Drafting the WSIS resolution for ECOSOC at the CSTD 19th Session

The 19th Session of the Commission for Science and Technology (CSTD) was held in Geneva, 9-13 May. At each of its annual sessions, the Commission drafts two resolutions for the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC):

  • Draft Resolution on Science, Technology and Innovation (2016 draft adopted by CSTD)
  • Draft resolution on the Assessment of the progress made in the implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (2016 draft adopted by CSTD)

These resolutions use the previous year’s ECOSOC resolutions as starting points. ECOSOC has the ability to amend the resolutions when they consider them during their annual sessions, but in reality, it tends to rubber stamp what the Commission has submitted.

Please note that this blog post focuses on the WSIS implementation resolution as it is the set of negotiations that I followed last week.

Participation in the CSTD: its 43 Member States are not the whole story

The CSTD has 43 Member States. These Member States are chosen by the 54 Member States of ECOSOC. The UN General Assembly has 193 Member States. Therefore, the ECOSOC resolutions on science and technology and WSIS implementation are developed by a UN agency that contains just over one-fifth of all UN Member States. In practice, though, any Member State can participate in the CSTD’s development of the draft resolutions. CSTD membership only matters if things need to go to a vote. And the general feeling is that if things need to go to the vote, it basically means the process has failed. So, to date, there has never been a vote on CSTD’s draft resolutions.

As well as all UN Member States, the CSTD allows a number of non-governmental entities to participate in its work, including those with WSIS accreditation or ECOSOC accreditation. At the 19th Session, representatives from ITU, UNESCO, UN Women and UN DESA, staff members from ICC BASIS, ICANN, ISOC, and APC were present, as well as a researcher from the University of Essex and a small business operator (mCADE LLC). I attended under the ARIN banner. There were also some other faces present that I did not recognize.mics

Non-Member States have gradually been able to participate more fully in the drafting negotiations over the past few years, at the discretion of the chair of the negotiations. This year, the chair of the WSIS-related negotiations (Canada) was very receptive to the inputs of non-government participants and regularly called on any non-government participant who raised their flag (what you and I would call a large “tent card” if we weren’t in a UN meeting). In addition, rather than making the non-government participants trudge around the corridors in the breaks, hoping to find a Member State willing to “adopt” their proposed text as their own (and therefore making it possible to appear as part of the official compilation draft), the Chair, after a non-government representative had presented their idea, would ask, on the spot, if any government in the room was willing to sponsor/adopt the proposal.

The starting point: the 2015 ECOSOC WSIS resolution

Last year’s WSIS implementation resolution was adopted by plenary at the unusually early hour of 6:40 pm on May 10. Previous years had dragged on well past midnight, and on at least one occasion ending at 2:30 am on the Saturday morning. Usually, the Internet-related parts of the resolution were the biggest sticking points. The only reason that the CSTD’s draft of the 2015 WSIS resolution was adopted so early was that it had become very clear that there would be no agreement to proposed changes to the resolution. At issue was the fact that some Member States had wanted to add forward looking text to the resolution, looking beyond the WSIS+10 anniversary toward the next phase of implementation, while others believed it was premature to make decisions before the UN General Assembly had completed its 10-year review of the WSIS (in December 2015). Late on the Friday afternoon, it was very clear that there was not going to be any possibility of compromise between those two positions.

The only possible solution – other than to not have a resolution at all – was to stick with the 2014 resolution, just with updated dates and names/numbers of annual meetings and resolutions referenced in the resolution. Everyone agreed that substantive changes would be deferred until after the WSIS+10 UN General Assembly (UNGA) had been decided.

Optimism in action: 2016 zero draft assumes WSIS+10 and SDGs will be reflected in the 2016 resolution

The zero draft sent to Member States highlighted sections of the text that may have been useful to consider updating in the wake of the WSIS+10 resolution at UNGA (December 2015) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (September 2015) being adopted.

However, in hindsight, it was perhaps a little ambitious in its expectations that Member States would want to overhaul the complicated, often redundant, text that had built up over many years of compromises that allowed the resolutions to be passed, if not to make particular sense to anyone who hadn’t been in the room at the time.

