December 12, 2003A quiet summit. Civil society has had a quiet summit. It has delivered few of the press conferences, eye-catching stunts and noisy demonstrations that normally keep the media entertained.
Its representatives adopted a counter-declaration, condemned the Swiss authories and summit organisers, but failed to provide a definitive assessment of the summit's outcome.
Instead, the human rights caucus delivered a somewhat lacklustre final press conference, expressing relief that "a major setback in the international consensus on human rights has been avoided in the final declaration."
After the conference, Diana Bronson said that WSIS had not been a waste of time, despite the brick wall activists had met on a number of issues.
"There is a sense of real frustration that there has been a lack of advance but it is never a waste of time for governments to sit down and talk," she said. "I am pleased that they understand that the information society is not just about laying a cable around the world."
Civil society's uncertainty has two causes. Invited into the WSIS process, it's now reluctant to stamp its feet when it doesn't get its own way. Also, it knows this is a summit of two halves. NGOs may well arrive in Tunis in much less compliant mood.
Written with Claire Regan. A parting shot. Civil Society wound up summit proceedings with a strongly worded statement condemning both the Swiss authorities and the summit organisers - a statement that caused Kofi Annan's special advisor, Nitin Desai, to erupt in fury when it was put to him by Daily Summit at WSIS's closing press conference.
Civil society activists, however, ducked questions over whether they would boycott the second part of the summit in Tunis, if Tunisia did not improve its human rights record. An indication, we suspect, of deep divisions within the lobby.
"We unanimously condemn the undemocratic actions of the Swiss authorities and the summit organisers in suppressing dissenting and alternative voices," the statement said.
It highlighted the eviction of Polymedia (previously reported as more cock-up than conspiracy), the alleged confiscation of newspapers, and the treatment of 50 protestors who were surrounded by 40 police officers, before being searched and taken to the police station if they refused to identify themselves.
â€œThese events continue the pattern of political repression that has been a constant feature of public life in Geneva since the G-8 meeting early in 2003. We strongly condemn these violations of the right to assemble and freedom of expression that have cast a shadow of hypocrisy over the summit."
"I have a feeling that these people were at a different conference," Nitin Desai responded when we read extracts from the statement to him. "I would like to see who these people are, who they are speaking for, and what level of consensus there have behind them."
Civil society's troubles over Tunisia continue. Rights and democracy activist Diana Bronson said she was unable to speak on behalf of civil society, when asked whether NGOs would be prepared to go to Tunis. After the press conference, however, she told Daily Summit there was a boycott was on the cards.
â€œSpeaking personally, I would say that there is possibility that civil society will not be going if there aren't improvements in Tunisia. But I would add that the chances of a boycott are not strong," she said.
President of Switzerland, Pascal Couchepin commented: "The decision [to go to Tunis] is absolutely clear. It was taken at international level by the United Nations. We know there are problems in Tunisia. We know progress is needed in human rights. But we don't think it is right for a single country to say anything against a decision taken by the international community." Members-only? What is civil society? Do you have to join? Earlier in the week, an activist claimed civil society was 5 billion strong. What did the other 1 billion do wrong?
In Tunisia, it appears, civil society really is run like a club. And it has 8000 members - all of whom enthusiastically support Tunisian plans to host phase 2 of the summit:
"The 8000-member Tunisian civil society has declared it is ready to host the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS 2) in 2005," Roseleen Nzioka writes.
"Speaking exclusively to Highway Africa News Agency (HANA), the president of the giant society, Agrebi Saida, said it is because of the sheer political will and determination of the Tunisian government in partnership with the civil society that her country will host WSIS 2.
"Saida said no other country is better placed to host the second phase of the Summit, arguing that it was Tunisia that inspired the United Nations to consider hosting a summit of this nature in the first place."
December 11, 2003Giving ICT a human face. Civil Society today delivered a counter-declaration to the World Summit, so Daily Summit talked to some leading civil society members about what they are unhappy about and why.
"Yes, WSIS has come up with certain things, but we are suspicious that a plan of action may not be able to match up our expectations," Kay Raseroka told us. "We also fear that at the end of the day market values are going to be imposed on people and this will definitely be a different kind of imperialism of ICT. This we can already see with the cell phone."
Chair of the Civil Society Coalition (CSC), Raseroka doubles as the president of the International Federation of Library Association and Institutions. "Civil society was forced to make its declaration because human issues have been left out at the summit. This is about linking people. It is the people's right to information that now seems to be surpassed by pipes and cables and all the stuff. We strongly feel that what UNESCO is trying to do is not enough."
The problem is money: "Implementation of any plan of action starts with money . Find out how much money is being put into this plan. That's a critical issues we are standing up for now."
In the same vein, USLA secretary-general Ross Shimmon said: "Look, there is too much emphasis on technology and not enough on contacts. We have discovered that some governments are more interested in controlling their population, than democratising it. We want this whole process to be more people-oriented."
December 10, 2003The blind address the world. With hands on the braille and an unsteady voice, Mrs. Kicki Nordstrom, the president of the World Blind Union, sought to draw the sympathy of the world leaders at WSIS today.
Nordstrom praised what she called an "open attitude" among governments to incorporate the disabled into the mainstream of information society.
