PrepCom-1 of the Tunis Phase of the World Summit on the Information Society begins on an energetic and
In his opening speech, the ITU Secretary-General, Mr Yoshio Utsumi reaffirmed the critical importance of this session in shaping the focus and output of the second phase. “It will mark a critical turning point in the task of building the Information Society”, he said, adding, “It is the first Preparatory Committee session of WSIS held outside Geneva and it symbolizes the beginning of a new chapter in the history of the WSIS process. As Hannibal crossed the Alps from Tunisia to make a landmark in history, we have today crossed the Alps to Tunisia representing the migration of WSIS from North to South”.
He recalled that “the Government of Tunisia proposed a Summit on the Information Society at the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in Minneapolis back in 1998. ITU then placed it on the agenda of the UN, and the General Assembly adopted a resolution endorsing the Summit in two phases, with the first phase to be held in Geneva and the second phase to follow in Tunis”.
He also explained, “The reasons why ITU proposed the holding of a World Summit on the Information Society are basically three: to raise awareness among political leaders of the implication if the Information Society and the new challenges that it presents; to get their commitments to tackle the injustices of the digital divide; and to develop new and legal policy frameworks, appropriate to the demands of cyberspace”.
“The adoption of the Declaration of Principles and the Plan of Action by 175 countries is a significant demonstration that the Geneva phase succeeded in raising awareness among the political leadership”, he affirmed. “The Tunis phase must have a strong commitment from Heads of State and Government to go from words to actions in order tackle the injustices of the digital divide; we have to transit from mere declarations to real actions and the Tunis Summit should become a “Summit of Solutions”.
In order to define a far-reaching implementation plan to fully realize all the action lines agreed in Geneva, he appealed to all “stakeholders, governments, civil society, private sector and international organizations to collaborate actively to find common ground for these truly global issues and make the Information Society a reality for all”.
Concerning financing the WSIS, he underlined the fact that “the financing process relies entirely on voluntary contributions”. He thanked governments and other organizations that have already announced their contributions.
Addressing the audience, the Tunisian Minister for Communication Technologies and Transport representing the host country of the 2nd phase of WSIS, H.E. Mr Sadok Rabah, stressed the need to address the issue of the digital divide which constitutes a new challenge that the international community is facing. “It threatens to further deepen the disparities between the developed and developing countries”, Mr Rabah warned.
He added, “Tunisia considers that facing the challenge of bridging the digital divide depends upon the provision of an enabling environment for the establishment of the Information Society, by working to facilitate the access to digital services and by stepping up international efforts aimed at accelerating the pace of investment in knowledge, to encourage technological innovation and to promote the mechanisms of education and training so as to foster the capacities of human resources and to ensure their mastery of modern technologies”.
He also said that “international organizations can play a pivotal role in coordinating the international positions and orientations and contributing to the establishment of an Information Society based on further justice and solidarity among nations and peoples”.
In addition, he stated, “Civil society participation and contribution constitute an essential element in building the Information Society by enriching the decisions and orientations, as well as by developing the programmes and materializing the initiatives for the establishment of the Information Society”.
He announced “the Tunisian contribution of TD 400’000 which will be essentially devoted to help associations in least developed countries, especially those concerned with the disabled, women and youth in order to facilitate their participation in the proceedings of the 2nd phase of the Summit in Tunis.”
Moreover, he committed the Tunisian government’s full support to associations and young peoples wishing to participate in the Summit. The business sector is also called upon by the Tunisian government to contribute in the partnership meetings bringing together businessmen from all countries in order to implement joint projects to bridge the digital divide, as part of the North-South and South-South cooperation and partnership.
He announced the organization by the Tunisian government of an international competition with a prize to be awarded to the best enterprise acting in the field of technological innovation in the information and communication field in developing countries. The results of the competition will be announced on the occasion of the Tunis Summit.
At the opening of the first Preparatory Meeting of the Tunis phase of WSIS, Swiss Secretary of State Marc Furrer handed over the baton of the World Summit on the Information Society to Tunisia, hailing the next phase as a “Summit of Solutions” that must move “from Principles to Action”. He appreciated the effort this would entail, knowing full well “how much energy, especially political energy, (they) will have to put into this.”
Assuring Tunisia of all help in the second phase, including sharing the experience gained during the first phase, Mr Furrer welcomed the coming together again of the WSIS-family that fought hard in Geneva but eventually found common ground in agreeing on a political declaration and a plan of action. On the journey ahead, he stressed the need for a firm and clear leadership for the Tunis phase of WSIS. Mr Furrer said, “We expect this process to be led by the president of the PrepCom, the host country of Tunisia, and also by ITU, which is the relevant and competent International organization in the field of the Information Society.”
Taking the floor as the representative of the host country of the first phase, Mr Mark Furrer said, “The focus of the second phase should be on implementation of the agreed principles and action lines and must lead to concrete ways to use ICT as tools to improve people’s daily lives in all aspects. Tunis 2005 should help advance in the achievement of the Millennium (and other) Development Goals and it should also help us create a global, inclusive and equitable Information Society.”
While strongly advising that the WSIS documents agreed in Geneva should not be re-opened for negotiations, he suggested that the Plan of Action could be refined and completed. Citing the three difficult issues of Internet Governance, Financing Mechanisms and the Media, Mr Furrer felt that in the Tunis phase of WSIS, “We have the opportunity to give a good example of working together with all stakeholders, governments, international organizations, private sector and civil society in an open spirit and in a constructive manner that takes into account the concerns of all parties involved. There will be hard fights on certain issues, but only by allowing an open discussion will we be able to come to solutions.”
