Frustrated by UN summit, civil society presents its own declaration
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND, 12 December 2003
At a conference yesterday , civil society representatives presented an 'alternative' declaration to the official Declaration expected to be approved by the world's governments tomorrow at the final day of the World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva.
The civil society declaration -called “Shaping information societies for human needs”- was needed because the process has constantly been disillusioning and frustrating, said representatives at the heavily-attended conference. They recognised that some impact was made on the official WSIS Declaration especially on the vision and the principles, which were previously technocratic and have become more human-centred. However, the civil society declaration goes further, calling for information societIES that are free from discrimination and conflict and based on a framework of social, political and economic justice and a more equitable distribution of resources.
The civil society declaration has been written over a number of months based on inputs from a working group on 'content and themes' and the various regional and thematic working groups, known as caucuses and families. The final compilation was made over the past few weeks and was unanimously approved by the civil society plenary (civil society's decision-making forum in the WSIS process) on December 8.
Representatives from each regional caucus -including three speakers from APC and members in the Philippines and Brazil- outlined the regions' main concerns.
Alice Munyua of APC's Africa ICT policy monitor initiative and African caucus representative highlighted the areas of human development and social justice, Africans' disappointment that a proposal made for a digital solidarity fund has not been included in the official Declaration, and emphasised that the right to communicate is a human right.
Carlos Afonso of RITS, Brazil, speaking for the Latin American and Caribbean caucus emphasised the diversity of the world's people and the need to refer to 'information societies', not one 'information society'. LAC representatives criticised what they referred to as a simplified concept of civil society included in the official Declaration, claiming that themes of importance have been marginalised, distorted and contexts have been ignored. Latin Americans and Caribbeans complained that the primary focus of the official WSIS documents continues to be on infrastructure and does not sufficiently include the social use of ICTs especially for education.
Asian-Pacific representative, Al Alegre of the Foundation for Media Alternatives, Philippines, focused on the themes of culture, knowledge and the public domain. He pointed out that there are hundreds of languages in Asia, many using writing scripts that are not roman-based (the principal script used in Fuente: TechSoup Glossary y GenderIT.org ">internet). He called for cultural and linguistic diversity to be protected from homogenisation or the “over-privileging” of one language. He also referred to the need to support community media to encourage and strengthen freedom of expression as well as linguistic diversity and stated that intellectual property rights should serve to develop societies and meet the public interest and not to serve corporate interests.
Jane Johnson of the World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA), representing the Europe and North American caucus stressed the need for equal, fair and open access to be a guiding principle of the information society.
“Shaping information societies for human needs” was based on the earlier document “Essential Benchmarks” which outlined what civil society representatives wanted to see in the official WSIS documents and was presented to government delegates in the resumed third preparatory committee meeting in November 2003. Civil society representatives will use the benchmarks to measure the actual impact of the official Declaration and Action Plan to be approved tomorrow by UN member states and to be implemented by the second WSIS which will be held in Tunisia in 2005.
They are proposing that the declaration -“Shaping information societies for human needs”- becomes part of the official outcomes of the Summit, a decision that has to be taken by the governments.
“Shaping information societies for human needs” can be found online in English, Spanish and French shortly.
If you want to endorse it, please send your name and organisation to firstname.lastname@example.org.