Rik Panganiban of CONGO has put together a nice photo gallery of pictures he took at the recent WSIS Prepcom meeting in Hammamet, Tunisia. He got some nice pictures of the meeting halls and members of the civil society delegation, including some funny pictures of me. -andy
Archive for June, 2004
Following the final plenary, we left the meeting hall and spent some time hanging out in the medina plaza amongst a group of several hundred delegates who were enjoying the marvelous evening weather. Ralf Bendrath and Karen Banks had invited me to join a bunch of people heading to Hammamet for dinner. Though at first I was up for the idea, I became somewhat wishy-washy as I felt a severe headache and dehydration begin to overtake me. But thanks to some successful guilt-ridden peer pressure, namely from the likes of Ralf and Christine Wenzel of the Heinrich Boll Foundation and Marouen Mraihi of TakingITGlobal Tunisia, I soon caved and agreed to join them.
A large group of us headed out of Yasmine Medina one last time and hailed a group of taxis to take us the 19 kilometers into town. Traffic was rather heavy as people from all over the Hammamet region came into the city for a night on the town. Eventually, the taxi dropped us off several blocks from the Medina, where we met up with some of the others, while Ralf and his colleagues went back to their hotel to change clothes. The rest of us walked over to Sidi Bou Hdid, the oceanside café where I’d enjoyed mint tea and a shisha when I first arrived in Hammamet.
We grabbed a couple of tables and settled in for a while. Eventually, we grew to a posse of around 20 people, spread out over three or four tables, drinking our various fruit juices, teas and sodas as we finally began to wind down from the summit. As our hunger pangs advanced to hunger pains, we decided to go to Les Trois Moutons, a well-known seafood and couscous restaurant a few blocks from the Medina. As some of the group still hadn’t arrived at the café, we staggered ourselves, heading over to the restaurant in groups of 10 or so people.
Les Trois Moutons was a cozy, classy place, with impeccably dressed waiters showing off the fresh catch of the day. We gorged ourselves on classic Tunisian mezze plates, including tuna, harissa, olives and French bread. I ordered the couscous special, which featured a combination of chicken and lamb; it was a two-person order, so I split it with Norbert Klein. Some of the group, including colleagues from the Philippines and Mozambique, had never had couscous before, so they decided to give it a whirl, while others went for steaks or fish. Bertrand de la Chapelle managed to pick out an excellent Tunisian Muscat wine, which we ended up polishing off and requiring another bottle in short order.
We hung out at the restaurant until midnight, taking advantage of the short time we had left to spend with each other. Ralf, Christine and Christoph had to leave for the airport by 1am for a pre-dawn flight, while others were being recruited by Marouenfor a late-night shisha. As tempted as I was to enjoy one last puff before returning to my usual non-smoking self, I needed to get up in less than six hours to catch my shuttle bus to the airport. It was so difficult to say goodbye, given the rollercoaster of events we’d all gone through over the last 96 hours, particularly since yesterday afternoon. Most likely, I wouldn’t see any of them again until February in Geneva; until then, we’d just have to continue our work and our friendships online.
By the time I returned to the hotel, it was nearly 1am; our taxi had gotten stuck in a traffic jam in Hammamet’s night club neighborhood. The strip felt more like Miami Beach than Tunisia, with hundreds of young people in tight, skimpy clothes cruising the road and queuing at the clubs. I felt as if we were cruising as well, as the taxi driver turned on his radio and started blasting a Black Eyed Peas song. So very, very un-Tunisian. Or perhaps not.
Late into the evening this past Saturday, government delegations wrapped up work at the first preparatory meeting, or prepcom, for the November 2005 World Summit on the Information Society. The final document produced by the governments has no major surprises in it. The governments agreed to work towards reaching a solution on outstanding issues related to Internet governance and funding mechasims to bridge the digital divide. They also agreed not to re-open any of the decisions made during the previous summit in Geneva last December; rather, they would work towards identifying actionable strategies to implement these previous decisions. The next Prepcom will take place in Geneva for seven working days, starting February 17 early next year.
As the government plenary went into overtime Saturday night, civil society met for the last time at 6pm, hoping to tie up loose ends. Amir Barmaki of Iran chaired the meeting, which was attended by around 30 people. Compared to previous plenaries, it was calm and relatively orderly. It took several attempts for Amir to get audience members to comply with his request to stick with the agenda; rather, they tried to return to the previous debate over the human rights caucus speech. Eventually, Amir was able to get the group to focus on discussing a proposal for several taskforces to review civil society’s rules and procedures, in order to avoid having a similar debacle rear its ugly head in future prepcoms. These groups would publish reports on the matter early this autumn, then circulate them online for a month to collect comments and suggestions. They would then publish a final set of rules and procedures prior to the second Prepcom, scheduled for Geneva in February 2002.
