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 The multi-stakeholder participation in WSIS and its written and unwritten rules

There are no set rules at the United Nations on how to hold a UN Summit. Each UN Summit therefore has to decide on its own Rules of Procedure, usually at its first preparatory meeting. In reality,, the main body of the Rules of Procedure of each UN Summit are similar. They differ only in detail, such as the participation of, NGO and business sector as the involvement of these stakeholders in the implementation of decisions may differ depending on the subject under consideration at the Summit.

General Assembly Resolution 56/183, in its paragraph 5, encouraged “effective contributions from and the active participation of all relevant United Nations bodies, in particular the Information and Communication Technologies Task Force, and encouraged other intergovernmental organizations, including international and regional institutions, 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”. Therefore, in adopting the Rules of Procedure for WSIS, it was evident from the beginning that the rules would have to contain a chapter on observers.

A. Written rules
The Rules of procedure of the Johannesburg (WSSD) and Monterrey (FfD) Summits, which both included a chapter on observers, served as the basic template for the Rules of Procedure of WSIS. But it nevertheless took several informal meetings before PrepCom-1 and several days at PrepCom-1 to negotiate the Rules. The Rules of Procedure of the Preparatory Committee of WSIS, together with the Arrangements for Accreditation and the Arrangements for Participation, were adopted as a package on the last day of PrepCom-1 of the Geneva phase (5 July 2003). The Draft Rules of Procedure of the Summit were adopted at PrepCom-3 of the Geneva phase. There is no difference between the two rules (PrepCom rules and Summit rules) with regard to observers. The Rules of Procedure distinguish the following categories of observers:

  • Entities and organizations having received a standing invitation to participate as observers in the sessions and work of the General Assembly
  • UN Secretariat and organs (this includes UN funds and programs)
  • UN specialized agencies
  • Other invited intergovernmental organizations
  • Accredited civil society entities (including NGOs in consultative status with ECOSOC)
  • Accredited business sector entities (including ITU Sector Members).
  • Associate Members of Regional Commissions

According to the Rules of Procedure, the observers had the following rights:

  • Participants from entities and organizations having received a standing invitation to participate as observers in the sessions and work of the General Assembly, from UN Secretariat and organs, from UN specialized agencies and other invited intergovernmental organizations as well as from Associate Members of Regional Commissions were allowed to participate as observers, without the right to vote, in the deliberations in the plenary and, as appropriate, in committees or subcommittees on questions within the scope of their activities. This rule was also valid for closed sessions.

  • Participants from accredited civil society entities (including NGOs in consultative status with ECOSOC) and from accredited business sector entities (including ITU sector members) were allowed to sit as observers in public meetings (plenary and subcommittee meetings in the preparatory process, Plenary and committee meetings in the Summit). Upon the invitation of the presiding officer of the body concerned, and subject to the approval of that body, such observers were allowed to make oral statements on questions in which they had special competence. If the number of requests to speak was too large, the civil society and business sector entities were requested to form themselves into constituencies, which then spoke through their respective spokespersons.

WSIS was the second UN Summit to accept accreditation of business entities (the first UN Summit to do so was the Financing for Development Conference, Monterrey). During the informal preparations for PrepCom-1, Governments discussed the arrangements for accreditation of business entities, and especially if these arrangements should differ from those for NGOs and civil society entities. As a compromise, Governments decided that the same rules should apply (see the Arrangements for Accreditation). This led in practice to unsatisfactory situations, as business entities, which are not public shareholder companies, are not accustomed to disclose their financial situation.

Another discussion took place during the informal preparations of PrepCom-1 on whether Media should be named separately as an observer category. As unanimity on this matter was not possible, Media was not mentioned as a separate observer entity in the WSIS Rules of Procedure.

The Rules of Procedure of WSIS, contrary to the Rules of Procedure of the Johannesburg Summit (WSSD), do not contain rules on the internal organization of civil society and business (the Rio and Johannesburg preparatory process had developed the “major groups” approach). The Rules pf Procedure of WSIS are silent as to how the observers should organize themselves.

