Michael Gurstein on Wed, 10 Jul 2002 14:22:16 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Statement: Civil Society and the World Summit on the Information Society

From: "Bruce Girard" <bgirard@comunica.org
Date: Fri, 5 Jul 2002 23:23:00 +0200

  This is the statement that I made at the press conference this


Statement by Bruce Girard, co-chair of the civil society plenary at PrepCom1
and member of the Coordinating Committee of the Campaign for
Communication Rights in the Information Society (CRIS) to the WSIS Civil
Society Press Conference - July 5, 2002

More than 150 people, representing some 100 civil society organisations from
all over the globe, with diverse interests, activities and priorities came
Geneva to participate in the first Preparatory Committee of the World Summit
on the Information Society.

Civil society organisations have been working on issues of concern to this
summit for many years. NGO networks were the first to provide email and
internet connectivity in many less-industrialised countries. NGOs provided
the connectivity for the UN Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 and for the Cairo
Summit in 1994. We have unique and valuable experience with issues
relating to the use of ICTs for development, and we have long been
recognised for our on-the-ground expertise in areas such as technology,
policy development and project implementation, and for our work with
communities at the grassroots, especially with priority sectors such as
women, youth and the poor. In the areas of culture and communication,
NGOs have been leaders in promoting and supporting cultural and linguistic
diversity, pluralism, democracy, freedom of expression and human rights.

We came to the PrepCom because the issues related to the promised
information society are fundamental to our concerns for social, economic,
and human development, and because we believe that a vision of a people-
centred information society can only be achieved with the full and active
participation of civil society.

We also came here because statements made by the UN Secretary-General,
Kofi Annan, and declarations and official documents issued by the United
Nations, the ITU and the WSIS Secretariat repeatedly emphasised the need
for the full participation of NGOs and civil society.

During the past week we were actively involved in all proceedings open to
us - monitoring, debating, responding to proposals and questions from
delegations, formulating positions, lobbying, and, when the opportunity was
presented, intervening in the formal proceedings of the PrepCom. We have
also been active in the months leading up to the PrepCom, including the
African regional preparatory meeting, a series of UNESCO NGO
consultations on the WSIS, and various seminars and meetings such as the
one organised jointly by the Communications Rights in the Information
Society campaign and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Geneva last

Major decisions faced by government had to do with how we would be able to
participate in the official process, including such things as how and how
often we would be able to address official sessions. However, the results of
days of meetings behind closed doors leave us with serious reservations. We
had hoped for innovation. In their most optimistic interpretation, the
agreements reached here represent a variation on established practices, but
nothing in the way of positive innovation. Other interpretations see the
decisions reached here as a major setback - eroding rights and
responsibilities won by civil society in the UN system over the past fifty

Encouraged by the various declarations, announcements and official
documents, we had hoped to be able to contribute to the process by
participating in the organising bureau, joining in formal and informal
discussions, and having a voice in decisions concerning the ongoing
participation of civil society in the process. We hoped to be able to
actively contribute new ideas to the partnership we were invited to join.

What we got was disappointing.

We will not be able to participate as observers in the bureau. We can be
excluded from participation in the agenda development. We have no
guarantee of inclusion in significant aspects of the formal process.

We are particularly disturbed by the possible precedent of accrediting
individual firms to UN summits. The private sector has always been capably
represented by its trade and industry associations, accredited by the UN as
NGOs, but this summit is also proposing the formal accreditation of
Individual firms, responsible primarily to their shareholders or individual
owners. A
decision to include individual commercial actors in this manner in a UN
summit, without the appropriate discussion and reference to established
procedures, is unprecedented and we will be challenging it at the highest
levels of the UN system.

We have decided to continue to engage with this process, but will be
evaluating this decision while we proceed with our challenge and in the
expectation that the restrictive rules and procedures adopted this week will
be reconsidered at PrepCom2.

July 5, 2002


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