UN Defeats Russia With ITU Boss Vote

United Nations stops Russia installing their own candidate for secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)

Russia’s attempt install their own man to head up the main technology agency within the UN, namely the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

The ITU was established in 1865 and became a United Nations specialised agency in 1947, responsible for facilitating the use of radio, satellite and the internet around the world.

The election of new secretary-general of the ITU took on geopolitically symbolic slant, amid Russia’s ongoing aggression in Ukraine and the increasing censorship online by authoritarian regimes.

Doreen Bogdan-Martin

New ITU head

On Thursday the US backed candidate, Doreen Bogdan-Martin, was officially voted to become the group’s secretary general.

The American became the first woman to be elected as the ITU secretary general, after she beat her chief rival Rashid Ismailov (backed by Russia) by winning 139 votes out of 172.

The final vote tally was 139 votes to 25.

Bogdan-Martin will succeed Houlin Zhao (a Chinese citizen), who has been in the role since 2014, when her term begins on 1 January 2023

“Whether it’s today’s children or our children’s children, we need to provide them with a strong and stable foundation for growth,” Bogdan-Martin said. “The world is facing significant challenges – escalating conflicts, a climate crisis, food security, gender inequalities, and 2.7 billion people with no access to the Internet.”

“I believe we, the ITU and our members, have an opportunity to make a transformational contribution,” said Bogdan-Martin. “Continuous innovation can and will be a key enabler to facilitate resolution of many of these issues.”

She also tweeted on Thursday that she was humbled & honoured to be elected @ITU Secretary-General.

Geopolitical issue

CNN reported that US officials had campaigned heavily on Bogdan-Martin’s behalf in the run-up to the vote, in some cases describing it as a turning point for the free and open internet – principles that are increasingly being challenged by Russia and China.

Last week, President Joe Biden urged UN member states to support Bogdan-Martin, arguing her leadership of the ITU will help make the internet “inclusive and accessible for everyone, especially in the developing world.”

Bogdan-Martin’s wide victory margin is a sign that few member states support Russia and China’s vision for the internet, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a US technology advocacy group, was reported by CNN as saying.

“Her election by ITU member states shows the international interest in ensuring the technology and the policies that surround it empower individuals rather than become a tool of control for authoritarian regimes,” ITIF said.

Free internet

Back in April this year, over 60 countries signed a political declaration to push for rules for the Internet – underpinned by democratic values.

Censorship, freedom of speech © Melinda Fawver Shutterstock 2012

This was backed by the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, the European Commission, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Finland, Sweden, Taiwan, Japan, the Netherlands, and Ukraine, to name but a few.

It seeks to protect human rights, promote free flow of information, protect the privacy of users, and sets rules for a growing global digital economy.

However there was notable countries not among the signatories, including Russia, China, South Africa, and India.