20 September 2005. The WSIS PrepCom has moved to subcommittee mode today and has started negotiations on Internet Governance and Implementation. Civil society groups have adapted to the new structure and are mirroring the negotiations now. They submitted their statements and made clear that they insist on a full and effective participation in any process following the Tunis summit. Governments at the moment are pretty open to this, it seems.
New Structures for PrepCom and Civil Society
From today on, the mornings of the PrepCom will be used for the negotiations on Internet Governance (subcommittee A, chaired by Masood Khan from Pakistan), and the afternoons will be devoted to the other chapters of the Tunis Documents - political chapeau, financial mechanisms, implementation, and follow-up (subcommittee B, chaired by Lyndall Shope-Mafole from South Africa). Looking at the workload in front of the subcommittees, and facing the fact that due to limited resources there will not be another meeting of this PrepCom in October, we can safely predict now that next week, the meeting hours will be extended in the evenings.
Civil Society in its Content and Themes Group meeting yesterday decided to mirror this double subcommittee structure and create two according working groups as the main coordinators for monitoring and interventions. The other caucuses will channel their substantive work into these new groups. The Subcommittee A Working Group of civil society will naturally be led by the Internet Governance Caucus, with Jeanette Hofmann as liaison to the “Content and Themes” caucus plenary. The Working Group on Implementation and Follow-Up, chaired by Bertrand de La Chapelle, was formally created yesterday. Preparations for that were already underway after recent lively debates on the plenary and other mailing lists around the follow-up issue. A coalition of NGOs had already submitted a comment to the latest versions from PrepCom president Janis Karklins, strongly objecting the weakening of civil society inclusion and the lack of a commitment to real implementation of the WSIS principles adopted in Geneva.
Currently, the biggest problem with the Internet Governance negotiations is the lack of time and the state of affairs. As the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) only presented its report in July, there was no basis for discussions or even negotiations at PrepCom-2 in February. The chairman for the negotiations on Internet Governance, Ambassador Masood Khan from Pakistan, therefore had produced a “food for thought” paper in early September to structure the discussion. Even this was in the beginning rejected as a basis for negotiations. So the Internet Governance subcommittee basically started with a white sheet of paper today. Most of the governments welcomed the WGIG report and made various comments, without too much focus. In fact, the WGIG report, though not being the official negotiation basis, is certainly the point of reference now. Many observers say that this general discussion will probably go on for the rest of the week, and only next week the work on concrete language will start. The rumour says that governments will form a drafting group over the weekend. Chairman Khan has already asked the Internet Governance Caucus to submit written language as input. Maybe this time civil society can really outpace the governments.
The Civil Society Internet Governance Caucus made several statements at the beginning of the session. They asked for support of the Internet policy discussion “forum”; they requested the incorporation of neglected issues like human rights, freedom of expression and privacy; they suggested the separation of the forum, oversight and root server issues; emphasized the need for capacity-building in developing areas; and that stakeholders from all sectors should participate in the forum as peers. The coming days will see how big civil society’s impact on the negotiations can be. At the moment, and also based on the experiences in the WGIG, it looks pretty good.
Implementation and Follow-Up
In contrast to Internet Governance, subcommittee B did not have the problem a lacking draft, but too many drafts. The “Group of the Friends of the Chair” (GFC) had a mandate from PrepCom-2 to advance negotiations before PrepCom-3. PrepCom chairman Karklins had presented a latest draft recently that constitutes a major change, especially on the structure and inclusiveness of the follow-up process. Though it had been agreed upon by consensus in the GFC, the Russian government yesterday rejected this paper as the basis for negotiations. The reason is that Russia wants to have the ITU in charge of WSIS follow-up (one option in the old draft), while in the new draft it would mainly be built around the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) – an approach preferred by the European Union and others.
In the end, there was no other solution than accepting all the different drafts and inputs as a basis for the negotiations. Therefore, the subcommittee is now going through all comments and submissions and without real drafting and negotiations trying to see where there is general agreement and where the conflicts are hidden.
Among these inputs that are taken as the basis for this first reading are the various compilations of comments from all stakeholders. This procedure now has led to the nice side-effect that the language suggestions from civil society groups is equally taken as input and to a large degree is incorporated in the first consolidated version for further negotiation. While civil society groups could not intervene directly, a number of submissions from the Gender Caucus, the Youth Caucus, the Informal Coalition on Financing and others have been taken into the new draft, even without the famous square brackets that indicate disagreement.
Civil Society made a statement at the beginning of the session. Nnenna Nwakanma from African Civil Society in the Information Society (ACSIS), speaking on behalf of the new Working Group on Implementation and Follow-up, stated that the current state of government discussions is not enough: “The present draft is much too weak. We all need stronger commitments from governments and more enabling mechanisms.” Civil society in the last two days has developed a set of key criteria and principles that have to be followed, no matter if the final follow-up process will be build around ITU, ECOSOC, or any other existing or new structure. The statement read by Nwakanma also made clear that these principles, including the “full and effective participation of civil society” at all levels and a true commitment to implementation, “will also be the benchmarks by which we will judge the Operational Part of the Tunis Document.”