Speakers for the audience were generally supportive, offering constructive criticisms to improve the proposed review process. Speakers representing Tunisian, Sub-Saharan African, and international NGOs all acknowledged the lamentable situation that had occurred over the previous 24 hours, stating that we must all make a concerted effort to rebuild trust and understanding amongst each other.
The plenary came to a close at 7:30pm, at which point the organizers of the Prepcom were expected to hold a press conference announcing the contents of their final report. But the press conference was pushed back to 8:30; it seemed pretty clear that the governments were going to have a long night ahead of them…. -andy
Right now, representatives from more than 100 governments are meeting in plenary session at the WSIS Prepcom to complete a draft document outlining the decisions taken by them during this week’s meeting. Prepcom President Karklins joked earlier that he hoped they could work hard so they could enjoy some of Tunisia’s beautiful beaches later today, since tomorrow’s forecast wasn’t looking very positive.
Karklins is now speaking about how the final document must focus on practical, procedural matters for the two future Prepcoms, during which more substantive issues such as Internet governance and financing mechanisms will be addressed. The plenary is scheduled for a lunch break in about 20 minutes, then will reconvene at 3pm.
In a very dramatic turn of evetns this morning, Souhayr Belhassen of the Tunisian Human Rights League was given permission from the president of the WSIS Prepcom to speak in the governmental plenary on behalf of civil society. Other Tunisian representatives had tried to block her from participating, causing a major disruption in yesterday’s sessions. Earlier today, civil society held another meeting to address the situation; while the meeting was much more orderly than yesterday’s, it was apparent there was no chance of reaching an accord. Then, the governments announced they would invite Belhassen to speak in the plenary, despite the opposition by Tunisian representatives attending the civil society meetings.
The president noted the extraordinary circumstances of the situation, and allowed the representative speak during time specially alloted to her, not taking the time from the 15 minutes alloted to civil society. Other Tunisian and African groups, which had opposed her speech, were also given time to speak; in the end they simply read the same remarks that had been prepared for her, minus language they perceived as criticizing the Tunisian government.
Below is the text of her remarks, translated into English.
Civil Society statement on human rights
PrepCom1, WSIS second phase, Hammamet June 26 2004
I am Souhayr Belhassen, Vice-President of the International Federation for
Human Rights and Vice-President of the Tunisian League for Human Rights.
At the beginning of this WSIS second phase, civil society organizations
present in Hammamet wish to express their objectives and their working
priorities in view of the Tunis Summit in 2005.
At a time where the foundations of international human rights law are being
challenged by newly adopted laws and measures, everywhere in the world, in
the name of a fight against terrorism, it was important that the
Declaration of principles adopted in Geneva in 2003 makes reference to the
fundamental principles of universality and indivisibility of all human
rights, to the right to development, and specially reaffirms the necessary
respect of the integrality of Article 19 of the UDHR on freedom of
expression, of information and of communication.
This second phase must go beyond that. Indeed, we intend that it clarifies
these principles by also reaffirming the fundamental principle of non
discrimination, the necessity to respect international labor standards, and
the recognition that a true security can only be reached with measures
entirely compatible with internationally recognized human rights, not least
the right to privacy. In addition, we cannot accept that the Declaration of
principles admits that the rule of law is supposed to «reflect national
realities» rather than being in coherence with the legally binding
obligations of States according to the international human rights treaties
they have ratified.
The Tunis phase will focus on Internet governance and infrastructure
financing issues. We will take part in this work, making sure that its
results ensure the promotion of the effective implementation of the whole
set of human rights, and do not derogate from them.
Without effective implementation, the principles would indeed stay without
substance. We request that WSIS allow for these principles to be translated
into an information and communication society serving human rights. To this
end, we wish that the Summit define precise indicators allowing to evaluate
the realization of this objective and set up an international mechanism for
their assessment on this ground, at the local, regional and international
Finally, we are entirely conscious of the fundamental importance of holding
WSIS here and for the people of all the global South countries, and we thus
wish its success. However, we wish to reaffirm that it is the duty of the
two host countries of the Summit to show exemplarity, especially in the
realization of freedom of expression, of information, of communication, as
well as of freedom of association and the right to privacy.
