Civil Society, Development & Aid, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, Middle East & North Africa

WSIS: Civil Society in Worried Celebration

Stefania Milan* - TerraVivaIPS

TUNIS, Nov 18 2005 (IPS) - Despite failing to get its alternative citizens summit off the ground, and in the face of disappointment over some decisions at the World Summit on the Information Society, and repression by the Tunisian government, civil society groups joined officials and businessmen Friday in celebrating the outcome of the meeting.

“After four years of difficult and passionate discussions, we can say the summit has been an historical process. We have not been just silent observers but active actors. We have become a partner in the negotiation process,” said Renata Bloem from the Conference of NGOs (Congo) that works mostly around UN centres.

The civil society committee failed to issue its own final declaration in time for the summit’s closure due to a worldwide debate; a draft resolution circulated privately makes the ritual call to governments to “move from declarations and commitments into action.” The document will be finalised in two weeks, organisers said.

The draft declaration summarises the civil society vision on financing of digital infrastructures and Internet governance, and addresses also global governance, participation, and human rights issues, as well as gender equality, health, access to knowledge and public domain, media and cultural diversity.

For civil society it is now time to evaluate what was achieved and to look beyond these achievements. The declaration will include a section on “our Tunis Commitment”, the civil society’s reply to the official commitment.

“Now it seems everybody is happy because everybody has something to bring home. We do not know yet whether or not this is true. We will only know when we see the implementation (of the WSIS objectives),” Jeannette Hoffman from the Internet governance working group said.

“Do not believe this is over and that the little we have achieved is granted. There will be an immediate backlash after the summit, and governments will just return to other issues. We have to keep pressure on them,” said Bertrand de la Chapelle, convenor of the civil society follow-up working group.

The most urgent challenge is how civil society will get involved in the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) set up by governments in a final negotiation round. “We think the IGF should have at least 200 members and be as inclusive as possible. But it is not clear how it will work,” Hoffman said.

In the four-year WSIS process, about 280 people participated in the civil society discussion on Internet governance conducted through open mailing lists. The proposal for an IGF came from civil society..

“This is perhaps the best side-effect of the summit, where everybody was involved in Internet governance. We want to keep the lists open and create a new working group to produce interventions for the forum,” Hoffman said.

“We are fairly optimistic on the forum being created but less optimistic on the willingness to include civil society. The financing is also unclear, because no budget has been allocated to set it up,” Hoffman said.

But much more must be done on the financial mechanisms to overcome the digital divide, perhaps the issue that created the most discontent within civil society groups. It was also the area where civil society was less active.

“Rich countries do not believe any more funds are needed. The Digital Solidarity Fund has been left to voluntary contribution, from local authorities and it is not supported by Western countries,” Chantal Peyer from the Swiss organisation Bread for All, said.

“They rely still on the private sector and on public-private partnership. We believe financing is a matter for public policy,” Peyer said. “New technologies should not compete with other development priorities.”

“The WSIS was not used to develop an innovative public policy approach. Instead it was the restatement of the existing paradigm,” Sean O’Siochru from the London-based group Communication Rights in the Information Society (CRIS) said.

Civil society has first to make sure governments will keep the few promises made. Summit issues “are not going to be a priority for government in the next months. For civil society this is a challenge but also a space for interventions,” O’Siochru said.

The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) commission on science and technology for development has been entrusted with coordinating the summit follow-up. It is still not clear that civil society will be able to take part in this process.

“The follow-up to the summit has been handed over to a commission on science and technology. This is a way to narrow down the debate to a technological perspective, while the information society is mainly about society,” Parminder Jeet Singh from the Indian NGO IT for Change said.

“Governments have accepted ‘multi-stakeholderism’ (the participation of all actors in decision-making) in the texts but not in practices,” De la Chapelle said. “Governments should have adopted a commission for the information society with a full multi-stakeholder format to handle supervision of follow-up.”

He called for small teams to be formed to actively engage international organisations involved in the implementation of the WSIS objectives. “We have an incredibly strong opportunity to shape the implementation phase. We have to be there and monitor what the governments will do,” De la Chapelle said.

 
Republish | | Print |
Civil Society, Development & Aid, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, Middle East & North Africa

WSIS: Civil Society in Worried Celebration

Stefania Milan* - TerraViva/IPS

TUNIS, Nov 18 2005 (IPS) - Despite failing to get its alternative citizens summit off the ground, and in the face of disappointment over some decisions at the World Summit on the Information Society, and repression by the Tunisian government, civil society groups joined officials and businessmen Friday in celebrating the outcome of the meeting.
(more…)

 
Republish | | Print |