19 December 2005. Exactly one month after the closure of the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society, the civil society groups active in the summit process have issued a comprehensive statement that evaluates the official outcomes and process. The assessment builds on the 2003 Civil Society Summit Declaration "Shaping Information Societies for Human Needs", and it was developed in a global online consultation process after initial drafting during the summit in Tunis. It is presented as Civil Society's official contribution to the Summit outcomes and will be submitted t the WSIS executive secretariat.
WSIS Content: Not enough
The 15 pages long statement says that while the groups "value the process and the outcomes, we are convinced much more could have been achieved." Some of the greatest concerns include insufficient attention of the summit concerning people-centred issues such as human rights, financial mechanisms for the promotion of development "that was the original impetus for the WSIS process", and capacity building. Civil society especially also makes clear that "formal commitment is one thing, implementation is something else", referring to the fact that even after agreeable language in the summit documents, "fundamental human rights can not be taken for granted in any part of the world". Civil society also criticizes the lack of meaningful progress in the development and finance related parts of the summit outcomes:
"While the summit did discuss the importance of new financing mechanisms for ICT for Development (ICTD), it failed to recognize that ICTD presents a challenge beyond that of traditional development financing. Nor did the Tunis fully comprehend that new means and sources of financing and the exploration of new models and mechanisms are required."
There are also positive evaluations. Most prominently among them is Internet governance:
"Civil Society is pleased with the decision to create an Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which it has advocated for since 2003. We also are pleased that the IGF will have sufficient scope to deal with the issues we believe must be addressed"
But also in the financing and development parts, civil society acknowledges that its input has helped to keep the space for non-market approaches open:
"While the summit in general has failed to agree on adequate funding for ICTD, Civil Society was able to introduce significant sections in the Tunis Commitment (paragraph 35) and in the Tunis Agenda (paragraph 21) on the importance of public policy in mobilizing resources for financing. This can serve as a balance to the market-based orientation of much of the text on financing."
Participation: Some progress, but far from secured
The Civil society statement makes clear that the WSIS "has demonstrated beyond any doubt the benefits of interaction between all stakeholders." The groups make clear they will stay involved in the follow-up and implementation after the Summit and will push for the governments to realize that their "participation is vital to achieve a more inclusive and just information Society." At the same time, they are concerned that the while multi-stakeholderism is praised everywhere as one of the main achievements of the summit, the role of civil society is too much limited in the official Tunis documents, which in paragraph 35C of the Tunis Agenda to restrict it to community engagement:
"We want to express concern at the vagueness of text referring to the role of Civil Society. In almost every paragraph talking about multi-stakeholder participation, the phrase "in their respective roles and responsibilities" is used to limit the degree of multi-stakeholder participation."
Civil Society therefore is concerned that the limited concessions will be at risk in the coming months. Civil Society actors therefore intend to remain actively mobilized in order to ensure that future structures be established in a truly multi-stakeholder format.
The overall assessment is mixed, therefore:
"Civil Society affirms that, facing very limited resources, it has contributed positively to the WSIS process, a contribution that could have been even greater had the opportunity been made available for an even more comprehensive participation on our part. Our contribution will continue beyond the Summit. It is a contribution that is made both through constructive engagement and through challenge and critique."
The last section of the statement lays out the first building blocks of civil society's "Tunis Commitment" for the phase after the summits. The groups commit to a further evolution of their internal organization, to involvement in the Internet Governance Forum and the follow-up and implementation processes, to use the lessons learned in WSIS for the UN System in general, and to an active outreach to other constituencies who for different reasons, have remained disengaged from the Information Society discourse so far. The story is far from over also for civil society. Through this statement, it has made clear it is to be taken serious and will remain an independent force, critical as well as constructive, on the way to the global information society.
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