After the WSIS: The time for balance
Source: University of Bremen
The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) was held by the United Nations to draft a programmatic declaration for the information age. The involvement of civil society organisations (CSOs) in the drafting process was innovative and led to WSIS becoming an especially instructive case in order to assess the potential of civil society participation in global governance. The author analyses the preconditions that were provided for CSOs to participate within this policy process and how it influenced the policy output. [see more]
 
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The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) - a conference organized by the United Nations and aimed at discussing and making decisions on issues related to information, communication and development - emerged within the framework of the new millennium and the growing "informatization" of societies, particularly in the developed world. One of the main commitments undertaken by countries with regards to the WSIS process was to achieve equitable access to and enjoyment of the benefits provided by new information and communication technologies (ICTs) in all regions and social sectors. The Summit was held in two phases (Geneva 2003 and Tunis 2005), with a period of two years between them, for the purpose of drafting and putting forward the documents that would outcome from the process. (See "The long and winding road towards Tunis")

The WSIS process has showed several peculiarities from its early beginning. In the first place, due to the fact that its main purpose - unlike most of the world summits organized by the United Nations - was not to achieve a global agreement aimed at overcoming a global catastrophe (such as hunger, overpopulation, gender inequities, etc.) but rather to promote consensus in order to disseminate and ensure access to the benefits provided by the new social model known as "information society" to all regions. Therefore, the WSIS appears as an instance of decision-making aimed at addressing the challenges posed by this social model, such as adequate financing sources for its development or control over global Internet resources. The Summit has also contributed new elements with regards to modalities of participation. Through the implementation of a "multistakeholder" format, an increased level of participation was allowed for all sectors involved, including the private sector and civil society. Thus, the civil society organizations taking part in the process had to take up the challenge posed by this new situation.

With respect to the results of this long process - although it is still too early for a concluding analysis - there is certain consensus with regards to the fact that the Summit has given global visibility to key issues for human development, such as the extremely high inequities in terms of ICT access and use between the North and the South. However, one of the most criticized items within the WSIS process was the lack of capacity to draw up firm plans of action, aimed at implementing the measures proposed in the vague declarations and commitments resulting from the event, as well as clear and effective post-WSIS mechanisms for the purpose of its implementation and follow-up. In this context, no sound agreements were established with regards to the financing of ICT programmes in the least developed countries - one of the key challenges of the Summit. Civil society members taking part in the process have demanded the need to incorporate a clearer approach focused on public policies in the area of ICTs for development.

Internet governance was maybe one of the issues showing advances in terms of negotiations and where the discussion brought up within the WSIS process - beyond specific results - can be regarded as productive. In spite of the fact that no substantial changes were introduced to the current governance system, the commitment to set up a multistakeholder international forum (made up of governments, private sector and civil society) where to discuss policies related to the Internet came as a result of negotiations. Although ICANN’s structure (corporation in charge of managing Internet domain names and IP addresses, supervised by the US Trade Department), remains intact, analysts have acknowledged the creation of the forum as a novel opening up. Civil society taking part in the process has welcomed the initiative, adopting it as a further challenge within its new "decision-maker" role. One of the greatest challenges now is to implement the inter-govermental participation in ICT global governance in an effective and transparent way. (See "Internet governance: Everybody's business in the Information Society")

The evaluations of civil society organizations taking part in the Summit in Tunis seem to be pointing out to an intermediate term as balance of the event. The caution with regards to official results and new participatory measures adopted was coupled with strong demands against the repression of freedom of expression and human rights violations in Tunisia, where cases of violence against activists and foreign journalists participating in the WSIS are a sample of the atmosphere prevailing in the country. Within this context and in view of the pressure exerted by Tunisian authorities, for example, the Citizen Summit on the Information Society - proposed as a civil society side event to the official Summit - had to be cancelled. Recently, civil society has demanded in an open letter to the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, the implementation of a post-WSIS monitoring process in Tunisia, as well as a revision of UN mechanisms for appointing host countries and also for the participation of civil society in world conferences.

Certain atmosphere of disappointment surrounds many of those involved in the process in view of the little results achieved and the expectations that were arisen at the beginning. One of the items on which civil society has been more insistent refers to the follow-up to agreed commitments, that is to say, the shift from rethorical plans of action to the actual practice of actions. Now, the task faced by civil society is to carry out a follow-up to actions taken by governments and international institutions, as well as to have incidence on the new spaces for dialogue - at national, regional and global levels - such as the Internet governance forum.

To sum up, it could be stated that the WSIS poses more questions than solid agreements, in spite of the official promise to turn it into a "summit of solutions". The Tunis Summit has not been vanguardist and in many aspects Geneva commitments and declarations were reaffirmed. Being a four-year decision-making process, more results were indeed expected, although the opening up of spaces for dialogue on fundamental issues, whose results will have to be reviewed later on, should also be highlighted as positive. To be continued...