States are divided on the way forward

Pro-overhaul parties

The Western European and Others Group (WEOG) were keen to start afresh and streamline the resolution and make the issues it contained clearer and more succinct. For WEOG states, the resolution had become overly complicated and unreadable. Because of the difficulties in previous years’ negotiations, it had built up a considerable amount of text about events and activities that had long since been held or begun. For the WEOG states, it was more important to focus on the future, particularly since they viewed the WSIS+10 UNGA resolution as a kind of “reset” button on WSIS activities.

Pro-“keep existing text” parties

Many of the developing countries were suspicious of WEOG proposals to delete paragraphs and replace them with merged, shorter text on the same issues. For those developing countries, there was consternation that the deletions seemed overwhelmingly related to text aimed at the challenges faced by developing countries and that deletion of this text would disadvantage them. In addition, for governments who felt that the existing resolution was to their advantage, deletion of text from that resolution would mean risking their ability to maintain an advantage in the new text. Finally, some states were concerned that there was not enough time to update the text. It is certainly true that unlike other UN bodies and processes, where governments submit their proposed changes weeks or months in advance, CSTD’s process is very truncated, with governments only submitting their edits the week of the CSTD session, leaving a maximum of 2.5 days to negotiate together on the text. However, it is also symptomatic of UN glacial slowness that the UN can pass two major resolutions that set the way forward for development and ICT for the next 10-15 years but one of its subordinate bodies chooses not to incorporate those big changes in a resolution designed to monitor the implementation of one of those processes.

Key areas of difference

As usual, Internet governance was a big area of contention.

Enhanced cooperation

The composition of the second Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation (WGEC 2.0), announced during the WSIS Forum 2016, particularly problematic. Developing countries felt that their interests were being sidelined in the final lineup of the working group. The overwhelming majority of the intergovernmental and international organizations and the technical and academic community representatives were from the developed north. In addition, for the CSTD regional groups that had had a very difficult time in nominating only four states to represent them on the WGEC, it was hard to accept that the WEOG and African Group had five members each (WEOG had such a hard time that the Chair of the CSTD, Peter Major of Hungary, had to choose the final member). The fifth member of those two groups was a result of Switzerland (CSTD membership ends 2016) and Tunisia (not a CSTD member) being the hosts of the WSIS process, 2003-2005. However, if you were a state that had missed out because you weren’t a CSTD member now, or wouldn’t be a CSTD member for the entire life of the WGEC, the inclusion of these two states could be seen as a bit of an insult. Therefore, there was a big push to allow all UN 193 Member States to be able to participate on an equal footing, should they wish to participate, in the working group. There was an equally big push, however, from the other side, which pointed out that the WSIS+10 resolution had left it up to the WGEC itself to decide its modalities – not the CSTD.


IGF supporters wanted to add text that mentioned some of the progress made in improving the IGF, such as the inter-sessional work on policy options to connect the next billion, the Best Practice Forums and Dynamic Coalitions. Those less supportive of IGF thought that this was unnecessary detail for the ECOSOC resolution.

Development was also a big issue.

Activities aimed at addressing the needs of developing countries

WEOG states had tried to consolidate various sections of the past resolution so that all development-related material would be shorter, less distributed throughout different parts of the text, and easier for people to understand. However, many states from the developing world felt that the proposals to consolidate the text were removing subtle, but important, nuances in the development oriented text. WEOG states said they had no intention of deleting anything important and, during the negotiations, had been working to update their proposed texts to incorporate elements that the developing states had said were vital to them. However, with the limited time available, there just wasn’t the time to complete this exercise to everyone’s satisfaction.

A war of attrition: Member States and observers start leaving the room

late-night-negotiationsOnce 6 pm hit on Friday night, gradually, a number of the Member State representatives and some of the observers started leaving. Partially, this was because a number of the Member States were represented by their mission staff who were only there to observe, rather than be active participants. After 6 pm, for Member States who weren’t actively invested in the outcomes of the draft resolution, there really was no point in staying. Other Member States had multiple representatives in the room, and so didn’t need to have all their representatives stay on. Others simply had prioritized their lives over being stuck in small room eating vending machine supplies for dinner and had booked flights out of Geneva on Friday night. This meant that only the incredibly committed (and possibly certifiably insane) stayed on to the end.

