WSIS Round Table III
ICT and the Goals of the Millenium Declaration
Geneva, December, 11, 2003
Last night I heard the first WSIS joke. Three Heads of State are coming to WSIS in Geneva. The first one says "Yes". The second one says "No". And the third one says "I agree". Here we have the consensus.
What this joke tells us? The Governmental WSIS Declaration is a consensus document on the lowest level. But to reach the aims of the Millenium Declaration, you need more than the lowest level. While it is understandable, that governments has to follow to principle of consensus, it becomes also evident, that, when governments are unable to agree, other stakeholders, private industry and civil society, has to step in to move things forward. People can and will not wait.
Civil society can play an tremendous role in achieving the goals of the Millenium Declaration, reducing poverty and promoting sustainable development. They have the knowledge and the expertise, they have the networks and they have the linkage to the day-to-day problems of the people on the ground. Governments should invite, encourage and enable civil society organisations to take a lot of the WSIS issues in their own hands to let things grow bottom up. Only such a bottom up approach will lead to sustainable development. If it comes top down, it will fail.
The interesting thing here in WSIS is, that at the end of the Summit we have two declarations. The Governmental WSIS Declaration, which is signed tomorrow, and the Civil Society WSIS Declaration, which is signed today. If you compare the two documents, you will find, that the Governmental WSIS Declaration says what could be done, while the Civil Society WSIS Declaration says what should be done. With other words, the two declarations mark the distance between today's realities and tomorrow's expectations.
To take only one example, the question of Human Right. The governments celebrate the consensus on Article 19 of the Human Rights Declaration of 1948 as the basis for the global information society. Certainly, the reaffirmation of the status quo is better than a status quo minus. But Article 19 was drafted in the Industrial Age. We are living now in the Information Age. Civil Society expected from the summit a status quo plus. It expected, that the right to freedom of expression, enshrined in Article 19 of the Human Rights Declaration, will be further developed with access and participation rights for information and communication in the cyberspace. No word about this in the Governmental WSIS Declaration.
The Civil Society WSIS Declaration is not an Anti-Governmental Declaration, it is complementary. It says what governments are unable to say and it offers constructive engagement.
This signals also a new relationship between Civil Society and Governments in the WSIS process, probably one of the most important side effects oif WSIS. Geneva is not Seattle. Civil Society does not throw stones, it produces papers. Civil Society has moved from turmoil to trust. And there is an opportunity, that continues input on the road to Tunis will lead to growing impact.