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[eccr] [CRIS Info] IPS - Civil Society Wins a Place at WSIS Table
Sun Mar 02 12:40:18 GMT 2003
Civil Society Wins a Place at WSIS Table
GENEVA, Feb 28 (IPS) - The World Summit on the Information
Society this year will be the first multilateral negotiations in which non-
governmental organisations will participate on equal footing with
governments and business.
The NGOs claimed an important victory Friday, at the conclusion of
the two-week meeting of the WSIS preparatory committee (Prepcom)
Committee chairman Adama Samassékou, of Mali, went so far as to
say that the creation of the Civil Society Bureau was the most
important achievement of the sessions.
The delegates to the Prepcom decided that, alongside government
and private sector representatives, civil society and international inter-
governmental organisations will be the main actors involved in
preparing for and participation in the December Summit, where the
mandate is to establish policies to bridge the global digital divide.
The committee has begun drawing up plans to reduce the inequalities
between rich and poor countries in terms of access to the Internet and
other information and communication technologies.
The civil society groups accredited for the WSIS number 1,200, and
prefer the civil society tag to the long-standing initials NGOs.
Samassékou's announcement of the inclusion of civil society in the
WSIS process was really a high point of the Prepcom, commented
Renate Bloem, chairwoman of the Conference of NGOs (CONGO)
with United Nations consultative status.
The civil society groups were desperate after being excluded from
the previous WSIS Prepcom, in July 2002, added Bloem.
The International Civil Society Bureau, which already began
operations at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) under
the coordination of Louise Lassonde, has divided its members into
families, according to each organisation's speciality.
The working documents include, as points of reference, proposals to
connect all of the world's villages to the Internet by 2010 and to set up
community access to this technology by 2015.
Samassékou clarified, however, that the texts of a declaration and a
plan of action discussed over the past two weeks in Geneva are
merely working documents and do not hold the same weight as a
Prepcom draft document would.
Other points of reference included in the texts cover the connectivity
of universities, secondary schools and primary schools, as well as
establishing Internet access for all hospitals and health centres
These are just some of the preliminary aspirations for a plan of action
and final declaration to be discussed at the WSIS, to take place in
Geneva Dec 10-12.
The content of both documents will be up for debate prior to the
Summit at the third Prepcom, slated for Sep 15-26, also in this Swiss
The second phase of the WSIS, to evaluate progress, is to take place
in Tunisia, Nov 16-18, 2005.
The United Nations promoted the idea of the Summit as one of many
means towards achieving goals related to the eradication of poverty,
universalisation of primary education, full recognition of gender
equality, and others.
The Summit delegates are to adopt policies aimed at correcting the
inequalities in access to ICT (information and communication
technologies). The ITU calculate that there are 500 million Internet
users worldwide, but 80 percent are in wealthy countries.
In the developing world, meanwhile, only one person in 50 has
Internet access. In the industrialised world, the ratio is two out of five.
In addition to governments, the private sector is weighing in on
policies related to information technology, attempting to regain lost
ground after the market contraction suffered by the ICT industry in
Sales of semiconductor materials fell 29 percent, and computer sales
declined for the first time in 15 years, while mobile telephone sales
stagnated, according to figures from the World Trade Organisation
Yoshio Utsumi, secretary-general of the ITU, which is organising the
WSIS, says the Summit must also help industry, which has excess
capacity in the countries of the North, to cover the technology markets
of the developing countries.
Civil society groups challenged the initial orientation of the WSIS
because of its very heavy focus on commercial conditions to bring
telecommunications infrastructure to all the corners of the globe,
noted Sally Burch, of the Latin American Information Agency (ALAI).
The NGOs shared their concerns about building full access to
communications technology, in particular among developing countries
and remote regions of developed countries, said Burch. But
technology should not be the starting point for this process, she
The draft plan presented by the civil society organisations demands
priority for issues like sustainable development, democratic
government, literacy, education and research, human rights, and the
protection of global knowledge, and cultural and linguistic diversity.
The last point of the document mentions information security, which
became one of the central issues at this Prepcom.
The civil society groups state that information security concerns must
not in any way violate people's privacy nor their right to free
The terrain the NGOs have gained is important. The only inter-
governmental agency that had recognised the participation of
independent sectors prior to this is the International Labour
Organisation (ILO), which has representatives of governments,
businesses and trade unions sitting on its administrative council.
Bruce Girard @ Roma
(bgirard /at/ comunica.org)
Home: +3906 474 4124
Fax and voicemail: +31 84 882 6517
Communication Rights in the Information Society (CRIS)
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