As the world's leaders delivered their speeches, she received the loudest ovation of all, for these moving lines "I can't take away your printed materials now like everyone will do here today because I cannot read them...matters of the disabled have always been left in the hands of God, charity and superhuman beings...our abiding hope now is that you will do better for us after this summit"
Nordstram is in Geneva to represent to represent five billion civil society members and she minced no words, advocating that "new roles" should now be considered which allows civil society to participate in the formulation of ICT policies for the disabled and the disadvantaged.
"We cannot but have hope," she said. "That is what we live for...and now, the international civil society bureau has started engaging in coherent dialogue with various governments and coordinate interests of civil society movements"
December 09, 2003Aboard the Marie Celeste. Granted, some of the meetings advertised here seem boring, but you would have thought that the speakers would turn up, at least. Not so, according to one exasperated volunteer standing outside the Labour and Information Society meeting. "Speakers haven't been turning up to about 25 per cent of the meetings," she said. "I think it's because they are having trouble getting through registration. Hopefully it will be better tomorrow."
With queues getting longer by the minute, we think this is optimistic.
Speakerless meetings (no speaker turning up within half an hour of the scheduled start) have so far included:
Labour and Information Society
Software Libre para una Sociedad del Conoc Igualitaria y Multicultural
Anyone wanting to name and shame meetings that bear a passing resemblance to the Marie Celeste should comment below....
Jack Malvern @ 01:33 PM | Comments (0)
November 27, 2003Civil society organizations drafted their own "vision document" to counter what they see as an "inability of government representatives to agree even on basic questions."
Ahmed Reda @ 04:08 PM | TrackBack
November 24, 2003On the web, Caspar Henderson, writing on OpenDemocracy's Globolog, casts an eye over the United Nations ("a starved wee critter", whose "legitimacy and competence are as questionable as its finances").
WSIS comes in for a pasting from civil society - "a step back not a step forward." And there's this great quote from William Drake (who works here): "Basically, you have a bunch of dictatorships sitting around discussing which language on freedom of expression they can agree with."
David Steven @ 06:20 PM | TrackBack
November 16, 2003Refused Entry to WSIS A row is brewing over the non-admission to WSIS of Reporters sans frontieres a civil society organization supporting reporters' rights to gather and publish information.
The Joint Caucus had already been angered by the WSIS Executive Secretariat's decision to exclude Human Rights in China - presumptively under pressure from the Chinese Government.
The official reason given for the WSIS Executive Secretariat decision on RSF is its one-year suspension from ECOSOC (resulting from incidents at a March 2003 meeting of the Commission on Human Rights) - that suspension, says the Secretariat, bars RSF from all UN gatherings including WSIS.
Countering this, the WSIS Civil Society Media and Human Rights Joint Caucus has expressed "consternation and astonishment" at a "procedurally" based decision, violating the fundamental spirit and principles of WSIS. The Caucus requested that the decision be rescinded.
Andrew Taussig @ 08:31 PMWhere's the progress? The summit is in trouble, as previously noted. Three more days of talks, designed to sort out gaping disagreements, have dribbled to a close.
By now, we shoud have something to really work with in Geneva - but instead, every time the participants get round a table, more tensions come out.
The draft paper optimistically calls for a "people-centered, inclusive"
information society - something which it wants to get from a hopelessly divided bunch.
There seem to be three main problems:
- Firstly, surprise, surprise, - money. The EU, especially Germany and the UK, and Japan are desperately against even a voluntary fund to pay for ICTs.
- Secondly, freedom of expression and human rights. China have successfully ambushed a complete paragraph on the "free flow of information" - not a good decision for the good of the world's media.
- And finally - Internet governance. China again seems to be causing more trouble than anyone else - it looked like governments would agree on just stating the need for further discussion in the declaration (a bit of a cop-out anyway), but China is blocking progress here, because Taiwan is a member of the ICANN government advisory board.
In addition the Civil Society seems to be generally brassed off with the course things are taking. They also said that terrorism legislation is now clamping down on the freedom of speech - an interesting swipe (especially at the US).
These are pretty complex issues, but Daily Summit is going to unravel them as best we can, over the next couple of posts.
Erin Dean @ 02:35 PM
November 13, 2003Debates on WSIS at the European Social Forum Activists at the European Social Forum in Paris have just been debating WSIS, the issues involved and their planned response.
Several issues were raised as matters of concern, including:
Tomorrow night sees a big planning meeting for the 'WSIS - We Seize!' counter summit in Genva, running alongside the official summit.
Dan Walters @ 05:08 PM
November 11, 2003Exclusion - "Human Rights in China (HRIC), the only organization devoted exclusively to human rights issues in China, has been denied accreditation to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) scheduled for Geneva in December."... Is there any reason for this?!
Ahmed Reda @ 04:43 PM
October 29, 2003Communication Rights. WSIS was discussed in several meetings and workshops during the World Social Forum, in Porto Alegre, January 2003. Notes from two of the workshops were gathered by Sasha Costanza-Chock and Pradip Thomas, who are both involved in the campaign CRIS (Communication Rights in the Information Society).
Ahmed Reda @ 11:09 PM | TrackBack