Civil Society Tunis declaration
APC, the association for progressive communication, reports on the civil society press conference on 18 November. Civil society representatives from all continents lined up on a panel to deliver a stark closing statement. The civil society statement was not finalised, but four points are addressed: internet governance, human rights, financing and development, and follow-up. The press conference essentially driven by questions of the audience, revolved around issues of development through ICTs.
Renate Bloem of the Civil Society Bureau kicked off the conference by saluting some language used in the official Tunis Commitment such as multistakeholderism. She held up that civil society has become a force to be reckoned with. "We have moved to become a partner in negotiations," she assessed.
Civil society welcomed the creation of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), and emphasised the key role it played in its creation. This is seen as a positive development by these representatives because it is expected to broaden participation in internet policy. The compromise on the ICANN did not satisfy everybody, without any clear policy preventing the US from retaining dominance.
In general though, there was not much optimism about the official outcomes of the Summit. For example the crucial right to privacy has totally disappeared from the Tunis Commitment. In stead, security needs are extensively underlined. This was already partially the case in the Geneva declaration, back in 2003, where privacy was mentioned only as part of "a global culture of cyber-security", but at least in 2003, civil society succeeded in keeping human rights prominently on the discussion agenda.
According to the draft declaration "Paragraph 40 the Tunis Agenda gives unrestricted authority to governments and law enforcements agencies. This is a serious problem. Without bounding this license with calls for respect for human rights, freedom of expression and privacy rights, the text invites the sorts of abuse that are evident in many countries today, from the imprisonment of journalists and activists, to the filtering of content and the registration of bloggers."
Civil society representatives on the panel voiced concern about human rights such as the freedom of speech not being respected by many countries in the world. Human rights monitoring was described as an essential means to attain a more balanced development of the information society. Compliance with universal human rights standards and the mainstreaming of ICTs were stressed as building blocks for a respectful and just implementation of WSIS outcomes.
The human rights issue was approached more specifically in the press conference that followed. Steve Buckley of the Tunisia freedom of expression monitoring group vowed "Never again!". He argued that "the United Nations should never again hold a world summit in a country that does not respect its international human rights commitments."
He linked the WSIS outcomes directly to the situation on the ground here in Tunisia where many violations of basic human rights had been observed on the eve and during WSIS. Thereby, this member of civil society (Steve Buckley is president of AMARC) wanted to shed light on the central importance of freedom of expression and human rights, "not only in Tunisia, but in the entire world."
Meryem Marzouki, from EDRI-member IRIS in France hammered the issue on the nail by saying that if the UN is to boast its role in aspects of internet governance, it must start by monitoring its internal accreditation processes. She suggested that an independent commission be set up to monitor the accreditation of all stakeholders, including the GONGOs, the Govermental non governmental organisations. Tunisian government sympathisers masquerading –and accredited- as NGOs have disrupted multiple civil society-organised events on and off site in Tunis and in the two years run-up to the summit. Finally, on behalf of the human rights caucus, she also asked 'all the media, governments, civil society and, more generally, all participants and observers to this Summit to keep a close eye on the situation in Tunisia after the summit."
The close of the WSIS: The civil society verdict (19.11.2005)
Speech Meryem Marzouki (in French)
Official WSIS outcomes
Tunis Agenda for the Information Society (18.11.2005)
Tunis Commitment (18.11.2005)