Trying to find a consensus text on a Friday 13th, with a full moon, while exhausted and subsisting on caffeine and sugar

The nuclear option is proposed: Let’s dump it all

At around 1 am, one of the governments suggested that given the massive amounts of text left to work on, and the late hour, there needed to a decision to either hold a resumed session in a few weeks or to produce a massively truncated text that basically recalled the WSIS+10 and SDG resolutions and reaffirmed a commitment to implement the goals. Then, next year, the government representative said, we could embark on a longer preparatory process that could consider the various ways to develop a post-WSIS+10 resolution that met everyone’s needs.

The Chair proposes an alternative option: Tread water

In response to the nuclear option, the chair of the drafting group suggested that the group could adopt a different type of barebones resolution: this one would recall the 2015 ECOSOC resolution on WSIS (the one that was the 2014 ECOSOC resolution, just with updated dates and resolution and meeting references) as well as recall the SDG resolution, the WSIS+10 resolution, and request the Secretary General to submit his report to ECOSOC.

At this point, the chair of the drafting group called for a break while he consulted with various delegations about how to proceed.

A compromise solution: When all else fails, try a facilitator’s text

After a break that lasted just over an hour, the chair of the drafting group resumed the meeting with a new proposed way forward: a facilitator’s text. In the event that participants are having so much trouble reaching any form of consensus, a facilitator’s text can be the best way forward. The idea is that the facilitator/chair of the drafting negotiations could put together his/her own compromise version of a resolution based on her/his sense of what could gain consensus in the room.

This is how the WSIS+10 resolution at the UN General Assembly was drafted during the preparatory process last year in New York. Recognizing how very difficult the topic was, the two co-facilitators, United Arab Emirates and Latvia, “held the pen” throughout the drafting process, even though there were some attempts by some of the Member States to have direct control over the drafting.

In this CSTD case, the chair of the negotiations noted that the facilitator’s text would be based on:

  • Development language proposed by WEOG that had been largely agreed to already plus existing resolution language (but no other additions)
  • WSIS Action Lines text proposed by Russia (not yet looked at by the room at this point, but there had been agreement for Russia to go away and consolidate various proposals and existing texts on Action Lines and the WSIS Forum. This compilation text was truncated significantly by the facilitator, not because there was anything wrong with it, but simply to ensure that this section on Action Lines didn’t form the majority of the text of the resolution (given all other sections were reduced significantly as part of the general compromise)
  • Compromise text on enhanced cooperation developed by Brazil, which had facilitated informal discussions on that section on Thursday night.
  • Existing language on Internet governance, including the IGF (proposed new language had not been agreed to)

Text on the reporting mechanism from the CSTD to the ECOSOC High Level Political Forum would be deleted (many hours had been devoted to trying to understand what exactly CSTD reports consisted on and whether or not Member States could change the format of the reports that were sent to this particular High Level Political Forum).

Some other bits of text that had not had complete consensus were, in the spirit of compromise, were either kept in or deleted.

Finally, we get to go home, at 2:55 am on Saturday 14 May, all knowing we’ll probably repeat the experience next year

Not everyone in the room was happy with the resulting text, but there was widespread recognition that possibly, via this facilitator’s draft, everyone would be less unhappy than if we had continued with everyone’s hand on the drafting pen. One state – not a CSTD member – was particularly unhappy and made their position very clear. When the chair of the negotiations asked if all governments could accept the facilitator’s compromise text, all but that one state was willing to adopt the text. The state insisted that their reservation be included in the report of the meeting, which was agreed to.

In many ways, the fact that a non-CSTD Member State was able to have so much influence on the process and have their objection included in the outcomes of the meeting report shows how open the CSTD is to the participation of all Member States.

A number of non-CSTD Member States were at the meeting and did participate. Belarus, for example, was a non-CSTD member that was active in the WSIS negotiations as was Saudi Arabia. Australia was also present, but less active, given it is currently in caretaker mode (federal elections are at the start of July). The inclusion of more UN Member States, and of other accredited entities, in the CSTD’s work can only make its deliberations richer and more representative of the wider needs and requirements of those who are the purpose for the CSTD’s work to draft ECOSOC resolutions in the first place.

