The Third plenary session of PrepCom-1 of the Tunis phase of WSIS convened on 25 June 2004, in Hammamet, Tunisia.
Deliberations centered on point 12 (Focus and output of the Tunis phase) and point 13 (Structure of the process for the Tunis
The morning session began with statements by Intergovernmental organizations.
The UNCTAD representative recalled its 11th ministerial conference in Sao Paolo, Brazil, where member states affirmed their commitment to bridging the digital divide and to building an inclusive Information Society. This would entail “identification of the most urgent development needs and policy solutions to address these needs: pragmatic solutions to the two key outstanding issues of the Geneva phase (Internet Governance and Financing Mechanisms) should also be placed in this broader development-oriented approach.” UNCTAD also committed to a “readiness to contribute to the Tunis Phase, as far as available resources permit.” The two main areas where UNCTAD could make a contribution are in ICT for economic growth and trade development, and in developing Information Society Indicators.
The Representative of the Islamic Conference Organization (ICO) and the Representative of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) also focused on the issues of Internet governance, financing mechanisms and bridging the digital divide.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Tunisia said ICTs could help refugees benefit from distance education programmes and provide them with a window to the outside world. Language training is an essential element for their integration and reintegration process. It is a mean of communication with distant friends and family and a source of comfort to their isolation. UNHCR and Microsoft signed a partnership agreement on the occasion of the WSIS preparatory meeting to create Community Technology Learning Centres (CTLC) in Kenya and Russia for the benefit of refugees.
Speakers from Civil Society made interventions in the morning session. The representative of the Heinrich Boll Foundation regretted that time given to civil society was insufficient, representing only 2.7 per cent of the total plenary time. “In order to have meaningful discussion among all stakeholders, we need to be able to speak to the points at the time they are raised. This is not the case right now”, adding “We are not willing to play an ‘alibi role’.” He also asked that whatever Political Declaration adopted in Tunis, “appropriate mechanisms have to guarantee that civil society is truly involved in any drafting process and supported in commenting and proposing amendments in a timely manner.”
ISIS International Manila, for its part, recalled that the Tunis Summit corresponds to the first five-year review of the Millenium Development Goals. “Governments and multilateral institutions will measure the results of the WSIS process on the basis of its contribution to the achievement of universal primary education, promotion of gender equality and women's empowerment, reduction of child mortality, improvement of maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases and ensuring environmental sustainability and development of global partnerships for development. These are key targets against which action and implementation must be measured”, the speaker said. She said that for policies and investment to be effective, people and communities had to be enabled to take action to improve their lives and conditions. Civil society initiatives and community-driven development projects must be supported and encouraged through improvements to the policy and regulatory environment for access to information and to the means of communications and through investment in traditional as well as new communication technologies.
AMARC Africa told delegates that “a just and equitable information society must be people-centered, based on respect for fundamental human rights and giving priority to the reduction of poverty and the implementation of sustainable development.” He acknowledged that “despite significant constraints on dialogue and communication within the process itself, civil society organizations contributed extensively and with good effect.” He also agreed that despite differences of views on certain points, the Declaration of Principles should not be re-opened, but felt that the Action Plan did not adequately provide a basis for action and implementation and that it be “reviewed to establish a new and measurable basis for action”.
As member states took the floor, Azerbaijan affirmed that WSIS had helped his country to improve its capacities to use new technologies and thanked UNDP for its support. The delegate called upon all stakeholders to jointly implement the Millennium objectives and to face the difficulties that still exist. In order to reach these objectives, he announced a contribution of CHF 15 000 to the WSIS Trust Fund and expressed the wish of his country to convene one of the thematic meetings.
Speaking on the behalf of the Asian group, Pakistan affirmed that Asia insists on setting out the mechanisms to implement the Geneva Plan of Action. Resolving financial issues were critical in the road ahead. Asia accepted the titles of the two final documents suggested by the ITU Secretary-General: ‘Tunis Commitment’ and ‘Tunis Agenda for Action’. Criteria should be established for acceptance of the outcome of WSIS Thematic meetings.
Statements were unanimous in recommending that the leftover business of the Geneva phase – Internet governance and Financing mechanisms – needed to be resolved during the Tunis phase and that action lines must be put in place as mandated by the WSIS Plan.
Speaking for the Arab Group, Syria said all stakeholders must work towards achieving commitments by 2015. The present process should be based on preparatory meetings as well as on regional and thematic conferences. In support of the Asian Group, Syria reaffirmed that thematic meetings need clear criteria and their outputs should be submitted to the PrepCom process, but they should not be the subject of negotiation.
Iran (Islamic Rep. Of) felt the outcomes should be consistent with the first phase. Along with a short political document, the Tunis action document should reflect further action plans.
Bangladesh has established a WSIS Cell to implement the Plan of Action and Declaration of Principles. A committee has been formulated with all stakeholders to share information and to prepare for the Tunis Phase.
