The fifth Plenary session of PrepCom-1 (Tunis phase) began with interventions by observers from civil society, business and intergovernmental organizations.
The representative of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the representative of the African NGO on Human Rights, Groupe de recherche et d'action pour le bien-être social (GRABS), both stressed the importance of adhering to the Universal Declaration with respect to Article 19 on freedom of expression, information and communication. This would be even more relevant in the second phase of WSIS and would pertain to the issues of Internet governance and financing.
The statement on behalf of the Civil Society Caucus on Internet Governance suggested that the creation of the Working Group on Internet governance would not be bound by the existing rules of procedure of WSIS in order to pioneer innovative mechanisms for multi-stakeholder consensus building. The Caucus asserted that it intends to actively contribute to the Working Group’s efforts.
The statement on behalf of business interlocutors joined the consensus not to re-open the Geneva documents. It reaffirmed the full participation of the private sector in the Tunis phase, in particular to fix the stocktaking indicators and the promotion of partnerships to allow access to ICTs in disadvantaged countries and regions.
The statement by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) summarized priority action items: “Education and Knowledge are keys to development; ICTs are essential to store and access content in science and education; and, further, ICTs make us all virtual neighbours and enable close collaboration of distant partners. The three areas of action must therefore centre on Internet Governance, Financial Mechanisms, and Capacity Building through e-inclusion. Open access would help build the repository of human knowledge — a library of Alexandria for today.
Speaking on behalf of United Nations Regional Commissions, the representative of the Economic Commission for Africa stated that the Commissions were deeply committed to the WSIS process and the success of the Summit. They would be involved in organizing regional meetings, the first of which would be held in Accra, Ghana, in February 2005. In the stocktaking exercise, the UN Commissions have developed a worldwide inventory on Information Society statistics.
The UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development stated that the current North-South gap in the generation and application of ICTs constitutes a “technological divide” that must be bridged if developing countries are to participate effectively in an inclusive global Knowledge Society. The Tunis phase must therefore focus on the development dimensions of ICTs, such as access and connectivity. It should also focus on the role of ICTs in helping to achieve the MDGs in areas such as health and education. As part of the preparatory process of WSIS, CSTD is planning a high-level forum in March 2005 in Trieste, Italy.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) proposed that criteria for acceptance of thematic contributions be broad and flexible and use ICTs in the consultation process in the interest of cost and time efficiency.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) highlighted the importance of ICTs in promoting the rapid exchange of information on weather, water and climate as well as early warning in the prevention of natural disasters. A thematic meeting has been scheduled for 20 January 2005 in Kobe, Japan.
The UN ICT Task Force and the United Nations University also announced thematic meetings to be held in New York in November 2004 and in Tokyo in April 2005, respectively.
Following general statements by Member States, the discussion moved to the draft decision of the meeting proposed by the President, Ambassador Janis Karklins. He said the focus should be on solutions with concise decisions as reflected in the draft that was kept deliberately minimalist and included a schematic Road Map.
Following the announcements made on the opening day of the meeting by several participants to contribute to the WSIS Fund, Burkina Faso today announced a contribution of CHF 25 000. Yesterday, Senegal and Azerbaijan had announced contributions of CHF 46 000 and 15 000 respectively.
The afternoon session was devoted to the consideration of a draft decision tabled by the President concerning the agreed outcome of PrepCom-1. However, given the number of requests, the discussion moved to how the text should be handled. Being unable to reach consensus, consultations were held among regional groups to decide whether they could reach agreement on the initial text of the President. All but the Asian group was in agreement with the President’s text. Given the lack of consensus, the President decided to establish a drafting group to review the text of the decision. The drafting group comprised 5 countries representing each region in addition to the two host countries.
Soon after 23h00, the resumed plenary session adopted the text proposed by the drafting group, which was hailed by the representatives of each group as a step in the right direction at achieving consensus and a good sign for the road ahead to the Summit in Tunis, 16-18 November 2005. The next PrepCom will be held in Geneva, 17-25 February 2005. As mandated, the Hammamet PrepCom reviewed those issues of the Information Society that should form the focus of the Tunis phase of WSIS and agreed on the structure of the preparatory process.
The delegates thanked the Government of Tunisia for the excellent arrangements and for the warm hospitality extended to them, and looked forward to returning to Tunisia for the Summit.