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From left to right: Sally Burch, Executive Director Latin American Information Agency; Louise Lassonde, Coordinator Civil Society Division WSIS/ES and Renate Bloem, President Conference of NGO's in Consultative Status with CONGO/ photo by: Melissa Arditto

Establishment of a Civil Society Bureau: A historic event!

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), to be held in Geneva in December 2003 and in Tunis in 2005, intends to lay the foundations of the society that we would like to build for the upcoming decades, given the profound changes taking place as a result of globalization and scientific progress, particularly the new information and communication technologies. Civil society was strongly mobilized after the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 56/183, which “encourages […] non-governmental organizations, civil society and the private sector to contribute to, and actively participate in, the intergovernmental preparatory process of the Summit and the Summit itself ”. Civil society’s commitment stems from the observation that only a true and effective collaboration amongst all involved in sustainable development, i.e., governments, the private sector, and civil society, will allow the development of an information society able to fulfill the hopes of the world’s peoples.

To meet this challenge, the international civil society has established a Civil Society Bureau. This decision was made at the second session of the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom-2), held in Geneva from 17 to 28 February 2003, after intense consultations for over a year between the Civil Society Division of the WSIS Executive Secretariat and numerous representatives of civil society. The Civil Society Bureau is a decisive turning point in the history of the United Nations and of international negotiations. Indeed, it is the first time that civil society will have the means to effectively participate in the debate and will assume its responsibilities as a government interlocutor. In the Summit context, the Bureau cuts a path for new prospects to grapple with all the issues needing to be addressed in order to alleviate the very real concerns of our fellow citizens.

The Bureau is made up of the world’s leading civil society “families”: trade unions, academia and education, the scientific and technology communities, the media, creators and players in culture, local authorities, NGOs, the young, women, indigenous peoples, the physically challenged, etc. It also includes regional contacts tasked with weaving links with all continents.

As in the case of the Intergovernmental Bureau, the Civil Society Bureau’s function is basically organizational; its purview is not to deal with Summit themes. However, it will be responsible for raising awareness amongst all the active forces of society and for helping them express their expectations. The Civil Society Bureau will have to relay the positions taken and ensure that they are duly considered in the preparatory process as well as at the Summit itself. In addition, it will manage the “facilitation fund” to financially support the widest participation at the Summit by civil society, especially as regards least developed countries and disenfranchised groups.

The Civil Society Bureau will pave the way to ongoing dialogue with the Intergovernmental Bureau and private sector. This will help resolve the many procedural issues that have often hampered the business at hand. The creation of a bureau specific to the international civil society was heralded as a historic event, after its representatives met with Intergovernmental Bureau members on 25 February 2003. To ensure its development, the Civil Society Bureau will work closely with the Civil Society Division of the WSIS Executive Secretariat, which will serve as its secretariat.

Alain Clerc, Director of the Civil Society Division/WSIS Executive Secretariat



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