A mixed bag of results for Internet governance at CSTD 18th Session

A smidge under ten years ago, the second phase of WSIS wrapped up in Tunis. Two years before that, the first phase had been held in Geneva. Together, the two phases were meant to develop a vision and strategy for bringing all people into the Information Society age, where all people in all nations could equally benefit from ICTs. WSIS was also supposed to help identify ways that ICTs could help enable the Millennium Development Goals to be achieved. The four key documents that WSIS phases one and two produced have underpinned ICT-related discussions in the UN ever since. As the tenth anniversary of the end of WSIS phase two approaches, there has been a flurry of activity to review how successfully the WSIS vision has been implemented. The latest UN agency to review WSIS has been the CSTD. Each year, the CSTD produces a draft ECOSOC resolution on WSIS that includes Internet governance activities – particularly the Internet Governance Forum and enhanced cooperation in international public policy issues. Internet governance was a hot topic back in the original WSIS days and remains a hot topic to this day. The discussions at CSTD last week reflected ongoing differences of opinion about WSIS in general, and Internet governance in particular.

In public, Member States expressed support for the continuation of the Internet Governance Forum; there were no dissenting voices. In private, Member States were at such loggerheads over the future of the United Nations’ World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) process that the only way to reach agreement on the draft ECOSOC resolution that Commission for Science and Technology for Development (CSTD). was responsible for was, for the second year in a row, to recycle the text of the previous year’s resolution. We are now less than a month before the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) preparatory process for its High Level Meeting on the WSIS+10 Review in December is due to begin, and negotiations for the future of WSIS are not in the best of shape.

Input to the UNGA WSIS+10 review process

There have already been two sets of substantial input into the WSIS+10 review from events hosted by UNESCO and ITU, in partnership with other UN agencies:

  1. Information and Knowledge for All: An Expanded Vision and a Renewed Commitment – Outcome document of the first WSIS+10 Review Event, 25-27 February 2013, hosted by UNESCO in Paris and co-organized with ITU, UNDP and UNCTAD
  2. WSIS+10 Statement on Implementation of WSIS Outcomes and the WSIS+10 Vision for WSIS Beyond 2015 – Outcome documents of the WSIS+10 High Level Event, 10-13 June 2014, hosted by ITU and co-organized by UNESCO, UNCTAD and UNDP.

 

The third and final major input planned for the UNGA process was the CSTD’s report, Implementing WSIS outcomes: A ten-year review, based on a wide variety of inputs from governments, intergovernmental and international organizations, civil society, the technical and academic communities, and the private sector. As well as written contributions and discussions at the CSTD’s 17th Session in May 2014, the CSTD Secretariat also gathered input at six consultation sessions held at events around the world between June and October 2014. This process was mandated by the ECOSOC’s 2013 WSIS resolution, where it stated the following:

47. Requests the Commission to collect inputs from all facilitators and stakeholders and to organize, during its seventeenth session, in 2014, a substantive discussion on the progress made in the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit, and to report thereon, through the Council, to the General Assembly as it makes an overall review of the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit in 2015;

48. Also requests the Commission to submit, after its eighteenth session, the results of its 10-year review of progress made in the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit, through the Council, to the General Assembly as it makes an overall review of the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit in 2015;

Despite this, however, Member States had an extremely difficult time in both the open, webcast plenary of the 18th Session that discussed the report, as well as in the closed negotiations on the 2015 draft ECOSOC resolution, deciding what to do with the report.

Should the report be endorsed? Should it be forwarded? Should it just be referred to in the overall report of the 18th Session? Should it be referred to in the draft ECOSC resolution? Should it just be placed on the CSTD website, and a link to it included in a footnote?

The permutations under consideration were endless. The reason for the impasse was that, given the UNGA process is about to begin, some States were very unhappy with the overwhelmingly pro-multistakeholder input to the report that did not support a more multilateral reading of WSIS for the future.

CSTD’s draft ECOSOC resolution: the last resolution on WSIS before UNGA

It is not possible to name the Member States that objected to the transmission of the WSIS+10 report during the closed drafting negotiations that took place on Thursday and Friday last week, but it is possible to name the Member Sates who objected in the public webcasted discussions on the Tuesday. Therefore, the summary below refers to the public discussion and not the private negotiations. From the summary of the public discussions, readers may extrapolate the positions of States during the closed negotiations.

