Civil Society participation in PrepCom3
  Not again! Governments exclude civil society from meetings
  Geneva, 18 September 2003. As the need to make progress on the negotiations of the WSIS documents becomes increasingly urgent, the never-ending story of civil society participation once more dominates the agenda of the preparatory process. Despite repeated claims of the openness and "inclusivity" of this "new" type of summit, limits have again been imposed on civil society participation.

After the working groups on specific themes of conflict had initially been open to observers, they were closed yesterday, leaving observers just a short period at the beginning of each session to make comments. This development mirrors events at PrepCom2, when Subcommittee 2 meetings had been closed for observers once difficulties occured in government negotiations. Observers had noted at that time, that governments had not wanted to make public their obvious difficulties in making progress.

This time around, several governments had approached the facilitating group around Lyndall Shope-Mafole (South Africa) because they were unhappy with the presence of observers during negotiations. Amongst the reasons mentioned was a fear that extended civil society participation would set a precedent for the further UN process and would compromise on the privileged role of governments in negotiations. Some governments were concerned that the global North would seek to influence discussions through civil society organisations. Others felt that their freedom of speech would be compromised by NGOs from their respective regions bringing up national and regional issues (for example concerning issues that are repressed in those very countries).

There is a feeling amongst many governments that civil society has stretched its limits a little too far and that boundaries for civil society participation have to be re-instated. There were threats of a complete break-down of negotiations otherwise. Whole working group sessions, such as the one on media on Wednesday, were partially suspended and urgent work on substance was blocked, because some governments would not continue to negotiate with observers present.

Some of those governments friendly towards civil society participation felt that because of time pressure and urgent work to be done on substance there were limits to which they could push for observer participation and thereby risk constant clashed with other governments.

While civil society recognised that the summit process as a whole has so far offered increasing possibilities for participation, they also noted that there is still a long way to go to reach the declared WSIS objective of a new quality of inclusivity, and that exclusions from meetings are certainly not helpful in that respect. They pointed to the very constructive work of civil society organisations in, for example, the working groups on media and on internet security.

There will be a civil society statement on these recent events tomorrow.

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