The Arrangements for participation are the third document in the package decided at PrepCom-1 of the Geneva phase. Governments decided that NGOs and business sector entities would be allowed to make the following substantive contributions:

  • “Substantive written contributions along with executive summaries thereof would be welcomed on the basis of the Summit themes with fixed deadlines. They will be published by the Executive Secretariat on the WSIS website and circulated upon request in hard copies to the governments.
  • All executive summaries would be compiled by the Secretariat in a document according to the Summit themes, identifying the sources.
  • The document will be widely circulated before the second preparatory meeting and all stakeholders would have the opportunity to discuss its contents and hold workshops and meetings to coordinate positions.
  • As an informal part of the Preparatory Committee meetings, a number of multi-stakeholders thematic round tables will be organized. The outcome of these thematic round tables will be a Chairman's summary of the discussion, which will be submitted to the preparatory committee and incorporated in its records.
  • They are invited to nominate speakers to make statements in the Preparatory Committee, in accordance with the rules of procedure, reporting on the proceedings of parallel and networked series of events, with a view to contributing effectively to the success of the Summit.”

B. Unwritten rules (so-called “WSIS practice”)
WSIS developed a specific multi-stakeholder approach (“WSIS-practice”) that went beyond the approach of other UN Summits. This was possible because the Rules of Procedure and the Arrangements for participation were not too specific regarding the modalities of participation. This allowed the PrepCom Presidents to propose a number of practical modalities for participation, which were usually sanctioned by the intergovernmental Bureau (after discussion) and (tacitly) by the Plenary. The following practices were unwritten rules developed praeter legem, (i.e. alongside the existing written rules, without contradicting them). WSIS did not develop any rules contra legem (i.e. against the Rules of Procedure).

  1. Written contributions: All observers were invited to make written inputs. All inputs from observers were put on the website. On several occasions, Governments asked the Executive Secretariat to make compilation of inputs. In these compilations, the inputs from Governments and from the observers were compiled in the same document. In the first round of compilations (i.e. for PrepCom-2 of the Geneva Phase and between PrepCom-2 and the Paris intersessional meeting) Government inputs were put first and observer inputs second. At a later stage, especially during the second phase and the Group of Friends of the Chair rolling drafts, the inputs from Governments (first) and observers (second) were summarized for each and every paragraph separately, which made it easier for Governments during the negotiations to integrate comments from observers into the final text.

    This practice was very important, not only because it facilitated negotiation, but also because it made the whole WSIS-process very transparent. The Arrangements for participation contained the basic rules for this practice, but the rules were refined by the unwritten practices mentioned above.
  2. Oral inputs: It became a standing WSIS-practice to allow observers to speak during PrepComs for 45 minutes every day on the issues under consideration, and in case of evening sessions, it was considered that the rule is 45 minutes for every 6 hours. The duration of the slot for the observers and the timing of their input was usually discussed and approved in the intergovernmental Bureau. During the Paris intersessional meeting, the rule was extended to 1 hour per day for the observers. Most of the time the observers spoke at the beginning of the day, and to the points that were on the agenda of the day. The time for the observers was usually divided in 1/3 for business, 1/3 for civil society and 1/3 for international organizations. There was a rotation regarding which observer group would speak first. During informal meetings observers were allowed most of the time to speak to the subject at any time and without a given order. One important achievement towards the end of the negotiations in both phases was to give the observers the floor at the beginning of the consideration of each chapter (stop-and-go), in order to get all their comments and suggestions for a given chapter at the same time.
  3. Presence: After some initial hesitations, observers were allowed to be present (and to speak) not only in the Plenary and Subcommittee meetings, but also most of the time in working groups and informal open-ended meetings. In the Tunis phase, observers were explicitly allowed to participate in some of the Group of Friends of the Chair meetings, and they were present during the final negotiations among Governments, as these negotiations took place mainly in subcommittee mode from 13 to 15 November 2005. They were given the floor for the last time on 13 November 2005, during the opening Plenary.