As one Member State repeatedly intervened to note during the WSIS negotiations, trying to reach consensus on the draft resolutions in less than a week is clearly an impossible task. As the issues of sustainable development and the role of ICTs become more and more politically important to the world, the process of drafting associated resolutions becomes more complicated and delicate. It remains to be seen if the CSTD changes its approach to drafting the 2017 ECOSOC resolution on WSIS implementation. CSTD only meets twice a year for a total time of less than two weeks. It also has a very streamlined secretariat provided by UNCTAD. Because of these factors, there is very little focus on the CSTD’s work for most of the year, and most governments do not assign specific liaisons to follow the CSTD’s work on WSIS. Instead, it’s the local mission-based staff who are sent. Or whoever has been assigned to work on ICTs and WSIS issues at ITU. This means that each time the CSTD meets to develop its WSIS resolution, it’s pretty much starting from scratch. Many of the participants don’t know each other and there is no thread of ongoing CSTD work throughout the year that binds people together. Unless ways to overcome these barriers are developed, we are likely to see similarly difficult negotiations in the WSIS implementation drafting in May 2017.

Deconstructing the WSIS+10 non-paper

Update: the non-paper is now available on the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) website for the preparatory process for the WSIS+10 review. The date for submissions of comments on the non-paper has also been extended from 14 September to 18 September. When this blog was originally published, the non-paper had not been published officially, but had been sent to the IGF 2015 MAG mailing list on preparations for the main session on WSIS+10.

First, if you want some background into what the non-paper is, who made contributions to it, and where it sits in the overall United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) preparatory process for the High Level Meeting on the WSIS+10 Review, see my other blog post, Background to the WSIS+10 non-paper.

The co-facilitators of the preparatory process have done a remarkable job of distilling almost 400 pages of contributions into just over 4 pages of the non-paper (not counting 2 pages of letters at the front). Unfortunately, unless you speak fluent UN-ese, even those 4 pages are likely to be a bit confusing.

First WSIS+10 preparatory meeting in New York, 1 July 2015

First WSIS+10 preparatory meeting in New York, 1 July 2015

A quick overview of the non-paper’s contents

Would you believe that the word “Internet” appears 15 times in the four and a bit pages compared to only 8 references to “ICTs” and 5 references to the “digital divide”? It seems that the World Summit on the “Information Society” has turned into 10-year review of the “Internet Society” (and no, I’m not talking about ISOC). This is both probably somewhat alarming to some stakeholders and also to be expected, given the Internet is becoming a fundamental tool for so much of the world’s activities these days.

In short, the non-paper says:

  • A lot has been achieved, but there is still much to do to bridge evolving forms of the digital divide.
  • ICTs can play a major role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Multistakeholder cooperation and engagement is supported.
  • There is a need for gender equality.[1]
  • There should be “universal Internet access” by 2030.
  • Governance of the Internet should involve all stakeholders.
  • There is a need for the internationalization of Internet governance, including the full implementation of enhanced cooperation.
  • Extend the mandate of IGF, but with a few things that need possible improvement.
  • Cooperate globally to combat cybercrime and cyber-threats.
  • Put more effort into financing ICT development activities.
  • There needs to be better data collection and analysis to better evaluate progress on WSIS issues.
  • Keep reviewing WSIS outcomes annually and have another review of WSIS in the future.

WSIS+10 non-paper reconstructed in plain English and bullet points

The WSIS+10 non-paper contains three main types of content:

  1. Basic statements of fact and/or general consensus beliefs about WSIS issues
  2. Principles that WSIS should follow
  3. Ways forward for post-2015 WSIS

Below is a summary of the suggested principles and post-2015 landscape. Please note that I have edited the text of the original non-paper for clarity and brevity. The headings, however, are straight from the non-paper.

Ways forward for post-2015 WSIS

Digital divide

  • Increase the number of women with Internet access.
  • Ensure:
    • ICTs are affordable and relevant
    • Content is available in different languages and formats that are accessible to all people
    • People have the capabilities to make use of ICTs.
  • Encourage all stakeholders to take measures to achieve universal Internet access by 2030.
  • Increase efforts in capacity building, technology transfer, and multilingualism.

ICT for development

  • Use ICTs as a critical enabler to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Internet governance

  • Further the internationalization of Internet governance, including:
    • Greater participation of developing countries
    • The full implementation of Enhanced Cooperation.
  • Extend the Internet Governance Forum‘s mandate for [x] years AND:
    • Consider the need for clearer terms of reference for IGF’s governing structure, working methods, and outcomes.
    • Continue building upon current efforts to ensure support for the participation of least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States.