This evening’s content and themes meeting of the civil society caucus degenerated into chaos, as some Tunisian and African NGO representatives overwhelmed the session, preventing chairs Karen Banks and Steve Buckley from leading a discussion on tomorrow’s various civil society speeches to the government plenary. With probably seven or eight Tunisians for every non-Tunisian in the room, they demanded that civil society take an immediate vote on whether language critical of the Tunisian government would be excised from the human rights caucus text.
The Tunisians, who did not participate in the human rights caucus session in which the language was drafted, demanded the right to overrule the text criticizing the Tunisian government, as well as change the speaker to someone they felt represented their view. They argued that a “vote” had been taken earlier in the afternoon during the previous civil society meeting — rather, it was their supporters shouting acclamation — and no consistent translation was offered to allow participants to make an informed decision.
For nearly two hours, the audience of nearly 100 people were completely deadlocked, with the Tunisians blocking calls for a discussion proposing that two people – one of their choosing and one chosen by the human rights caucus – be given time to speak tomorrow during the government plenary. On numerous occasions, Karen Banks was shouted down by Tunisian representatives, saying she wasn’t the legitimate chair of the meeting and that the chair that had presided over the chaotic afternoon session return to that position.
Eventually, Renate Bloem arrived, having come back from a meeting with government delegates, and implored the group to attempt to arrive at consensus. She said that if the session continued to be held hostage, it would become impossible for civil society to craft the speeches on other issues that need to be addressed during tomorrow’s plenary.
By this time it was just before 8pm, and the translators were off the clock and left the room. This made it impossible to continue the debate with adequate translation, and it was decided that a plenary to discuss the human rights issue would be convened first thing tomorrow morning so that the Content and Themes group could have an adequate amount of time tonight to plan tomorrow’s other speeches.
Statement to the Plenary Session on Prepcom 1, WSIS Phase 2, Hammammet, 25 June 2004 – presented by George Christensen, AMARC-Africa
Civil society organisations, participating in the World Summit on the
Information Society believe a just and equitable information society must
be people-centred, based on respect for fundamental human rights and giving
priority to the reduction of poverty and the implementation of sustainable
During the Geneva phase of the Summit, civil society organisations played a
full and active role. Despite significant constraints on dialogue and
communication within the process itself, civil society organisations
contributed extensively and with good effect.
At the completion of the Geneva Summit we can acknowledge three outcomes:
two intergovernmental documents the Declaration of Principles and the Plan
of Action, and one civil society document a declaration titled “Shaping
Information Societies for Human Needs” that was presented to governments at
the final plenary in Geneva.
Although there are several points on which the civil society position is
different from that of the governments we propose the Declaration of
Principles should not be re-opened.
They key principles in the intergovernmental Declaration – on sustainable
development and the millennium development goals, and on human rights and
freedom of expression – should form the measures against which actions in
the second phase are judged.
On the other hand, the Plan of Action, is not a document we can accept to
work with. It was hastily drafted in the final stages of the Geneva Summit,
with little input from civil society. In certain important respects it is
in contradiction with the Declaration of principles and it does not
adequately provide a basis for action and implementation.
We recommend this be reviewed to establish a new and measurable basis for
As we commence the second phase of the World Summit on the Information
Society we would like to re-state our commitment to the priorities set out
in the civil society declaration presented in Geneva copies are available
We also wish to remind government that the role of civil society is not
simply one of assisting with implementation but also of observation,
monitoring and holding of governments to account. During the second phase
of the Summit we will continue to provide a constructive but critical input
to the process. We ask for the best conditions to do so in the firm belief
that our contribution will assist in achieving a better outcome.
Here is the second of three civil society statements read this morning to the Prepcom plenary. -andy
ISIS International Manila
Statement to WSIS PrepCom Plenary
June 25, 2004
At the conclusion of the first phase of this World Summit the
international community agreed a vision and objectives, in the
Declaration of Principles, which are framed around the Millennium
Development Goals and other internationally agreed objectives for
sustainable development. In doing so the Geneva Summit committed to the
challenge of creating an information and communications environment
oriented towards the achievement of a world free of poverty and hunger.
In 2005 the Tunis Summit will coincide with the first five-year review
of international progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.
