Report 1 from Geneva WSIS 2 Prepcom

Civil society reorganizing around content

2005-02-23 00:00:00

At the second Preparatory Committee (or Prepcom) of phase
2 of the World Summit on the Information Society, taking
place in Geneva February 17-25, the different civil
society thematic caucuses are developing content in
response to a new phase of governmental negotiations on
the Summit documents.

The documents to come out of the official process in
Tunis next November include, among others, a political
umbrella statement (known as the political chapeau), and
an operational chapter, intended to lay out the
mechanisms and organizational responsibilities, to ensure
follow-up and implementation of the agreements from the
1st phase of WSIS, concluded in Geneva at the end of 2003.
Two issues will receive special attention: financing
mechanisms for ICT and development, and ICT global
governance, on both of which, multistakeholder working
groups were set up last year.

As the first Prepcom of this phase of the Summit, held
last June in Tunis, was largely taken up by the polemics
around the human rights situation in the host country, -
a theme that is still very present- most of civil society
has only now, during these last few days in Geneva,
begun to reorganize around content issues, through the
dozen or more thematic caucuses that have reconvened here.

There has not, for the moment, been an attempt to
consolidate common positions overall, which was one of
the strengths of phase 1, where civil society produced a
number of consensus statements and a final declaration.

On the other hand, the results of phase one are clearly
visible in terms of the greater openness of the official
intergovernmental process to receive and consider civil
society input. Many government delegations have actually
been requesting civil society contributions to improve
quality of the documents, the first drafts of which are
extremely vague and general. In these circumstances, it
makes sense to give priority to developing the input and
getting it to governments in time. Broader consensus is
likely to be needed further down the line as it becomes
evident what the critical issues and areas of blockage

Among the proposals that have been taken up for
consideration in the official documents (still under
discussion tonight), are those on financing put forward
by the CRIS campaign jointly with other organizations.
These are based on the principles: that information and
communications and networks are a global public good, -in
particular the extension of network infrastructure in
developing countries and to all excluded populations
everywhere-; the centrality of the role of public finance
in the area of Information and Communications for
Development; and the role of community driven and owned
initiatives, in contributing to sustainable development
and social empowerment. The group has put forward a
proposal for the formation of a Global ICD Policy and
Financing Facility, designed to:

-assist developing countries utilise existing financial
mechanisms for ICD more effectively

-provide policy information, advice and capacity building
to developing countries without conditionality

-explore new financial mechanisms to support ICD;
mechanisms that avoid diversion of existing funds (e.g.
ODA). Such mechanisms could consist of a global tax,
voluntary or compulsory, and contributions from
commercial internet domain name holders.

Tunisia under observation:

Tunisia was again on the civil society agenda today, when
the freedom of expression network, IFEX, presented a
report on its recent fact-finding mission to Tunisia.
The results contained in a report of almost 60 pages can
be found on the IFEX website (see

The main findings of the mission include: - Imprisonment
of individuals related to their opinions or media

- Blocking of websites and police surveillance of e-mails
and Internet cafes.

- Restrictions on distribution of books and publications.

- Restrictions on the freedom of association.

- Restricted movement of human rights defenders and
political dissidents.

- Lack of pluralism in broadcast ownership.

- Press censorship and lack of diversity of content in

- Regular use of torture by the security services.

The mission has made several recommendations to the
Tunisian authorities. The paradox of holding a Summit on
the Information Society in a country where several young
people are serving 13-year prison sentences, under anti-
terrorist measures, for simply surfing the Internet, was
underlined. Tunisian human rights defenders welcome the
Summit being held in Tunisia, however, as an opportunity
to bring these issues to international attention.

Concerns about the conditions in Tunisia were also
brought up in an exchange this morning at the civil
society plenary, with the head of the WSIS Executive
Secretariat, Charles Geiger. Geiger responded to
allegations that some NGOs had been denied accreditation,
by clarifying that all those rejected or postponed were
due either to their not being legal entities, or to
having presented incomplete documentation. He declined,
however, to comment on the fact that a number of Tunisian
associations are unable to register legally. He
guaranteed that all organizations accredited to the
conference would be allowed visas to enter the country.
He also informed that all accredited participants will
have immunities and privileges, as set out in the host
country agreement. While government delegations have
specific privileges and immunities that are part of
international law, for civil society and the private
sector, ad hoc "functional immunity" will apply, although
these apply differently on the UN conference facilities
or in Tunis proper.

Geiger admitted that there could be some ambiguity as to
what is considered UN territory.

* Sally Burch, ALAI/CRIS

February 22 2005