  • Increase global efforts and cooperation in combating cybercrime and countering cyber-threats.

Follow-up and review

  • Mobilize domestic public and private resources to spur ICT access and content creation, particularly in a wider range of languages.
  • Review the lack of progress in the Digital Solidarity Fund.
  • Encourage official development assistance and financial flows, including foreign direct investment, to developing countries that need the most assistance in achieving ICT goals.
  • More capacity building.
  • Give ICT a prominent profile in the new technology mechanism established by the Addis Ababa Action Agenda.
  • Prioritize cross-cutting technical challenges that affect the implementation of Tunis Agenda Action Lines, including:
    • The deployment of lPv6
    • The deployment of Internet Exchange Points
    • The resilience of international ICT networks and resources
  • Improve data collection and measurement so it’s easier to assess how well WSIS goals are being achieved.
  • Keep reviewing WSIS outcomes annually, and hold another overall review in the future.

Principles that WSIS should follow

Digital divide

  • Commit to mainstream gender in WSIS implementation, notably through the Action Lines.

Human Rights

  • The same rights that people have offline must also be protected online.
  • All human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development, to achieve the WSIS vision.
  • Respect freedom of expression, the independence of press and the right to privacy.
  • No person shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home, or correspondence,c onsistent with countries’ obligations under international human rights law.

ICT for development

  • Mitigate the environmental impacts of ICT use and growth.

Internet governance

  • Governance of the internet should be open, inclusive, and transparent, within the working definition of internet governance as ‘the development and application by governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.
  • The management of the Internet encompasses both technical and public policy issues and should involve all stakeholder groups.


  • Confidence- and security-building initiatives are important for the future of the information Society.

Follow-up and Review

  • The Addis Ababa Action Agenda and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provide an important framework for ICT policy and investment.
  • Public-private partnerships and universal access strategies, amongst other funding and financing approaches, are important ways to spur ICT access and content creation.
  • Capacity-building remains a primary focus.
  • Data collection and analysis is an important part of how WSIS goals are being achieved.

And to end with, a couple of observations

It is of potential concern that the non-paper differentiates between “cyberspace” and the “Internet”. “Cyberspace” is used as a catch-all term for Internet-related security issues. Is this a distinction that we really want to make? Do we want to be excluding security issues related to ICTs other than the Internet?

The inclusion of “cross-cutting technical challenges” in the non-paper demonstrates the increasingly blurred line between public policy (the responsibility of the Member States who will ultimately decide the contents of the final outcome document) and technical management of ICTs. This line was in reality always blurred, but when ICTs were less ubiquitous in the world, governments were less interested in exercising their rights to have a say in the possible public policy implications of those ICTs. But as stakeholders on the technical side of ICTs engage more with governments, there is also an expectation that governments will also engage more with non-government stakeholders as part of a two-way dialogue on the policy implications of technical issues. We are seeing this increasing expectation of greater interaction play out not only in the UNGA’s WSIS+10 process, but also in the ICANN accountability process that is currently underway.


[1] Anyone who participated in the Multistakeholder Preparatory Process for the WSIS+10 High Level Event in Geneva in 2014 will remember how contentious proposed text about encouraging women’s participation in the Information Society was. The change in stance between Geneva and New York demonstrates how different Member State views can be depending on the forum.

Background to the WSIS+10 non-paper

Update: the non-paper is now available on the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) website for the preparatory process for the WSIS+10 review. The date for submissions of comments on the non-paper has also been extended from 14 September to 18 September.

At time of the original posting this blog, the non-paper had not officially been posted but a copy had been sent to the IGF 2015 MAG mailing list on preparations for the main session on WSIS+10.

When a paper is not a paper, but is actually a non-paper

Negotiations at the UN can obviously be highly political, so it can be advantageous to hold off publishing a formal input document (and the resultant skirmishing between States) as long as possible and instead publish an informal document to test the waters.

But, of course, the use of unofficial non-papers is so widespread, that it’s now a UN equivalent of the emperor’s new clothes: collectively, in public, everyone pretends that the non-paper is a harmless informal document but, in private, everyone actually puts just as much effort into responding to it as they would to an actual official draft.

