By ITeM MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, 30 July 2004
In January 2002 the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) convened a World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in order to improve access by all countries to information, knowledge and communication technologies to promote development. The first stage of the summit took place in Geneva, from 10-12 December 2003, and the second will take place in Tunis next November 16-18, 2005.
Key issues of particular interest to developing countries were largely postponed to the second part of the Summit. The process also exposed the difficulty that Southern countries and civil society actors have in ensuring that their proposals are taken into account and reflected in the text of the documents being drafted.
In general, countries in the South do not find it easy to make their voices heard and influence international arenas where decisions are made on issues that directly affect them. With respect to information and communication technologies (ICT), the governments of these countries often do not have sufficient resources and information to be able to make informed decisions and negotiate effectively.
During the first phase of the summit in Geneva no clear response could be reached on topics such as the future of internet governance and the funding for ICT development in Southern countries, and the issues were left to be addressed by new working groups created within the orbit of the United Nations. Nor have the documents approved in Geneva resolved conflictive issues such as those pertaining to "intellectual property rights".
A Declaration launched during the summit by participating civil society organizations, for instance, maintains that existing international regulatory instruments, including the Agreement on Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and instruments of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), should be revised to ensure that they promote cultural, linguistic and media diversity, and contribute to the development of human knowledge.
In parallel to the WSIS process other UN agencies and special groups are focusing on the role of ICT in global issues such as poverty reduction, development, education, etc. The UN Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Task Force, for instance, has recently been developing a comprehensive conceptual framework which underlines the role that ICTs play in the overall development agenda. The analysis uses the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as a starting point and maps ICTs against each one of them.
The discussion around information and communication issues has been launched at large exceeding the WSIS process and involving civil society organizations, multilateral organizations, governments and the private sectors in it, with few answers in sight.
Some of the issues left out in Geneva are to be re-examined in the second phase of the summit in Tunis (2005). Due in part to the difficulties faced in reaching "strong" agreements in the first phase of the WSIS or the lack of a clear leadership, the Tunis phase of the WSIS has not gained momentum yet and some observers are sceptical about its possibilities. Even if we do believe that this second stage of the WSIS process provides an opportunity for countries in the South to participate in an active and effective way in moulding a more equitable information society, we also believe that all the issues in discussion are relevant in themselves, independently of the outcomes of the WSIS and its success or failure as a world conference.
It is essential that decision-makers and the civil society organizations that are able to have an active role in these discussions (in all and any fora in which they are presented, including the special working groups created within the UN, but also the WTO, WIPO, etc.) have timely and appropriate information and analysis about the issues at stake, their impact and the possible alternatives. The views and interests of minority groups, women, young people and, in general, all those who have limited possibilities of influencing the policies adopted at global level need to be expressed. This information should come out of research into the different issues involved in the discussion of shaping of the "information societies" of the future (including those that are presently not on official agendas).
In this context, the Instituto del Tercer Mundo (ITeM) is launching a new project to contribute to the WSIS II decision-making process by researching key issues of interest to developing countries and publish briefing papers on them analysing the impacts of ICTs on all sectors involved in economic and social development from the perspective of Southern countries.
The project seeks to involve Southern civil society in debates on the issues on the agenda at the summit and to give visibility to their opinions so that they may be taken into account in policy-making, to assist government delegates from the South on their positions that may be favourable to regional interests and defend them in their general negotiations and to make use of the research results in other instances where the issues studied under this project may help in the consideration of civil society organisations’ contributions to the on-going process of construction of the information society.
A call for researchers was made in July 2004.
The project’s Steering Committee is integrated as follows:
Anriette Esterhuysen (APC)
Anriette Esterhuysen became the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) Executive Director in May 2000. Her area of expertise is information and communications for development. Anriette has served on the African Technical Advisory Committee of the Economic Commission for Africa’s African Information Society Initiative, is a member of the Canadian International Development Research Centre’s South African Acacia Advisory Committee, a member of the governing council of the Society for International Development and a board member of several NGOs. She is based in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Daniel Pimienta (FUNREDES)
Daniel Pimienta is, since 1993, the Founder and Director of the Networks and Development Foundation (Funredes) based in the Dominican Republic. Daniel was born in Casablanca (Morocco) and trained in Mathematics and Computer Sciences in Nice (France). As Head of Funredes Daniel has participated in several projects, including the management of various virtual communities, training users, designing information resources and negotiating mutual benefit agreements with Internet Service Providers. Daniel has been invited as expert or speaker in several international conferences and has contributed in several publications, including UNESCO’s books, Internet Society’s Journals, and European Union’s technical reports.
Martin Khor (TWN)
Martin Khor is the Director of the Third World Network (TWN) in Malaysia and has led TWN since its inception in 1984. He was trained as an economist at Cambridge University and has lectured in economics at the Science University of Malaysia. Martin authored several books and articles on trade, development, north-south relations, the international financial architecture, the environment and ecology, agriculture, intellectual property rights and threats to biodiversity and indigenous knowledge. He served as vice chairman of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights Expert Group on the Right to Development and has also been involved in several United Nations research studies.
Mukhtar Trifi (LTDH)
Mukhtar Trifi is the President of the Tunisian League of Human Rights
(LTDH), which is considered the oldest human rights organization in Maghreb. He is a lawyer, member of Fédération Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l’Homme (FIDH) and member of Amnesty International in Tunisia.
Robin Mansell (LSE)
Robin Mansell was born in Vancouver, Canada, and was trained in Psychology and Communication both in Canada and the UK. She has joined the London School of Economics (LSE) in 2001, where she holds the Dixons Chair in New Media and the Internet. Her research examines the integration of new technologies into society, interactions between engineering design and the structure of markets, and sources of regulatory effectiveness and failure. She authored several books and articles in communication and society and is a member of the editorial boards of several journals. Robin served as vice chair of the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) post-graduate Training Board and is a member of the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex (IDS), Governing Body. She was recently elected as President of the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR).
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz (Tebtebba)
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz is the Founder and Executive Director, from 1996, of Tebtebba Foundation (Indigenous Peoples’ International Center for Policy Research and Education). Tebtebba Foundation is an NGO based in the Philippines which helps build the capacity of indigenous peoples to articulate and project their own views, positions and analysis on various issues directly affecting them. In 1996 Victoria helped to organize and convene the indigenous women’s caucus in Beijing during the UN Fourth World Conference on Women. She is the indigenous and gender adviser of the Third World Network (TWN), Expert for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the chairperson-rapporteur of the Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Populations.
Ziad Abdel-Samad is the Executive Director of the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND). Based in Lebanon, ANND is a network of over 270 organizations in 11 Arab countries that promote human rights, political and economic development, environmental issues and women’s rights in the Arab world.