Everything you need to know about the WSIS+10 review

By Deborah Brown and Lea Kaspar (Global Partners Digital)
Publisher: APCNews     28 January 2015

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) process and its outcome documents are considered cornerstones of international norms and discourse on internet policy and governance. This year, as WSIS marks its 10th anniversary, the UN General Assembly is set to evaluate its progress and decide its future.

 

What is WSIS?

The two-stage WSIS took place in 2003 (the Geneva phase) and 2005 (the Tunis phase). It was convened upon the recognition that there was “an urgent need to harness the potential of knowledge and technology for promoting the goals of the United Nations Millennium Declaration.” [1] The WSIS started out as a primarily development-focused process and the first phase concluded by setting out a Plan of Action to put the “potential of knowledge and ICTs at the service of development.” [2] However, governance issues became the central focus of the Tunis phase and this was reflected in its outcome document, the Tunis Agenda, which set out a definition of internet governance, outlined the roles of different stakeholders, mandated the establishment of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), and initiated the process towards enhanced cooperation. [3]

Since the original WSIS phases, different UN bodies and agencies, including the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and UNESCO, have been facilitating the implementation of aspects of the Geneva and Tunis outcomes of WSIS. The system-wide follow-up of the WSIS outcomes was left to the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD). [4]

What is the WSIS+10 overall review?

The Tunis Agenda called upon the UN General Assembly (UNGA) to conduct an overall review of the implementation of WSIS outcomes in 2015. [5] In July 2014, the UNGA adopted a resolution (68/302) outlining the modalities for the overall review. It was decided that the overall WSIS review would be conducted as a two-day high-level meeting of the General Assembly to “take stock of the progress made in the implementation of the outcomes of the [WSIS] and address potential information and communications technology gaps and areas for continued focus, as well as addressing challenges, including bridging the digital divide, and harnessing information and communications technologies for development.” [6] According to the resolution, the high-level meeting will be “preceded by an intergovernmental preparatory process, which also takes into account inputs from all relevant WSIS stakeholders.” The process will result “in an intergovernmentally agreed outcome document” for adoption by the UNGA. The process is meant to formally commence in June 2015, when the president of the UNGA (from the Republic of Uganda) appoints two UN governments to co-facilitate the process.

Why is WSIS+10 important?

The WSIS+10 overall review will provide the opportunity to revisit the outcomes of WSIS, assess progress made, and look ahead at challenges to be focused on in the coming years. Just as WSIS sought to address pressing internet issues of the day, WSIS+10 will address challenges facing today’s global community. As a high-level event at the UN’s primary body, the outcome of WSIS+10 has the potential to bear significant political weight and could direct further UN action. Alternatively, it could also result in a largely symbolic event.

What are the key issues on the agenda?

The scope of the review is so broad that at this stage it is possible for governments to bring a range of issues to the table, from cyber security to human rights to public access to ICTs. However, the key issues we can anticipate to be discussed in the context of WSIS+10 are those that are regarded as unresolved within the current WSIS framework. For example, much work remains to achieve the people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented information society envisaged in WSIS, with new divides emerging, both within and between countries. Critics suggest that the WSIS framework has done little to help address these issues. The 10-year review could be an opportunity to refocus attention back to the development dimension of WSIS.

From a governance perspective, the review process will most likely focus on the IGF and enhanced cooperation – two significant internet governance processes that were established by the Tunis Agenda. The IGF’s mandate expires in 2015 and the decision to renew it will be made in the context of WSIS+10. [7] Likewise, the overall review will likely address whether/how the enhanced cooperation process will continue. The issue of roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders in internet governance will also likely resurface during the review.

How does WSIS+10 connect to other important events and processes?

The WSIS+10 overall review is likely to have an impact on and be impacted by other major internet governance and UN processes. For example, the transition of IANA function from the US government to the global multistakeholder community should be decided on by September 2015. However, if the deadline is not met, there is a potential to bring some of the political debates surrounding how to solve the IANA transition to the UNGA through WSIS+10. Furthermore, the UN process on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will also conclude in September 2015. The degree to which ICT-related goals are contained in the SDGs will likely impact how much WSIS+10 is focused on bringing forward the development-focused WSIS action lines or on the internet governance aspects of WSIS.

What has happened in the WSIS+10 review so far?

Leading up to the overall review, relevant UN agencies such as the CSTD, ITU and UNESCO have begun aspects of the review, starting in 2013.

