The uncertainty connected with the speculation about the final decision regarding the presence of civil society members in drafting groups has finally turned into an open confrontation. Civil society representatives read a formal protest statement at the end of the open plenary this morning. The statement contained clear language about the exclusion of "non-governmental stakeholders from meaningful participation in the drafting groups" being "not acceptable as a matter of principle".
As the chairman of subcommitte A (Internet Governance), Ambassador Masood Khan, yesterday left the chairmen of the drafting groups without any instructions on how to deal with observers, each chair handled the issue differently. This led to the confusing situation that -depending on who chaired the meeting and which delegation participated in the drafting - some groups were open to the presence of civil society members and even encouraged oral contributions, while at the same time in other meetings CS members were asked to make their statement and leave the room as soon as the chair became aware of their presence. It was again China and Iran who heavily insisted on the exclusion of observers from the drafting meetings, even willing to delay the drafting groups until further instruction could be retrieved from the PrepCom president Karklins.
Several governments, especially the European Union, New Zealand and the United States were quite supportive of civil society and were very upset at the efforts by China to push observers out when in fact there is some flexibility in the way this question could be dealt with. They indeed signaled to civil society CS representatives that they would support observers, but that they need to get a strong, formal and public protest from non-governmental actors first. As a EU top level meeting was going to take place this afternoon, the only chance to release such a statement was in the plenary of Subcommittee A this morning.
The timing turned out to be perfect. Ambassador Karklins made an official announcement at the end of the morning session, stating that observer participation in drafting groups was to be handled according to the "talk-and-walk" option (where observers are allowed to make a short statement at the beginning and then have to leave the room).
That was the point when Avri Doria asked to take the floor on behalf of the Internet Governance Caucus and read the already prepared protest statement that activists had been refining since Sunday. She was stressing that the exclusion of NGO actors from participation in the drafting meetings breaks fundamental conditions affirmed by the Working Group on Internet Governance and undermines the legitimacy of all outcomes of the WSIS: "The sincerity of commitments made by some governments to these principles is now open to question", she stressed.
All delegates were listening closely, and one could feel how moved some of the government delegations were. Chairman Khan apparently realized the earnestness of the strong statement and stressed that "we have to work together as members of the same family" and in a spirit of "new relationships". He also assured that for the further process he would "try to keep most business in plenary, giving the observers maximum opportunity to be involved and make statements". The timing was all the more excellent as the Khan had just announed meeting with the chairmen of all drafting groups right afterwards, for which he promised to adress this point immediately: "Your concerns have been heard by all delegations here".
As there was no chance yet to officially hear any results of this short notice meeting, there remained nothing else for civil society members to do than trying to attend the next scheduled drafting groups and to see what will happen. According to one chairman who particpated in this meeting, Khan had given some guidance to be as open and inclusive as possible, but there are no new official rules yet. Reporters of www.worldsummit2005.org were able to attend a whole meeting that yesterday had been closed to observers. The Chinese delegate in the room did not raise the issue. But we are still not sure if this is a sustainable development.