Unlike the days preceding, day five of the preparatory committee meetings
for the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) was informal
and more relaxed. Rather than all of the stakeholders gathering
for a continued dialogue about rules and themes, the assembly broke
up into separate units to focus their discussions on matters that
concern them most. These informal meetings are a means to help each
stakeholder group, from civil society and the business community
to the UN and affiliated agencies, identify the synergies stemming
from the first round of preparatory meetings.
As with any international summit, each stakeholder group comes to the
table with a specific agenda and issues they would like to see addressed
at the highest levels of government. WSIS is no exception. Regardless
of the logistical issues associated with addressing the unique need
of each stakeholder, all of the stakeholders realize the importance
of WSIS and have expressed their commitment to developing a summit
that is not stifled by bureaucratic hurdles.
Despite the complexity of the themes and issues associated with WSIS, the
HLSOC members agreed to work with the Executive Secretariat to devise
a roadmap to facilitate coordination between their efforts and those
that will take place at the upcoming regional conferences. John
Dryden, representing the OECD, pointed out that it is vitally important
to quickly determine the focus and overall themes of WSIS in order
to guide the discussions at the four regional ICT-related conferences
that will take place before the next preparatory committee meeting.
While many questions remain, a consensus emerged from this high-level
meeting, one that seeks to clarify the meaning and focus of WSIS.
Erecting building blocks
In an informal meeting to discuss the working documents prepared by
the second subcommittee, the member states voiced their opinions
about the language of the themes and principles for WSIS. Similar
to the previous day's proceedings, the delegations offered proposals
on how to make the content for the Summit more explicit, while trying
to make the terminology acceptable to all member states. The European
Union (EU) representative stressed the need to have a balanced summit,
with the outcome that is relevant for all stakeholders. The EU representative
said, "The preparatory committee and the Summit should aim
at a concerted effort to extend benefits of the information society
to all, and should consider in a balanced manner infrastructure
and content issues including the digital divide."
The member states advocated the need to better explain broad terms,
such as governance, cultural diversity and the digital divide. Pointing
out that the working documents lacked the reference of 'people,'
the Canadian delegation stressed the importance of the 'community
of people,' specifically women and children. Concurring with his
Canadian counterpart, Egypt's representative expressed support for
including the word 'people' in the text of the principles for WSIS.
Alternatively, Korea suggested that the assembly should better explain
why such a global approach to building the information society is
necessary, stressing the need to outline the benefits of WSIS more
From expanding on the notion of cultural diversity to clarifying the
meaning of global governance and reorganizing the themes, the informal
meeting between member states proved to be very useful for establishing
the thematic building blocks for WSIS.
A view from Europe
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe together with the
Government of Romania and in collaboration with ITU-WSIS will hold
its regional preparatory conference for WSIS in November 7-9 2002 in
Bucharest, Romania, and today's informal meeting between the UNECE countries,
business sector and civil society demonstrated there is much work to be done
to coordinate ICT-related activities before the next WSIS preparatory
meeting in March 2003. Mr Dan Nica, Minister of Communications and Information Technology in Romania, pointed out that the European Regional Conference will be an occasion to present national strategies, challenges and
success stories from across the region. It will also allow the participants
to get a better view of different development stages in the transition to
the Information Society. Europe's will be the first regional conference
related to ICTs and development. During the session, the assembly discussed
the various goals for the information society, initiatives and strategies,
all couched in terms of the three core concepts for WSIS - information
society vision, access and applications. Of specific mention, the attendees
discussed the availability and provision of online services, the
accessibility of citizens to those services and the reduction of
bureaucracy in their provisioning.
Speaking on behalf of the International Chamber of Commerce, Maria Cattaui
stressed the intertwined nature of a robust business sector with
the underlying IT frameworks that support it. Ms. Cattaui went on
to highlight the importance of developing the necessary relationships
between government, citizens and businesses for facilitating the
evolution of a flourishing information society throughout all of
Europe. Ms. Cattaui noted that competition law, free markets/trade
and intellectual property rights are also important components to
creating an information society.
Noting the usefulness of the proposed thematic roundtables at WSIS, the
Russian delegation voiced a concern about infrastructure build out
and content creation. Meanwhile, Latvia called for an organized
forum dedicated to the elaboration of a global model of information
society, while Denmark and Ireland emphasized the need for creating
a fostering environment for all stakeholders. Reinforcing the importance
of stakeholder partnerships, Armenia stressed the need broker new
partnerships that will last beyond WSIS, thus ensuring the continued
collaboration on ICT and development initiatives well into the future.
After a two-hour delay the final plenary meeting at the first preparatory
committee got underway. The preparatory committee president, Mr.
Samassekou, thanked the assembly for its hard work throughout the
week, and stressed the importance of an open and focused dialogue
on finding a consensus for the adoption of the final reports. Despite
the fact that some items were still up for debate, the member states
were able to craft a viable framework for moving forward with future
preparatory committee meetings and WSIS.
The assembly quickly approved the first subcommittee report, which consisted
of three separate documents outlining the rules and procedures.
However, consensus was not as easily reached for the report offered
by the second subcommittee. The Mexican ambassador, who served as
chairman of the second subcommittee, highlighted two documents consisting
of the principles and themes for WSIS. He reported that the subcommittee
successful passed the first document on principles, but time did
not permit the subcommittee to address the many issues associated
with the themes. Opening the floor for debate, President Samassekou
urged the assembly to be brief.
The Brazilian delegation opened the debate by reiterating its proposal
for merging the two documents together, which gained majority approval
during the subcommittee proceedings. The Indian representative urged
the assembly to begin identifying synergies between the upcoming
regional conferences and the WSIS preparatory committee's efforts,
stressing the need to have some documentation to guide discussions
during the regional conferences.
Given that the second subcommittee was unable to complete its work on
finalizing the themes for WSIS, the Indian representative proposed
that an informal meeting be held sometime prior to the second preparatory
committee meeting. Concurring with its Indian counterpart, the Switzerland
delegation suggested having a two to three day meeting sometime
in autumn to finish the development of themes for WSIS. Offering
support for the Indian/Switzerland proposal, the United States representative
also suggested to schedule meeting around another event in Geneva
to reduce travel costs for the delegations. Pakistan, Columbia and
Russia, among others, also expressed support for the Indian/Switzerland
The final item to address concerned the date for the second preparatory
meeting. While March 24 thru April 4 was initially proposed, Denmark
pointed out that the UN Human Rights conference would be taking
place at the same time. The assembly was unable to identify a viable
alternative and called on Executive Secretariat to come up with
a solution. Noting that there are still some institutional and logistical
issues to be resolved, President Samassekou concluded the first
preparatory committee meeting at 7:15 CET.
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