UNESCO: In February 2013, as one of the WSIS action line facilitators, UNESCO organised a multistakeholder conference entitled Towards Knowledge Societies for Peace and Sustainable Development in an effort to give the agency’s views on progress in the implementation of the WSIS outcomes and its vision for the future. [8]

ITU: As one of the WSIS facilitators, the ITU similarly decided to review progress made in the implementation of the WSIS outcomes and take stock of achievements, with a view to develop proposals on a new vision beyond 2015. In June 2013, the ITU initiated an open consultation process, the Multistakeholder Preparatory Platform (MPP), which culminated in a high-level event in Geneva in June 2014 with the adoption of the Statement on the Implementation of WSIS Outcomes and the Vision for WSIS beyond 2015. [9]

CSTD: As the body within ECOSOC responsible for the system-wide follow-up of the WSIS outcomes, [10] the CSTD was requested to collect inputs from all facilitators and stakeholders on the progress made in the implementation of WSIS outcomes. [11] As a result, the CSTD adopted the Ten-year Review of Progress Made in the Implementation of the Outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society in November 2014, [12] which was developed through an open consultation process. The CSTD has also been asked to submit through ECOSOC the results of its 10-year review to the UNGA as it makes its overall review of WSIS.

At the moment, it is unclear to what extent the UNGA will take the UNESCO and ITU-facilitated review efforts into account for the overall review. However, the modalities instruct governments to consider the final report of the CSTD in the overall review. [13]

What is coming up for the WSIS+10 review in 2015?

UNGA resolution 68/302 sets out the framework, timeline and basic modalities for the review.

  • June – Appointment of governmental co-facilitators by president of UNGA

  • June to December – Intergovernmental preparatory process

  • December 2015 – WSIS Event UN General Assembly, New York.

It is expected that a draft outcome text will become available in September.

Who will participate and how?

The primary participants in the WSIS+10 overall review will be governments. According to resolution 68/302, the review will be “an intergovernmental negotiation process, which will include preparatory meetings, resulting in an intergovernmentally agreed outcome document, for adoption at the high-level meeting of the General Assembly.”

But the modalities do also allow for the possibility of engagement of other stakeholders, mostly at the discretion of the president of the General Assembly, who is meant to “organise informal interactive consultations with all relevant stakeholders of the [WSIS] in order to collect their input for the intergovernmental negotiation process.” The president of the General Assembly, in consultation with governments, is expected to invite representatives of all relevant WSIS stakeholders to speak during the high-level meeting.

It remains unclear how the president of the General Assembly will approach the consultation process with WSIS stakeholders.

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[1] UNGA, 21 December 2001. World Summit on the Information Society (A/RES/56/183) (online: https://www.itu.int/wsis/docs/background/resolutions/56_183_unga_2002.pdf, accessed: 11.12.14).
[2] WSIS, 2003. Plan of Action (WSIS-03/GENEVA/DOC/5-E) (http://www.itu.int/wsis/docs/geneva/official/poa.html, accessed: 11.12.14)
[3] WSIS, 2005. Tunis Agenda for the Information Society (WSIS-05/TUNIS/DOC/6(Rev. 1)-E) (http://www.itu.int/wsis/docs2/tunis/off/6rev1.html, accessed: 11.12.14)
[4] The Tunis Agenda requested that the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) oversee the system-wide follow-up of the Geneva and Tunis outcomes of WSIS, and that it review at its 2006 substantive session the mandate, agenda and composition of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD). ECOSOC requested that the CSTD submit information annually on the progress made in the implementation of and follow-up to WSIS outcomes at the regional and international levels, which it would submit in its annual report to the UNGA. Source: ECOSOC, 28 July 2006. E/RES/2006/46 (http://www.un.org/en/ecosoc/docs/2006/resolution%202006-46.pdf, accessed: 26.01.15)
[5] Tunis Agenda, paragraph 111
[6] UNGA, 31 July 2014. Modalities for the overview by the General Assembly of the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (A/RES/68/302) (http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/68/302, accessed: 11.12.14)
[7] UNGA, 20 December 2010. Information and communications technologies for development (A/RES/65/141) (http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/65/141, accessed: 26.1.15)
[8] The outcome was captured in the Final Statement entitled Information and Knowledge for All: An expanded vision and renewed commitment. Online: http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/HQ/CI/CI/pdf/wsis/WSIS_10..., accessed: 12.12.14
[9] Both documents are online at: http://www.itu.int/wsis/implementation/2014/forum/inc/doc/outcome/362828..., accessed: 11.12.14.
[10] See paragraphs 19 and 20 of E/RES/2006/46.
[11] ECOSOC, 22 July 2013. E/RES/2013/9 (http://unctad.org/Sections/un_cstd/docs/ecosoc_res_WSIS2013_9_en.pdf) accessed 26.1.15
[12] Online: http://unctad.org/meetings/en/SessionalDocuments/CSTD_2014_wsis10review_... accessed 26.1.15
[13] See paragraph 5 of A/RES/68/302.



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