Mobilising African Civil Society around the importance of ICT policy for the development of the continent

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Civil Society Ponders Alternative Declaration

09/25/2003, Wairagala Wakabi: CATIA

When the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) opens this December in Geneva, there could be two declarations on the table for delegates’ consideration – the official one made by government representatives and an alternative by civil society organisations (CSOs).

The civil society members, who have in the past been keenly involved in drawing up an action plan to be adopted at the December summit, are frustrated that a huge majority of their proposals have now been ignored by state officials crafting the declaration.

In addition, while at earlier meetings to debate the declaration CSO representatives actively took part, the tide turned at the final preparatory meeting for WSIS, which took place in Geneva September 15-26, when CSOs were locked out of some crucial sessions.

“We are now only able to speak for five minutes at the start of the meetings [considering amendments to the declaration]. We are not able to speak in a dialogical manner,” said Tracy Naughton, chair of the Media caucus.

On September 23, CSO representatives held a meeting with the
governmental group at which they expressed “deep concerns” about an interim declaration that had just been circulated. That declaration, Sally Burch of ALAI Equador told a press briefing, had ignored many progressive proposals from civil society, and was not people-centred.

CSOs said they were unhappy that consultations between stakeholders had diminished at a time when the declaration was being firmed up.

This, they said, was against the promise WSIS President Adam
Samassekou made at the start of meeting, that the multi-stakeholder approach would be moved forward “from input to Impact”.

Burch said the interim declaration produced by the WSIS GovernmentalBureau did not have an adequate social focus, which was also a concern for the civil society. “Governments need to incorporate more people-oriented clauses. This is a society we are talking about and you cannot talk about a society without talking about concerns which involve people,” she said.

Others issues of concern which CSO representatives mentioned included failure by the declaration to make direct reference to article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and to fundamental labour rights.

There were also concerns that states could infringe on the freedom of expression and on citizens’ privacy under the guise on fighting criminals and terrorists.

Civil society also wants the declaration to give them a role in
Internet governance and the policy formulation processes in this
area; and references to intellectual property rights to reflect the
notion of fair use.

CSO representatives were due to meet to consider drafting their own declaration, which would be ready before the opening of the world summit in December.

The proposal was for interested parties to continue debating the
declaration both online and face-to-face over the coming months. Such a declaration would be presented at WSIS in Geneva. The official Draft Declaration of Principles and Action Plan will be presented to more than 40 heads of state during the summit to be held on December 10-12 2003.

A statement on September 23 by CSOs said while nobody would have expected that governments would take all the civil society
recommendations, civil society expected that governments would listen carefully to their statements, and that key issues tabled by civil society speakers “would be taken seriously and core language would be reflected in the new draft declaration.”

From the 86 recommendations made by civil society, over 60 percent have not been reflected in the draft. “Only 12 recommendations can be found in similar form in the new language, while the rest have disappeared in more general formulations, the majority of which are still in brackets,” said the release.

Some civil society representatives said the summit was under threat if CSO concerns were not integrated in the declration.

“We have been heard clearly today,” said Naughton shortly after the meeting with the governmental group. “The whole summit is at risk if the text is not changed.”

Key concepts which totally or partly disappeared include ideas like:

• The role of local and regional communities in developing their own productive forces
• The importance of local content,
• Internationally recognised core labour standards
• Universal access to education for young people
• Inclusion of civil society in the development of national
• Free and open source software
• Public access points to the Internet
• Unhampered and unfiltered access to publicly available resources without manipulation and control
• Freedom of information as a mean to reduce corruption
• Use of the multistakeholder approach, transparency and openness in multilateral ICT negotiations such as those on TRIPS, GATS, those at WIPO and others
• Monitoring and study of the social impacts of ICTs
• Role of SMEs and local research, development and production in the information economy
• Job security of infoworkers and negative effects of youth
unemployment in this field
• Privacy as a basic human right
• Restrictions for surveillance and abuse of monitoring of individual communication and personal information both by governmental and private industry
• Balance between the rights of authors and the rights of publishers
• Special treatment of developing and transitional economies in ICT negotiations
• Participation of civil society in the elaboration of regulatory and political frameworks for all public policy related aspects of
Internet developments
• Special needs for developing countries and non-commercial groups in frequency allocation
• Bottom-up policy development processes in Internet governance
• Role of individual Internet users in Internet governance
• Transfer of the control of the root server to the Internet
• Governments should seek consensus with the local Internet
communities in exercising national sovereignty over ccTLDs
• Security should not be allowed to compromise freedom of expression and privacy
• Special and crucial role of public broadcasting


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