As for the President of PrepCom-1, H.E. Mr Janis Karklins, elected unanimously in the opening session, thanked the outgoing president of the first phase, His Excellency Mr Adama Samassékou.
He also invited participants to work hard and efficiently in order to guarantee the success of the Tunis phase and he asked for their cooperation in order to heighten the awareness of developing and least developed countries.
The meeting immediately carried on with its work and proceeded to the election of the Vice-Presidents of the PrepCom:
- African Group: Egypt, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Senegal, and Zambia.
- Asian Group: Bangladesh, China, Japan, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, and Saudi Arabia.
- Eastern European Group: Armenia, Belarus, Hungary, Latvia, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro.
- GRULAC — Latin America and the Caribbean: Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Nicaragua, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela.
- WEOG — Western Europe/North America: Canada, France, Greece, Norway, Spain, and United States of America
- Ex-officio members: Host countries Switzerland and Tunisia.
The President of PrepCom, together with the Vice-Presidents, form the WSIS
The meeting also approved the new requests for accreditation from non-governmental organizations, civil society and business entities.
The ITU Secretary-General briefed the audience on the activities carried out between the end of the first phase of the Summit and this PrepCom 1. He informed participants that the government of Tunisia had convened an informal brainstorming session involving all stakeholders (governments, international organizations, civil society and business) on the second phase of the Summit in Tunis early March. In March, the provisional Bureau of the PrepCom of the Tunis phase was established. The Bureau had met regularly since then and organized two informal consultations with the permanent missions in Geneva to prepare for the Hammamet meeting. He also reported on the action taken by ITU as the organizing entity and, in particular, on the action he had taken in promoting the outcome of the first phase of the Summit to political leaders, private sector, civil society and the UN system in order to enlist their continued support to the process leading to the second phase. He also reported on the fund-raising campaign which he had launched to fund the preparatory process of the second phase, the entire process being funded solely by voluntary contributions. He said that he expected private sector sponsorship to play an important role in helping fund the preparations for the Tunis Summit.
The rest of the meeting was devoted to presentations by representatives of the two groups established by UN Secretary-General to progress the work on the two unresolved issues of the first phase, namely the Working Group on Internet Governance and the Task Force on Financing.
In his briefing to the WSIS Preparatory meeting in Hammamet, Mr Markus Kummer, Head of the Secretariat of the Working Group on Internet Governance appointed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, stated that the task of WGIG is based on the principles enshrined in the Geneva Declaration. He said the Internet is a global facility and therefore its management should be multilateral, transparent and democratic that fully involves the participation of governments, the private sector, civil society and international organizations. He said the onus was on WGIG to decide on the scope of its mandate: Whether it should be driven by a narrow, technical definition or work within a broader framework that includes issues such as network security, intellectual property rights, data protection, span and multilingualism.
Mr Kummer felt that the process ahead is as important as substance as it needs to be open and inclusive providing equal access to all stakeholders. It calls for finding a compromise between efficiency and legitimacy as it requires interaction with all governments and stakeholders in an open-ended mode. He stressed the importance of the full and meaningful participation of developing countries in the Working Group.
Outlining a tentative Road Map for WGIG, Mr Kummer said that the Secretariat is expected to start functioning as a small core group based at the United Nations in Geneva from July 2004 and should be fully functional by October. By the same time, the composition of WGIG - including its Chair and Members - should be finalized in consultation with governments and all stakeholders. Following two or three rounds of open-ended consultations and drawing upon selected resource persons and advisers as well as on regional or thematic meetings and workshops, the Report of WGIG should be ready not later than July 2005. A core group of Secretariat members will accompany the process until the Tunis Summit after which the Working Group will be gradually scaled down.
In conclusion, Mr Kummer stated that the successful outcome of WGIG depended on all stakeholders being satisfactorily represented in its deliberations and recognizing themselves in its final Report.
In his remarks, Mr Shoji Nishimoto, Assistant Administrator and Director of the United Nations Development Programme, speaking on behalf of the Task Force on Financing, recalled that there was “widespread recognition of the importance of access to and effective use of information and communication technologies in contributing to economic prosperity and social development of countries, fostering democracy and inclusion, and cultural and media diversity amongst others.” There was also a “recognition of the roles and contributions of the different stakeholders, as well as partnerships and cooperation between them for securing financing and mobilization of resources to achieve the objectives outlined in the Digital Solidarity Agenda as presented at WSIS”. In light of what the WSIS Action Plan adopted in Geneva is advocating, the Group will be considering “a combination of financing modalities with key roles for domestic resource mobilization, international and national private sector investment, development cooperation as well as an exploration of innovative partnerships and financing models.” Mr Nishimoto also said that the Digital Solidarity Fund launched at WSIS Geneva would be explored within the context of innovative mechanisms and public private partnerships. He reported on the action taken since the Geneva Summit.
“Prior to the formal launching of the Task Force, which we expect will be in place by late July”, he said, “We have been reaching out to experts and key partners to undertake the process of mapping and information gathering, and identification of areas for further consultation and study. It has been strongly felt that providing a good diagnostic of the situation — which was not possible to have in place in time for WSIS Geneva — is key for discussions on these issues to move forward. Very shortly”, he added, “a number of consultations will be initiated to secure a variety of stakeholder, regional and organizational inputs for the work of the task force. Virtual consultations are expected to be launched on the WSIS-online platform very soon. As regards the composition of the Task Force, it is expected to draw on participants from developing as well as developed countries, and to be oriented to experts who, between them, would have the skills on ICT for development, ICTD financing modalities, and IT policy issues and be cognizant of the WSIS inter-governmental issues and processes.
Mr Nishimoto said that he expected the draft report of the Task Force to be completed in November and finalized by the end of December to provide sufficient time for the WSIS process to consider it.