Canada set out a proposal for a conceptual framework and structure for the Tunis Summit, especially for the wide range of associated Side Events, including an ICT4D Platform, seminars, and workshops. This would also involve developing a framework based upon the Geneva Declaration and Plan of Action that provide a powerful and durable roadmap for the WSIS process and beyond and promote a framework related to applications of ICTs that benefit national planning associated with social and economic development. Encouraging increased private sector participation and continued civil society participation would be central to the Tunis phase. Canada preferred to avoid lengthy negotiations on a new or revised Declaration or Plan of Action.
Several countries took the floor during the afternoon session of PrepCom-1 stressing the need to establish continuity in the WSIS process that began in Geneva and concluded at the Summit in December 2003 with agreement on the Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action. A consensus is emerging that the Geneva documents should not be re-opened but some aspects of the Action Plan could be refined. There is also an emphasis on dealing with local needs that would be best served by discussing them in Regional and thematic meetings and workshops.
Kenya urged delegates not to make the “second phase the poor cousin of the first phase”. It was therefore important that the scope of the issues to be addressed not be constrained unnecessarily. The United States said that that participation in Internet Governance working group should be open and include all stakeholders. “Otherwise”, she said, “the output would be compromised and efficiency gains lost”. She stressed the need to fully engage civil society and the private sector. She also said that the Tunis phase was to reaffirm ongoing activities and encourage efforts to make full use of existing mechanisms to achieve the WSIS objectives. She also urged participants to prioritize among the many objectives of the Action Plan so as to focus efforts and resources as efficiently as possible.
For Cuba, the focus and output should be the reaffirmation of what was agreed in Geneva, the confirmation of outstanding items and detailed mechanisms to implement the Geneva Action Plan. Cuba also agreed that the working groups on Internet Governance and Financing should work in an open and transparent way with full participation of all stakeholders involved. He also said that the results of the working group on Internet Governance should be available at least in draft form in time for PrepCom-2 with a final report by July 2005 to give sufficient time to discuss, debate and negotiate a consensus for the Summit. He also agreed with several speakers that what was agreed in Geneva should not be reopened.
Australia was of the view that we can do the stocktaking now. “We call upon the secretariat and all WSIS participants to develop a clear structure for the stocktaking. We see a central role for regional and thematic meetings. But we need a common framework. On the outputs, any political statement should merely reaffirm commitments.”
Bangladesh joined other countries in recommending speedy implementation of the WSIS action lines and proposed a special session for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) that would specifically look at their needs to bridge the digital divide. Senegal and South Africa, amongst others, supported the Bangladeshi proposal. The Senegalese delegate said that countries left adrift in the development process required special attention. South Africa said that focus in the Tunis phase must be on development and that priority must be given to the use of ICTs in education, health, governance, local content and job creation through the development of small and medium enterprises (SMEs). South Africa also supported the Tunisian proposal for support to special youth programmes at the Summit. Zambia said that the predicament of indebted HIPC countries must be addressed. Nigeria said that we have to ask ourselves how much have we achieved in bridging the digital divide and what steps do we need to take in line with the Action Plan. The Palestine Observer said that ICTs “offer solutions to our problems and obstacles” and would “attenuate the sufferings of occupation.”
Norway, which had earlier announced financial contribution to the WSIS preparatory process, said that thematic meetings would constitute an important element during the action-oriented Tunis phase. The delegate also proposed that civil society and other stakeholders should be better accommodated in the negotiations. He said that in the Geneva phase, civil society was accorded too little time to make interventions. Switzerland agreed, and added that the role of Media was not mentioned much at this meeting but, in the Tunis phase, matters of content and not just of infrastructure would be crucial. Issues like freedom of access and freedom of expression would play an important role.
Japan agreed that Regional and Thematic meetings will help the process and that a monitoring and evaluation mechanism should assess progress on the action lines. Various side events should be organized at the Tunis Summit to increase interest, NGOs and the private sector should be further encouraged, and we should ensure the participation of as many Heads of State as possible.
Mr Markus Kummer’s briefing on the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) again came up for discussion with India and Brazil speaking with one voice on having a greater say in the deliberations. They were joined by Syria (on behalf of the Arab Group) and Pakistan (for the Asian Group) as well as by Saudi Arabia. Switzerland said that Internet Governance and Financing Mechanisms were very important elements in the future of the Information Society and therefore it would be crucial to find solutions. Political representation was important even though it may compromise efficiency, but better results would emerge from a small working group rather than with 50-60 countries. The Report could later be debated. PrepCom President Janis Karklins said the divergent opinions would be conveyed to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
The meeting was asked to decide on the duration and dates of the following two PrepComs. The provisional WSIS Bureau meeting in Geneva had tentatively decided that the meetings would be of two weeks each, with PrepCom-2 convening from 14 February 2005 in the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
Norway proposed that PrepCom-2 should be limited to one week, but El Salvador, Australia and others were of the opinion that the days could be reduced by a maximum of three, and that these days should be added to PrepCom-3 that would meet in September 2005. ITU Secretary-General said that extending the timeframe of meetings was more cost efficient than reconvening them, as in the case of PrepCom-3 in the Geneva phase.
Ambassador Karklins presented the draft decision of PrepCom-1 that would be discussed on 26 June.