Inclusive Summit Reflects Diversity of Information Society
After months of intensive preparations, the final touches were in place for the official opening of the Geneva phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which took place today.
Visitors, delegations, staff and volunteers arrived to a hugely busy and varied Summit. Beyond the Plenary and Roundtable meetings, other Summit events, including talks, debates, presentations and side-events, amount to some 288 in total, with 89 programmed for day one alone. As one commentator pointed out “the inclusive nature of the Summit event is a reflection of the very nature of the information society we are striving to create”. Information on events can be found at: www.itu.int/wsis/geneva/events/
'Calm After the Storm': Last-Minute Success on Key Texts
The marathon attempt to complete the two key WSIS documents, the Draft Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action, for presentation to Heads of State and Government this week paid off after long hours of final drafting and negotiations. The Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) finally approved the documents on Tuesday 9 December, a tight 24 hours before the official Summit opening. The third session of the resumed PrepCom-3 ended with handshakes and congratulations all round, as the last bones of contention were resolved.
“We are very proud to present to Heads of State, Ministers and government delegates the finalized documents, free of square brackets”, said one PrepCom delegate.
Consensus Reached on Internet Governance and Financing
PrepCom, the first UN negotiating mechanism in which civil society and private sector players have taken such an active role, has seen some long and fraught negotiations over the last year. But the hard work paid off as it reached consensus on a large number of issues including Internet governance, intellectual property rights, the media, security, traditional knowledge, labour standards, and political issues.
Resolution of some issues remained sticky until the very end though. Notably, on the two key controversial issues of Internet governance and financing the final Draft Plan of Action sets up a process of further study and negotiation to be concluded in Tunis. The agreed text asks the UN Secretary-General “to set up a working group on Internet governance, in an open and inclusive process that ensures a mechanism for the full and active participation of governments, the private sector and civil society from both developing and developed countries, involving relevant intergovernmental and international organizations and forums, to investigate and make proposals for action, as appropriate, on the governance of Internet by 2005”. The group is to prepare a report to be presented for consideration and appropriate action for the second phase of WSIS in Tunis in 2005.
The Draft Plan of Action also foresees a number of actions with respect to financing, including the commitment to thoroughly review the adequacy of all existing financial mechanisms in meeting the challenges of ICT for development by the end of December 2004. “This review shall be conducted by a Task Force under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General and submitted for consideration to the second phase of this summit”. Based on the conclusion of the review, improvements and innovations of financing mechanisms will be considered including the effectiveness, the feasibility and the creation of a voluntary Digital Solidarity Fund, as mentioned in the Declaration of Principles. The final texts can be found at: http://www.itu.int/wsis/.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
The main commitments that Heads of State will be adopting cover ten objectives, to be achieved by 2015 at the latest. These include connecting all villages on the planet (as many as 1.5 million remain unconnected at present) and bringing ICTs to all schools, universities, hospitals, research centres, etc. There is also a commitment to provide a website and e-mail address for every government department in the world.
The basic working documents show that the first phase of WSIS is primarily an agenda-setting event, that will create a shared basis for work between stakeholders, not only in the two years to Tunis, but in the decade that will follow. “What is important is not so much what the documents say, but the actions themselves that the different stakeholders have committed to”, said one commentator.
Heads of State Express Views at Opening Ceremony
Chaired by the President of the Swiss Confederation, Mr Pascal Couchepin, the Summit Opening Ceremony saw speakers including UN Secretary-General Mr Kofi Annan, ITU Secretary-General Mr Yoshio Utsumi, the President of the Republic of Tunisia, Mr Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and the President of the WSIS Preparatory Committee, Mr Adama Samassékou, take the floor to launch the Summit. Special thanks were expressed to the Governments of the Summit host countries, Switzerland and Tunisia, as well as to the regional host countries, for their valuable commitment to the WSIS process.
Drawing attention to the unique multi-stakeholder process which has been followed throughout the WSIS process, Ms Kicki Nordström, representing civil society, and Mr Mohammad Omran, representing the private sector also gave opening speeches. Ms Nordström, who is visually impaired and read her speech from a Braille text, highlighted how the information society has to become more inclusive if technology is to help those who have often been left on the sidelines where access to information is concerned.
For more on the Summit opening see the press release at: www.itu.int/wsis/geneva/newsroom/press_releases/wsisopen.html
Quotes of the Day
Below is a selection of the more than 50 presentations to the Plenary session:
“Information and communication technologies are not a panacea or magic formula, but they can improve the lives of everyone on this planet. However, while technology will shape the future, it is people who shape technology, and decide what it could and should be used for. These new technologies should, therefore, be embraced, while recognizing that this is an endeavour that transcends technology.”
– Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General.
“I call upon the political leaders of the world to enter into forging a 'unity of purpose' in aiming to achieve universal access. If we do not take action now, the remaining digital gap will widen.”
– Yoshio Utsumi, ITU Secretary-General.
“The Summit offers a new window of opportunity to the world to accelerate human development. Issues of languages, cultures, religions, and dialogue between cultures and civilizations take centre-stage in this process.”
– Joaquim Alberto Chissano, President of Mozambique.
“This is no longer the time to dream. It is the time to build.”
– Jean-Pierre Raffarin, Prime Minister of France.
“Today, ICTs are recognized as a necessity, not a matter of choice, and there is a need for less-developed countries to leapfrog forward. Broadband connectivity to schools is a step in the right direction. [·] Development partners should join together with disadvantaged nations to help them achieve their goals.”
– Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda.
Original speeches from the session are available at: www.itu.int/wsis/geneva/coverage/archive-en-op|10.asp.