Geneva/Berlin, 16 December 2003. Compiled by Rik Panganiban and Ralf Bendrath.
It was quite inspiring seeing the hundreds and hundreds of great exhibitions and stands in the ICT4D. Comparing this fair to the Geneva Telecom 2003 last month, one can see how colorful and vibrant are the many activities being engaged in by civil society, governments, international institutions and businesses. It makes you think that we need more frequent gatherings where people and groups developing ICT applications to meet real human needs can assemble and celebrate each others work.
Civil Society Declaration
Great work all around assembling such an ambitious document, representing a diverse assemblage of views and vision of hundreds of groups of civil society. Kudos to Sally Burch and Bill McIver for guiding the process, all the drafting committee folks, and caucus and working groups for their input and refinements.
Parallel Civil Society Events
It was incredibly frustrating knowing that there were at any time several interesting meetings going on that you wanted to attend. We hope that groups will make reports, powerpoints, videos and other materials available, so we can see a flavor of what we missed. We went to lots of great events, including the CPSR meeting on ICT governance, the AMARC community media forum, the TRP meeting on "democracy, freedom and digital divide", the World Forum on Communication Rights, and the UBUNTU meeting on global governance and WSIS. Congrats to all the organizers for their great work.
An whole number of people - especially from but not limited to civil society - were extremely helpful during the whole week. Be it the geeks who set up the free wireless hotspot around the civil society offices, the people who coordinated the press conferences and plenary sessions, the ones who spent nights in smoke-filled hotel rooms finalizing joint press releases and other documents, or the volunteer translators - thanks to all of you!
Turns out there was plenty of room in the plenary hall, hundreds of available seats. So making us come up with these complex distribution systems, fight with each other, and put poor Robert Guerra (who helped getting it structured) through the wringer, was all for nothing.
WiFi / Internet Access
This was abyssmal how substandard our internet access was. We confess to being guilty of assuming that at the information society summit that we would have in place adequate information technology. WiFi barely worked, even after having to pay exhorbitant amounts for it. SMTP never worked, so sending email was impossible for most of us. The biggest scandal, though, was the fact that we had no free wireless access, as this had been the case at all the PrepComs.
The noise factor was a significant and constant nuisance the entire week, with no soundproofing of any meeting spaces and frequent loud music, booming noises, and the overall buzz of a thousand conversations. Many people commented that they had never been at a meeting of this stature where the noise level was so bad.
We understand that the roundtable speakers only got 3 minutes to make their interventions. What exactly was the point of bringing all this expertise together if no actual dialogue was going to happen? A number of speakers who had taken the effort of coming to Geneva from distant continents for these roundtables told us they had never felt so useless at any other conference.
Civil Society Speaker Selection
We had selected our speakers in a fairly transparent and democratic manner before the summit. Then somebody in the ITU just took the list and arbitrarily picked and dropped people. We neither know who took this decision, nor why. But it denied civil society its right to choose who speaks on its behalf and brings its points across. This was especially clear in the opening ceremony. The selected speaker from the World Blind Union was nice, but had not participated actively in overall civil society discussions and therefore did not make our points. She even had been under pressure from the ITU secretariat to include specific sentences in her speech. Oh, and by the way: This was even against the rules of procedure.
Tunisian Influence Efforts
According to several reports, the Tunisian government had sent a whole number of people to the summit and accredited them as "civil society" members. Many of them tried to mess up civil society discussions related to the second phase of the summit and especially to the bad human rights record of Tunisia. Some of them were even caught red handed in attempts to steal hundreds to thousands of copies of the critical summit newspaper Terra Viva. This is not only a violation of human rights such as free speech, but it is also very stupid and backfires if you get caught.
The Geneva Police closed down the Polimedia Lab of the Counter Summit "WSIS? We Seize!" downtown Geneva on the day before the summit started. They also surrounded and stopped a demonstration held against the summit on its last day. Protestors using their right to free speech and assembly were questioned and their personal data taken. Those who refused or did not have their passports on them were taken into custody.
The security guards at the entrances of the summit venue also censored radical material activists wanted to distribute. Sometimes this was even the case with material produced by organizations with consultative status at the United Nations like the alternative news agency IPS. The Summit Special Advisor to the UN Secretary General, Nitin Desai, even tried to picture a joint civil society protest note against these measures as lies. "I think these people were attending a different conference," he said. Probably he was at another summit himself.