Civil Society at the End of the Preparatory Process for the WSIS

2003-11-17 00:00:00

Civil Society Statement at the End of the Preparatory
Process for the World Summit on the Information Society
Geneva, November 14, 2003

I. Where do we stand now?

We have come to the last day of PrepCom 3a. This extra week
of preparatory work was neccesary after governments failed
to reach agreement during the supposed final preparatory
conference in September 2003. In spite of the extra
expenditure of time and money, the deadlock continues – and
sets in already on the very first article of the
declaration, where governments are not able to agree on the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, as
the common foundation of the summit declaration.

Through our observation of the process we have identified
two main problem areas that impede progress in the WSIS:

1. How to correct imbalances in riches, imbalances of
rights, imbalances of power, or imbalances of access.
In particular, governments do not agree on even the
principle of a financial effort to overcome the so-
called Digital Divide; this is all the mor difficult to
accept given that the summit process was started two
years ago with precisely that objective.

2. The struggle over human rights. Not even the basis of
human life in dignity and equality, the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights finds support as the basis
for the Information Society. Governments are not able
to agree on a comittment to basic human right standards
as the basis for the Information Society, most
prominent in this case being the freedom of expression.

These are the essential conflicts among governments, as we
see them now. There is also ongoing fight over issues such
as media, internet governance, limited intellectual
monopolies such as copyright, Free Software, security and so
on. This underlines our assessment that there is a lack of a
common vision.

II. Realpolitik or New Vision?

The underlying struggle we see here is the old world of
governments and traditional diplomacy confronting challenges
and realities of the 21st century.

We recognize the problems governments face in trying to
address a range of difficult, complex and politically
divisive issues in the two summit documents.

But this situation just reflects power struggles that we are
seeing around the world. A number of governments realize
that much is at stake, and they are responding defensively
and nervously. They have noticed that they can not control
media content or transborder information flows anymore, nor
can they lock the knowledge of the world in the legal system
of so-called "intellectual property".

Some governments are not prepared.

They fear the power of new technologies and the way people
are using them to network, to create new forms of
partnerships and collaboration, to share experiences and
knowledge locally and globally.

This, combined with the fear and security paranoia of the
past two years, compounds political uncertainty and is also
played out in the WSIS process.

But: Do we want to base our vision of the information
society on fear and uncertainty or on curiosity, compassion
and the spirit of looking forward?

The WSIS process has slowly but constantly been moving from
"information" to "society". It was started with a
technocratic infrastracture-oriented perspective in the ITU.
We are proud to say that we were crucial in bringing home
the idea that in the end, the information society is about
people, the communication society is about social processes,
and the knowledge society is about society's values. In the
end, it is not digital – it is dignity that counts.

The whole process has shown a lack of interest among some
governments in forming a common vision for the information
society. It is not clear if this was ever the agenda.
Probably governments are just not prepared to draft a vision
anyway. They are not good at that.

III. The limits of good faith

This is the first time that civil society has participated
in such a way in a summit preparation process. We have
worked very hard to include issues that some did not expect
to be included. We have had some successes, while in a
number of areas we were not heard or even listened to.

If the governments want to agree, they can agree in 5
minutes. We now have the feeling that there is no political
will to agree on a common vision.

Therefore we will now stop giving input to the
documents. Our position is that we do not want to endorse
that represent the lowest common denominator among
governments – if there will be anything like that.

We have produced essential benchmarks – our ethical
framework – of which we present the latest version today.
The governments risk overlooking these key issues in the
hairsplitting and compromise of negotiations if they do not
take into account our input more seriously.

The current stalemate deepens our belief in the need for the
inclusion of all stakeholders in decision-making processes.
Where rulers cannot reach consensus, the voices of civil
society, communities and citizens can and should provide

IV. Bringing back vision into the process

We don't need governments's permission. We take our own
responsibility. Someone has to take the lead, if governments
won't do it, civil society will do it.

We have now started to draft our own vision document as the
result of a two-year, bottom-up, transparent and inclusive
online and offline discussion process among civil society
groups from all over the world.

We will present our vision at the summit in Geneva in
December 2003. We invite all interested parties, from all
sectors of society, to join us in open discussion and debate
in a true multi-stakeholder process.

New mechanisms and structures are possible and can resolve
these impasses and enable people to work together globally
and inclusively.

V. Looking beyond Geneva

Without funding and real political commitment from
governments, there is no real Action Plan today. But the
present draft provides an agenda, a list of issues of common

Governments know they cannot address these issues alone. Any
mechanism for the period following Geneva that does not
closely associate civil society and other stakeholders is
not only unacceptable in principle, it is also doomed to

Like many other actors, including some governments, we do
not want the opportunities offered by the unique gathering
in Geneva to be wasted. We hope to find substantial
improvement for the phase leading us to the second phase of
the summit in 2005.

This process is going so badly, someone has to take the
initiative to save it from destruction. If governments don't
- we today declare ourselves ready to assume this important
responsibility with all actors sharing our concerns.

Irrespective of the outcomes of the World Summit on the
Information Society in December 2003, civil society will
continue what we have been doing all the time: Doing our
work, implementing and renewing our vision, working together
in local and global bottom-up processes - and thereby
shaping a shared and inclusive knowledge society.