On 24 and 25 November 2022, the fourth session of the Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law took place in Geneva, Switzerland. This United Nations forum brings together experts to discuss the current global situation of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The theme of the fourth session was: “Strengthening democracy to build back better: challenges and opportunities

Mr. Jeroen Zandberg participated in this event and made the following speech under panel three: All in this together: social cohesion and community-led resilience and response systems.

I want to describe the situation of the Frisian People in the northwest of Germany and the Netherlands. 

The Frisians are a recognised national minority with their own distinct language.

The Frisian territories are fully integrated into the respective national democracies. However, the people are not. Many are excluded from democratic debate and decision-making due to their inability to have access to essential digital tools that shape and order modern society.

For example, local governments in North and West Frisia provide their essential citizen services mainly online. However, these digital services are not accessible in the Frisian language and therefore difficult to use for many citizens.

Other examples are the interfaces with planning tools. In the digital age, large-scale planning for services, like public transport and economic modelling, is almost exclusively done by algorithms and Artificial Intelligence. This form of external decision-making allows us to outsource our decisions and generate an environment in which people can have greater freedom. Access to these tools, however, is only possible with command of Dutch or German and ofcourse English, but not with Frisian.

Without access to the digital tools that provide essential, personal information and make high-impact decisions, people cannot truly participate in democratic life.

However, there are examples where access to digital services is given to ordinary citizens and where the Frisian language has entered the digital age.

For example, Google has added the Frisian language to their translation services and in 2019, the year of indigenous languages, Microsoft added Frisian to their Office products. 

We now live in 2022, which is the start of the international decade of indigenous languages. It could also be the beginning of universal access to public digital tools in the native language to facilitate genuine democratic debate that leaves no-one behind. It can be done. It should be done. 

In order to build back better and strengthen democracy and social cohesion in Frisia, the main public digital tools that provide access to information storage, information processing and decision-making should be, by default, in the Frisian minority language. 

Thank you,

Jeroen Zandberg

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