The life of the WSIS+10 non-paper

Step 1: Call for contributions


WSIS+10 co-facilitators, Jānis Mažeiks, Ambassador of Latvia & Lana Zaki Nusseibeh, Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates

The non-paper was developed by the co-facilitators of the UNGA WSIS+10 review process based on 74 submissions by governments and other stakeholders sent in during July 2015. The submission by G77 and China was given an extension due to the fact that the G77 consists of a whopping 134 governments.

Step 2: Find common ground among the submissions

The co-facilitators of the process then had to whittle down the 387 pages of contributions into a single document that ended up only being just over 4 pages long.

Step 3: Non-paper submitted to the President of the UNGA (PGA)

Although the non-paper is nominally an informal document, it still has to follow the formal protocol of being submitted to the PGA for approval and distributions.

Step 4: Non-paper is published and the comment period begins

The comment period ends 14 September, which gives stakeholders two weeks to comment. An online comment form will be available when the non-paper is formally published.

Step 5: Co-facilitators integrate comments on the non-paper to produce the “zero draft” of the final outcome document

Who would have thought that the world of UN diplomacy would have so much in common with software programmers? In both cases, they start a number sequence with zero, not one! Oddly, though, the UNGA WSIS world seems to have missed basic mathematics and skips one entirely, moving straight to draft two. The zero draft, which ups the ante for diplomatic negotiations in New York, is meant to appear at the end of September. However, given the non-paper missed the end of August deadline, it is quite possible that the zero draft due date may slip a little too. When the zero draft appears, the non-paper’s short life ends.

Following the publication of the zero draft, there will be another round of comments, followed by a second informal interactive stakeholder consultation in New York and a second preparatory meeting for UN Member States. For the full set of steps in the WSIS+10 process, see the Preparatory Process Roadmap.

Key statistics on submissions for the non-paper

  • 74 submissions received
  • 21 submissions from Member States
    • 174 Member States in total represented – group statements from the Group of 77 (G77), the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and the European Union (EU) bumped up the total number of States represented in the process
  • 26 from civil society
  • 9 from technical & academia
  • 9 from the private sector
  • 9 from intergovernmental organizations
  • 387 pages of contributions in total

A detailed look at who submitted

Because of the fluid nature of multistakeholderism, some governments and organizations chose to submit individual responses as well as be part of group responses. Below are the details of where contributions overlapped:


Seven G77 Member States chose to submit individual submissions as well as be part of the larger G77 submission:

The AOSIS contribution represented 35 G77 Member States as well as 2 non-G77 Members States, Palau and Tuvalu

  • Cuba is also a member of AOSIS, so is, in effect, represented in 3 submissions to the non-paper

One EU Member State chose to submit an individual submissions as well as be part of the larger EU submission:

Ten Member States submitted individual contributions and were not part of any collective contribution:

Civil society

The Association for Proper Internet Governance submitted an individual contribution and is also part of the Just Net Coalition.

Private sector

Telefonica and the Africa ICT Alliance submitted individual contributions and are also part of ICC BASIS.

The endorsement of the WSIS+10 Vision document

The two WSIS+10 High Level Event (HLE) outcome documents were applauded in the room in Geneva at about 5:30 pm on the second, and last, day of the High Level Event.

ITU Secretary-General, Dr Toure, stated:[1]

“I would like to congratulate all of you on this great achievement. We have just endorsed the two outcome documents reaching consensus by unanimity, in the presence of more than 1,600 stakeholders present here at the WSIS+10 High Level Event, and many, many more thousands of people online.”

The Chair of the MPP process, Prof. Minkin, stated:

“Distinguished colleagues, this is truly an important event, the fact that we were able today to approve everything that we worked on over the past… let’s say… almost entire year. This is the fruit of our work. We worked together as friends.”

The Chair of the HLE, Mr Helmy, stated:

“With my friend and brother, Dr Toure, I can now announce officially that these documents are adopted. And therefore, we complete our conference with full success.”

The final session was full of governments and representatives of intergovernmental organizations taking turns thanking and congratulating each other and saying how successful the process to develop and approve the two documents had been.

The final Vision document includes the Action Lines section, so as well as the rather out-of-date Action Lines text from the original WSIS process (10 years is a long time for the world of ICTs), we now have an updated version.

