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Informal Consultation between ITU and Civil Society on the participation of all relevant stakeholders
Geneva, Switzerland
18 May 2007

Opening remarks by ITU Secretary General Dr Hamadoun I. Touré

Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen
 
Together with the President of the Conference of Non-Governmental Organisations (CONGO), Ms Renate Bloem, it is our pleasure to welcome you to Geneva for this jointly-organized informal consultation meeting between ITU and Civil Society on the participation of all relevant stakeholders.

 
This particular meeting has been organized in the context of the WSIS cluster of meetings organized around World Telecommunication and Information Society Day on May 17th. On Wednesday of this week, during the ceremony to mark World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, I presented the ITU World Information Society Award to honour Her Excellency Dr. Margarita Cedeño de Fernández, First Lady of the Dominican Republic, for mobilizing public opinion; and Mozilla Corporation of the United States for key technical innovation; as well as Professor Mark I. Krivocheev of the Russian Federation for his lifetime achievements in digital television broadcasting, including High Definition Television. The Award ceremony is the centrepiece of this WSIS cluster of meetings.
 
It is particularly appropriate that we are holding this consultation meeting with civil society during the WSIS cluster of meetings. That is because it was the role that ITU has played during the WSIS process—the leading managerial role in organising the Geneva and Tunis phases of the Summit—which has led ITU and its membership to study in more detail the rules for participation in its meetings.
 
The WSIS marked a historic step forward in the participation of civil society in the activities of the United Nations. Indeed, to quote from Ms. Renate Bloem herself, the WSIS “represents one more step forward in the evolution of UN-civil society relations that many of us would like to see progress further—from consultation to partnership".
 
The creation of the ITU, on 17 May 1865, which we are celebrating this week, predates the creation of the United Nations by more than 80 years. Indeed, ITU has quite a different tradition and culture compared with the rest of the UN. In particular, since its earliest days, ITU has been open to participation by organisations that are not governments. Today, ITU has a membership structure which is open to many different types of entities, including the private sector and civil society. ITU is proud to number among its membership just under 650 Sector Members and more than 130 Associates.
 
However, ITU’s membership structure is quite different from the “charter of rights” structure on which the United Nations is based. Whereas governments and accredited entities participate in the United Nations because they have the right to do so, ITU’s members participate in its work because they want to do so. Specifically, ITU members share a set of common aims, as set out in the Constitution and Convention. These include the goal of bringing new telecommunication technologies to all the world’s inhabitants.
 
Does the ITU’s membership structure mean there are limitations on who can participate in our meetings? The Constitution and Convention sets out the criterion—“dealing with telecommunication matters”—as needing to be fulfilled to grant membership of the Union. This is because the essentially technical nature of the Union’s work—standardization, frequency allocation and the like—requires a certain amount of technical knowledge, at least in the ITU-T and ITU-R Sectors.
 
However, not all entities want to be able to take a detailed involvement in ITU’s work. For that reason, in recent years we have established a system of membership for the Development Sector and also created a new category of “Associate” for entities and individuals that have an interest in only one part of ITU’s work.
 
Some people have argued that the need to pay fees or the need to have approval from a Member State will limit the possibilities for membership. However, both of these requirements can be waived. Most civil society entities that have joined the Union are exempt from fees because they are non-for-profit organisations, Similarly, most civil society entities that have become members have registered as organisations with an international or regional character, which do not need the approval of a particular Member State.
 
Furthermore, it is not necessary to actually become a Member or Associate to participate in the work of the Union. The Plenipotentiary Conference agreed new rules on the participation of Observers, and many ITU meetings are now open to experts and academics that participate as individuals. This cluster of meetings hosted by ITU and open to all WSIS stakeholders, is a good example. Furthermore, the Plenipotentiary Conference has established a Council Working Group to study further opening to civil society. The outcomes from that meeting will feed into the work of the Group.
 
In addition to members and observers, it is also possible to participate in ITU’s work as partners. ITU has embraced the concept of multi-stakeholder partnership in many areas of its work, especially related to development and emergency telecommunications. A good example of this is the Connect the World Multistakeholder Partnership, launched during 2005, which now numbers more than 50 organisations among its partners.
 
“Connect the World” was adopted by the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference last year as its overall mission for the next four years. Earlier this week, I launched a new series of regional initiatives to bring broadband Internet access to all regions of the world, starting with the “Connect Africa”, to be launched during a high-level gathering in Kigali, 29 - 30 October, under the patronage of President Paul Kagame of Rwanda.
 
In short, ITU is listening to civil society, and is responding to the challenge posed by WSIS in working together with all stakeholders. However, we do not pretend to have all the answers, and that is why ITU is carrying out this consultation meeting, to enable us to listen to the concerns of civil society and to enter into dialogue. I hope you will all feel free to share your views with us.
 
In conclusion, I look forward to this chance to share and exchange experiences with civil society representatives and I can assure you that we will take good note of your ideas and views. I hope that this will be the first of many such occasions while I am ITU Secretary-General. I look forward to working together with civil society and with all WSIS stakeholders to build an inclusive, people-centred and development-oriented Information Society.

Thank you.

 

 

 

 

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