commercial” dialogues that should be a trademark of any…Belarus Internet Governance Forum: No Civil Society Dialogue from Behind Bars