    No observers were allowed in the intergovernmental Bureau meetings. During preparations for PrepCom-1 of the Geneva phase, the idea was raised by some Governments to have a tripartite Bureau. As the idea did not find unanimity, it was dropped. But both PrepCom Presidents (H.E. Adama SamassÚkou from Mali in the Geneva phase and Ambassador Janis Karklins from Latvia in the Tunis phase) held extensive consultations with civil society and business representatives, usually before and/or after the intergovernmental Bureau meetings, upholding, by doing so, the multi-stakeholder approach of WSIS. Joint Governmental and/or CSB and CCBI Bureau meeting were held on a regular basis (see below).
  4. Internal organization of civil society and business: Civil society and the business sector organized themselves and formed a Civil Society Bureau (CSB) and a Coordinating Committee of Business Interlocutors (CCBI, called BASIS since 2006) to better interact with the intergovernmental structures of the Summit on procedural matters. Civil society decided to self-organize into a CS Plenary, thematic or regional families and caucuses, while the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris became the de facto focal point for business entities. Civil society and the business sector decided on the list of speakers for their constituency on a daily basis. During PrepComs, both entities held daily Plenary meetings (in the Geneva phase, the civil society speakers and the themes were chosen by the content and themes group meeting) to discuss the themes of the upcoming interventions and to decide on the speaker(s). The lists of speakers were handed over to the President of the Preparatory Committee at the beginning of each meeting, on a daily basis. Also during PrepComs, at least one meeting took place at each PrepCom between the intergovernmental Bureau and the CSB on the one hand and the intergovernmental Bureau and the CCBI on the other hand. This allowed for an extensive exchange of mutual expectations on the procedures and strengthened mutual understanding between Governments, civil society and business.
  5. Summit interventions: At previous UN Summits, which were usually into High-level, Ministerial-level and Summit-level segments, observers usually spoke in the High Level segment. WSIS did not have several segments. Therefore, during the Geneva and Tunis phases of the Summit, observers spoke directly in the Summit segment for 30-60 minutes at the end of each Plenary session, depending on the duration of the Plenary session.
  6. Round tables and panels: During PrepComs as well as during the Geneva and Tunis phases of the Summit, a series of multi-stakeholder Round Tables (and in Tunis a multi-stakeholder Panel) were organized as informal part of the PrepComs and the Summit, and the summaries of these Round tables and Panels were added to the Final Reports of the PrepComs and the Geneva and Tunis phase of the Summit. The format of the PrepCom Round tables was decided in the intergovernmental Bureau, while the format of the Summit Round tables and the inclusion of observers were pre-discussed in the intergovernmental Bureau and sanctioned in the Plenary, by accepting the document of the Format of the Geneva Summit (in the Geneva phase) and the Format of the Tunis Summit (in the Tunis phase). Both the CSB and the CCBI were asked to submit proposals for Round Ttable and Panel participants (both in the PrepComs and in the Summit). The final decision on the participants was taken by the Secretary-General of the Summit.
  7. Meeting space: During PrepComs and during the Geneva and Tunis phase of the Summit, meeting space was offered to all WSIS-stakeholders for parallel events. During PrepComs, an average of 30-40 parallel events took place, and during the Geneva and Tunis Summits, more than 300 parallel events were held. During PrepComs, parallel events usually took place within the PrepCom premises. At the Geneva and Tunis Summits, some of the events took place outside the Summit premises, in the exhibition area (and were thus not covered by the Host Country Agreement). At the Geneva and Tunis Summits, selected parallel events reported directly to the Summit, on the third and last day of the Summit (this practice was also sanctioned by the above mentioned Format documents).

go Civil society at WSIS, seen through the lens of the Conference of NGOs (CONGO)



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Updated : 2007-07-02