Governments and multilateral institutions will measure the results of
the WSIS process on the basis of its contribution to the achievement of
universal primary education, promotion of gender equality and women’s
empowerment, reduction of child mortality, improvement of maternal
health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases and ensuring
environmental sustainability and development of global partnerships for
These are key targets against which action and implementation must be
We all acknowledge that ICTs can make a contribution to poverty
alleviation and the realization of all human rights, including the right
to development, health, education, and information thereby enabling
developing countries to participate as equal partners in the global
information and communication society. But our efforts are largely
failing and the so-called ‘digital-divide’ is in fact expanding.
The model that relies primarily on international private investment to
achieve those goals is not working. Markets only provide services for
those who can afford them; governments are unable to correct market
failures due to imposed constraints including external debt and IMF
conditionalities that limit their investments in infrastructure;
investment agreements constrain the delivery of public services and
intellectual property regimes make technology transfers unaffordable.
These contradictions have been most obviously exposed in the case of
efforts to reduce mortality from HIV/AIDS where the basic right of
patients to life has been restricted by international trade rules to
protect the intellectual property of manufacturers of the medicines
vital for effective treatment.
Despite these failures, the Action Plan agreed in Geneva, relies to a
large extent on a false logic. It assumes that investment in information
and communication technology products, services and applications, will
by itself contribute to the achievement of development goals. It
assumes, that setting targets for rolling out the ICT infrastructure,
will automatically lead to alleviation of poverty.
Civil society has a different perspective on the priorities for action
needed to achieve the development goals and objectives set out in the
Declaration of Principles.
We believe policies and investment must be effective from the ground-up.
People and communities must themselves be enabled to take action to
improve their lives and conditions. Civil society initiatives and
community-driven development projects must be supported and encouraged
through improvements to the policy and regulatory environment for access
to information and to the means of communications and through investment
in traditional as well as new communication technologies.
WSIS II can be of enormous help in identifying the national and
international obstacles and the action which is needed to address them.
Below is the official text that Ralf Bendrath presented to the Prepcom plenary on behalf of the civil society caucus.
Ralf Bendrath, Heinrich Böll Foundation
Statement to the PrepCom Plenary on behalf of the Civil Society plenary
25 June 2004
The first phase of this summit was a major step forward in developing a
multi-stakeholder process on the global level. For the first time civil
society and others have participated in such a way.
We have worked very hard to use this opportunity in a constructive
manner. By doing so, we also have been reminding you of how a true
vision of a human-centred, just and inclusive information society could
and should look like.
We have to move on in this direction. Governments can not address these
issues alone. Any mechanism that does not closely associate civil
society and other stakeholders is not only unacceptable in principle, it
is also doomed to fail.
You all have acknowledged this. The importance of civil society
participation is evoked routinely by governments and in official WSIS
What we demand now is that the multi-stakeholder process is not just a
nice phrase, but becomes true reality.
This seems to be the case for the working groups on internet governance
and finance, where we have heard about and experienced very promising
We insist that it also becomes a reality for the rest of the summit
We are not convinced yet:
- The speaking time given to Civil Society reveals the ironic asymmetry
between the importance theoretically given to us and the actual reality.
Our speaking slots only amount to 2.7 per cent of the total plenary
- In order to have meaningful discussion among all stakeholders, we need
to be able to speak to the points at the time they are raised. This is
not the case right now, though we already had this modality during the
- It is still not clear how we can contribute to the implementation of
the action plan with our knowledge and our experiences.
- Meaningful participation also needs to address the large part of civil
society that can not come to Tunis or Geneva. At this PrepCom, we do not
even have an internet broadcast as in phase one.
We want to make very clear that our further participation is depending
on some conditions:
- We insist that we don’t fall back behind the highest levels of
inclusiveness and participation from the first phase. Instead, we even
want to improve them.
- All thematic and regional meetings have to be fully open to all
- Whatever Political Declaration is to be adopted in Tunis, appropriate
mechanisms have to guarantee that civil society is truly involved in any
drafting process and supported in commenting and proposing amendments in
a timely manner.
- We need modalities to ensure meaningful civil society consultation and
cooperation on all areas of the stock-taking exercises and the
implementation of the action plan.
- There must be a creative use of ICTs to ensure civil society
participation from all over the world. We have a lot of experience with
this from our own work.
- We were happy to hear about the participation fund yesterday. However,
we insist that the funding is used in a transparent manner, according to
the actual needs and with meaningful participation of already
established civil society structures on this.
We are not willing to play an alibi role or lend our legitimacy to a
process that excludes us from true meaningful participation. The summit
can only be a summit of successes if there is substantive progress in