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News
Up-to-date current affairs information.
Wed Jul 19 2006
UNESCO: WSIS implementation meetings
Fuente: UNESCO

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The Summit from Geneva to Tunis

Civil Society, a keyplayer in the WSIS

Civil society statement on the WSIS: "Much more could have been achieved" (Heinrich Boell Foundation)

The impact of participation: How civil society organisations contribute to the democratic quality of the WSIS (University of Bremen)

Political economy of the information society: A Southern view (WSIS Papers)

Who speaks for the governed?- World Summit on Information Society, civil society and the limits of "multistakeholderism" (Economic and Political Weekly)

Multistakeholder diplomacy: challenges and opportunities (Diplo Foundation)

Towards knowledge-sharing societies (Word Matters / Vecam)

Networking the networked / Closing the loop: Some notes on WSIS II (CRIS)

Creating spaces for civil society in the World Summit on the Information Society

The close of WSIS: The civil society verdict (APC WSIS Blog)

Social movements gained much at WSIS (TerraViva)

Where to next? (Heinrich Boell Foundation)

Civil Society: Evaluations of the involvement in WSIS (Heinrich Boell Foundation)

Gender and the World Summit on the Information Society (World Association for Cristian Communication (WACC))

Internet governance

Reduce the cost of international Internet connectivity (APC)

So what happened at WSIS? (The Singapore Internet Research Centre)

Internet governance and WSIS: who won? In a certain way, the world has won

Five more years! There was no "deal" and WSIS resolved nothing (Circle ID)

Notes from Tunis: The New Internet Governance Forum (The Huffington Post)

US to stay in charge of Internet (IPS)

Internet governance: NGOs dissapointed with declarations (TerraViva)

Internet must be a public facility (IPS)

APC's recommendations to the WSIS on Internet governance (APC)

Internet Governance - A review in the context of the WSIS process (WSIS Papers)

Financing ICTD

Digital magic for millions: Will cheap laptops create active learners or “green box” slaves? (Vermont Guardian)

The forgotten agenda... ( APC)

Waiting for pilots to land in Tunis (Islamonline.net)

Political economy of the information society: A Southern view ( WSIS Papers)

Finance of information and communication technologies for development at PrepCom 2 (APC)

Who pays for the Information Society. Challenges and Issues on financing the Information Society (Pain pour le Prochain - Bread for All)

Financing ICTs for development with focus on poverty (WSIS Papers)

Mechanisms for financing the information society from a global public goods perspective ( WSIS Papers)

Implementation and follow-up

Post-Tunis Calendar

Multi-stakeholder consultations on WSIS implementation (ITU)

Report of the UN Secretary-General: Implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the WSIS

Call to opening up the ITU to civil society participation

Commission on Science & Technology for Development

United Nations System Chief Executives Board (CEB) for Coordination

Statement by Civil Society Working Group on Follow-up at PrepCom-3

Discussions on implementation and follow-up after WSIS (Heinrich Boell Foundation)

After Tunis: A Summit without implementation and civil society? (Heinrich Boell Foundation)

Tunis: Information society without freedom of expression?

Night in Tunisia (Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ))

Tunisian commitments unfulfilled following WSIS II (AllAfrica)

WSIS Civil Society Human Rights Caucus assessment of Tunis Phase

Civil society open letter to Kofi Annan (Citizen's Summit on the Information Society)

Citizens' Summit on the Information Society calls for support in the face of political pressure (Citizens' Summit on the Information Society)

Repression in Tunis and the World Summit on the Information Society ( Pambazuka)

"Never again" say freedom of expression groups (IFEX)

WSIS: Human rights solidarity action by international civil society organisations (Choike)

The Citizens' Summit is dead - long live the Citizens' Summit! (Heinrich Boell Foundation)

Flagrant violation of human rights (APC WSIS Blog)

Tunisian government obstructs civil society events (Heinrich Boell Foundation)

Violence breaks out before Internet summit (ZD Net)

WSIS aftermath: Who cares about human rights? (Pambazuka)

Tunisia Monitoring Group

Statement of the Civil Society Media Caucus

Women's Statement on Tunisian Human Rights situation (GenderIT.org)

Preliminary analysis

WSIS wraps up to mixed emotions (Third World Resurgence)

Tunis outcomes from a gender perspective (ICT Journalist)

WSIS past, present and future (AllAfrica.com)

WSIS and the struggle to bridge the digital divide: A lack of commitments

An assessment of the WSIS outcomes (Internet & Public Policy Project)

WSIS is over, but the debate has just begun (PANOS)

WSIS proves a Summit of unsolved solutions (Ohmy News)

WSIS ends on mixed notes (TerraViva)

Southern perspectives at WSIS - WSIS Papers

Information Society for the South: Vision or hallucination?

Research papers

WSIS Papers Newsletter - Issues in ICT global policies


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