  • Iran believed the WSIS+10 report had shortcomings, was superficial as it didn’t include any concrete recommendations, but could play a role in the UNGA process as long as the report was accompanied, at an equal level, by the full statements made by Member States during the 18th Session on the WSIS+10 review.
  • Saudi Arabia stated that the WSIS+10 report written by the CSTD did not reflect the parameters of report as defined by ECOSOC.
  • Cuba stated that while it believed the WSIS+10 report was very valuable, it didn’t want it represented as a report of Commission. Instead, as the work of the Secretariat, it was trumped in importance by the direct views of sovereign States expressed at the meeting.
  • Cameroon believed that the WSIS+10 report didn’t reflect the different challenges faced by different African countries.
  • USA inadvertently derailed the discussions when it suggested, as a compromise way forward, attaching a full transcript of the WSIS-related discussions from the 18th Session. Iran supported this way forward, but it turns out that a verbatim record of meetings is an option only available to a very limited set of UN agencies.
  • Bolivia suggested adding recommendations on the transfer of technology to the WSIS+10 report.
  • Australia, Japan, USA, Sweden, UK, Canada, Mexico, and Latvia all strongly endorsed having the Commission adopt (not just “note”) the WSIS+10 report.
  • Russia didn’t directly address the existence of the WSIS+10 review report by the Secretariat, but noted that the post-2015 WSIS process must take into account the fact that the WSIS Tunis Agenda had recommended equal participation of all governments in Internet governance.
  • Brazil believed the WSIS+10 report would form a good basis for work by the UNGA WSIS+10 process, and also hoped that the UNGA process would provide guidance on how to further the full implementation of enhanced cooperation in international Internet-related public policy issues.
  • India noted that the report produced by the Secretariat as a result of the work of the Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation, titled Mapping of international Internet public policy issues, showed there were a number of existing enhanced cooperation mechanisms, as well as highlighting the absence of mechanisms for many other Internet-related issues.
  • Switzerland supported continuing dialogue on enhanced cooperation.
  • Zambia called for enhanced cooperation in the areas of Internet fraud and cybersecurity.
  • China emphasized that the original WSIS outcome documents recognized that each stakeholder group had its own respective role in Internet governance.
  • Pakistan focused on the need to secure funding, including through use of crowdfunding, to enable developing countries to fully realize the goals of the Information Society.
  • Everyone who mentioned IGF supported an extension of its mandate. The majority who mentioned IGF, supported an extension of 10 years, or making IGF permanent.

 

Debate about how the WSIS+10 review report should be handled dominated the public discussion as well as the closed negotiations on the resolution. Disagreements about the report, enhanced cooperation, mention of cybersecurity and even a debate about which WSIS-related events to include in a chronological list of events slowed the closed negotiations considerably. A different drafting group chair may have been able to speed up the discussions and, using the prerogative of the chair, made more decisions to move the negotiations forward; however, the chair of the WSIS drafting group preferred to leave the decision-making to the States, which, given major differences of views, meant that by Friday afternoon, it was clear the group would never even be able to read through all the proposals for the draft resolution, let alone reach agreement on them. Therefore, after a lot of side negotiations (also known as “coffee breaks”), there was agreement to keep last year’s resolution (which was basically the 2013 resolution, due to similar inability to reach agreement on new text in 2014) with the following changes:

  • Date and resolution numbers were updated. References to old meetings, however, were not removed, as there was no agreement as to what constituted a relevant meeting that should be kept (for example, the UNESCO 2013 WSIS+10 Review Event) versus old meetings that really did need to be deleted.
  • Two paragraphs were added that, first, “note” the report of the 18th Session, which includes a summary of the discussion on the WSIS+10 report and links to the full statements by Member States, and, second, note the actual WSIS+10 report by the CSTD Secretariat, and then submit them to the preparatory process for UNGA’s WSIS+10 High Level Meeting.
  • References to cybersecurity and the gender gap were inserted.
  • Text about a digital divide in broadband connectivity was revised to make the language less negative about the situation in Africa as well as adding a reference to Small Island Developing States.

 

There is no text recommending that the UNGA consider renewing the IGF nor is there any text recognizing the report, Mapping of international Internet public policy issues. Instead, the text about the IGF and enhanced cooperation in the 224-page WSIS+10 report is the sole input from the CSTD’s processes that will be forwarded to the UNGA process.

Looking toward the UNGA WSIS+10 High Level Meeting

Despite there being many, positive, changes in the world since the first WSIS concluded in 2005, many of the same arguments that were being conducted during WSIS are still very much alive today:

  • The role of stakeholders in WSIS processes, particularly the role of non-government stakeholders in intergovernmentally-homed WSIS discussions
  • The role of governments in Internet governance (“enhanced cooperation”)
  • Mechanisms to fund effort to bridge the remaining digital divides

 

For some, progress made to date means that we should continue to follow the same mechanisms and processes that have enabled that progress to occur over the past 10 years. For others, however, the continued existence of—and in some contexts, the expansion of—the digital divide means there’s a need to change old mechanisms and/or consider new processes, mechanisms or bodies that will be able to meet both the original WSIS goals and new goals relevant for tomorrow’s ICT environment.

Despite multistakeholderism being one of the principles agreed to in the original WSIS process, and being a key part of the preparatory processes for the 2013 and 2014 events hosts by UNESCO and ITU, the far more limited ability of non-government stakeholders to participate in this year’s WSIS discussions at CSTD, and the overwhelmingly intergovernmental context that the UNGA High Level Meeting will take place in, means that it’s more important than ever for stakeholders in the Information Society to make their voices heard. It is not clear that the multistakeholder consultation process for the UNGA High Level Meeting will have any influence at this point, so it is vital for stakeholders to leverage their national multistakeholder processes and encourage government to represent views expressed in such national processes in New York in the second half of 2015. 

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