Plenary Sets Tone for Week Two
Week two of the third meeting of the WSIS Preparatory Committee (PrepCom-3) began in a mood of optimism and dynamism. As reported in Friday’s Highlights, the consensus reached by Subcommittee-1 on the adoption of the Rules of Procedure of WSIS was welcomed by the conference as an important victory on the long path to the Summit. “Acceptance of the Rules of Procedure is proof of our ability to overcome all obstacles, while recognizing our differences. It is an example of true cooperation, which will hopefully set the tone for the rest of the conference,” said Mr. Adama Samassékou, President of the WSIS PrepCom.
The inputs of and role played by Observers in crafting the Draft Plan of Action and Declaration of Principles were also energetically welcomed by a number of delegations. One Member State representative underlined the importance of respecting the national sovereignty of countries while also benefiting from the input from civil society and other stakeholders. It was felt the Rules of Procedure successfully strike that balance.
Observer group participation has even received active encouragement: at the suggestion of the United States, it was decided to include observers in the meetings of the new working group set up to work on the Draft Declaration of Principles under the same conditions as those applied during PrepCom-2. Observers will be permitted to attend and provide their statements for consideration.
The energy and the optimism of the Plenary will be needed during this second week. Following eight hours of negotiations on the Declaration of Principles, and 15 hours on the Action Plan, Subcommittee-2 has now produced a new draft of both documents. They are available as temporary documents
DT/1 and DT/2 respectively.
“Nothing is Agreed Until Everything has been Agreed”
It is no coincidence that “nothing is agreed until everything has been agreed”, a phrase first coined by Germany, has become a leitmotif of the conference. In practical terms, both draft documents have square brackets around the entire texts, meaning that all of the text has yet to be agreed on. Moreover, numerous square brackets still remain within individual paragraphs where the wording has yet to be hammered out.
In an attempt to attain its goal of finalizing the Draft documents by the end of the week, the conference will now move on in a combination of meeting formats. Subcommittee-2 has formed a new Working Group. This Working Group on the Draft Declaration of Principles began the work of negotiating the detail of the text, line by line, under the guidance of the Chair, Ms. Lyndall Shope-Mafole (South Africa).
Work on the Draft Action Plan will progress on the basis of small ad hoc drafting groups, working in parallel sessions. In addition, regional groups will hold meetings outside of the working hours of other groups. Night, lunchtime and breakfast meetings have now been scheduled in an attempt to accommodate the multiple groups.
Small Delegations’ Concern at Processes
The multiplication of parallel sessions has raised concern among many smaller and developing country delegations, which are not always able to follow all of the meetings. After considerable discussion, agreement was reached on a way to proceed, ensuring that no more than three parallel meetings are held at any one time.
In a light-hearted aside, referring to the long process of negotiations, why not take a leaf out of the book of African society, suggested the Chair. There, villagers would sit around a tree to discuss important issues, but they would take care to leave difficult decisions until the following morning when they had clear minds. Most importantly, they knew how to relax from the hard work between sessions, she said.
Discussions Return to Draft Declaration of Principles
One of the main questions being debated is whether national sovereignty, and respect for international treaties and agreements, can be taken for granted, or whether these points should be explicitly spelled out. Some countries feel strongly that references such as “upholding the sovereign equality of all States” should be retained. Similar preferences were stated with regard to national legislation. Meanwhile, some delegations felt strongly that more extensive mention should be made of such international agreements as the UN Millennium Declaration, and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on freedom of expression. Others still called for the inclusion of explicit references to other international declarations, such as the
Vienna Declaration of the World Conference on Human
From the Observers’ point of view, there are still areas requiring improvement. Civil society’s Content and Themes group felt that they could not endorse the document as it stands, mentioning a lack of “human perspective”. They would like to see greater diversity of human society reflected with specific references to the world’s poor, the disabled and women, as well as principles concerning labour standards, and the roles of community media and open source software in extending access. A representative of the business sector pointed to areas where a greater emphasis on private sector participation in the information society seems necessary.
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