Letter to PrepCom President Adama Samassékou from Civil Society Content and Themes Group
  Quito, October 30, 2003

Mr. Adama Samassékou
President of Prepcom

Dear Mr. Samassékou,

We appreciate your concern to receive feedback from civil society concerning the non-paper you have produced for the intergovernmental negotiations on the draft Declaration for WSIS.

Despite the difficulties in undertaking consultations in such a short timeframe, we have produced the adjoined document, which is a compilation of proposals received from civil society caucuses on the October 24 version of the non-paper, that reflect the consensus reached among a broad range of civil society organizations on many issues during the WSIS preparatory process.  However, given the short time-line, it does not include all the comments civil society may wish to make on the document.

As a general comment on the document, I will summarize here a few of the overriding concerns that have been expressed during the past weeks by a number of civil society caucuses.

We appreciate the inclusion of several civil society proposals into this latest version of the document. In particular we recognize that since July there has been an openness to strengthening references among other things, to human rights, social inclusion, education and sustainable development. 

We also welcome your stated commitment to a participative approach and to seek out a satisfactory balance between technological and societal issues. Nonetheless, we are concerned that the declaration as a whole fails to adequately address some fundamental issues of the information society and still has an excessive bias towards technological and market solutions. 

Some issues of major concern are:

The "Information Society" on which the World Summit is premised continues to reflect, to a large extent, a narrow understanding in which ICTs are generally taken to mean telecommunications and the Internet. This approach tends to marginalise some key issues relating to the development potential inherent in the combination of knowledge and technology on which the WSIS was premised in UNGA Resolution 56/183.

A commitment to a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society based on respect for human rights should be embedded throughout the Declaration of Principles and the Action Plan.

In our view the key challenges of the Information Society are to maintain and extend the global knowledge commons and the public domain and to ensure better access for all to information and communication.

Limitations on free access and fair use of knowledge and communication systems imposed by legal and technical means must remain the exception, to be applied only where strictly necessary.  In this context, free software and open standards in the technical infrastructure are essential components not adequately reflected in this document, which also ignores fundamental differences between intellectual and physical products.

The Declaration mentions the need to address geographical and social divides, but falls short of expressing a strong commitment to creating the mechanisms for redressing them.  It also fails to emphasize and express support for the key role of community initiatives and people's involvement in the decisions that control their lives in the information society. There should be much stronger commitment to community driven solutions.

Nor does the draft Declaration give sufficient recognition to the dangers ICTs can pose to civil rights and liberties and the need for a strong international commitment to reaffirming and protecting those rights.

Yours truly,

Sally Burch
Civil Society Content and Themes joint-coordinator

Comments on the Draft non-paper of the President of the WSIS Prepcom on the declaration of principles

Non-Paper by PrepCom President Adama Samassekou, 24 October 2003


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