Unlike the version that came out of the MPP process, the version adopted by acclamation yesterday includes more than one reference to human rights (it appears in both the preamble and Action Line C9). The non-consensus parts of Action Line C5 were gone (the MPP participants were stuck over whether to include a reference to cybercrime and whether non-government stakeholders should be added in text promoting greater cooperation between governments to enhance user confidence in ICTs and address ICT security issues). Text recognizing the need to advance gender equality perspectives was back in.

From sixth MPP version of the Vision document to adopted version of Vision document

I’ve previously described what happened between the end of the sixth MPP meeting and the end of Day 1 of the High Level Event. In summary, after the sixth MPP meeting ended on Monday 9 June and throughout 10 June, Toure had been doing the rounds behind the scenes, trying to overcome the major hurdle that had been preventing consensus in the MPP meetings: the text of Action Line C9. He had been working hard to get Iran to remove their objection to the human rights text in Action Line C9. With this barrier removed, Toure apparently hoped that the remaining items of non-consensus could easily be overcome by deleting the non-consensus text in Action Lines C5 and C8 and by removing the square brackets (which denote non-consensus) on the four paragraphs in Section III, Action Lines beyond 2015: Looking to the Future.

On the morning of Day 2 of the HLE (11 June) the Chair of the MPP process, Prof. Minkin, and the Chair of the HLE itself, Mr Helmy, were also visibly approaching governments at the HLE, attempting to encourage them to accept a version of the Vision document that deleted non-consensus items in C5 and C8 and included the non-consensus items in Section III. Some non-government stakeholders were also approached, but equally, many of the non-government stakeholders who’d been in the fifth and sixth MPP meetings were not approached.

Surprise! A new version of the Vision document, folks

At quarter to twelve on Day 2, just before the morning’s session of High-Level Policy Statements ended, Toure spoke:[2]

“I [would like to] inform you that the final document [the Vision document] that we are trying to negotiate here, to be sure that everyone is comfortable with it, is going to be available on the web and will be sent through the Flash so that everyone sees it. We don’t want to rush anybody. And, therefore, I wanted people to see it between now and five o’clock, when we are resuming in the plenary to look at that document.

[…] We’ll go by the normal ITU rules—which is everybody equally happy or everybody equally unhappy—but I hope that we will make compromises. Here you might not see everything you want, but I hope you will see things you can live with and things that will help other new generations to come.

[…] You have had a lot of discussions on these issues and, of course, we will not reopen those negotiations [this afternoon].

[…] The meeting that we have in the afternoon, the sessions are not sessions for debating. Those are different things that we will hope that people will cross-fertilize more again so that all voices be heard and all opinions be heard and that when we talk and we see where everyone is coming from, we may be able to understand why we are doing so. In the tradition of ITU, we try not to make this place a battleground but rather a place where we can have peaceful understanding and move humanity in a better way.”

The copy of the revised Vision document, labeled Proposal by Chairman of WSIS+10 High-Level Event (11 June), was posted to the website within half an hour of the session ending and arrived in my inbox about half an hour after that. To check what changes there were from the MPP-agreed document, I created an annotated copy available here.

Let’s clap this thing into existence, shall we?

At just before 5:30 pm, the Concluding Session of WSIS+10 High-Level Policy Statements and Endorsement of the WSIS+10 Outcome Documents by Acclamation began. Toure gave an explanation of how the revised version of the Vision came to be:

“This is the last plenary session, and we wanted to get the documents […] approved here in this session. As Mr. Chairman said, we have posted the [Vision] document this morning at 12 noon, […] to give a chance to everyone to look at it and be comfortable.

There were a few areas of discomfort among members and we tried to iron out all the differences. So the text that you have here was the final text that was then agreed among many members. Since I was not able to physically reach out to everyone, I have asked my officials to help me consult with some of you, and also wait for anyone who would have any problem with the document.

This is an almost consensus document. I want to do it in the true tradition of ITU, where we come together and agree without voting. Without winners. Without losers. We call it “everybody equally happy”, or “everybody equally unhappy”.

[…] We try to be as open and transparent as possible. It is not a perfect document, because […] when you are negotiating, you give some, you lose some. And we want the lowest common denominator. That is the facts of life. I would like to thank all of the administrations who have a very actively contributed into this making it a real document that I think they can live for some time and can give future generations some products that they can rule with.

We had a number of negotiations. The last negotiations were on the action lines, C5, C9, C3, C8. We have decided to take out… to leave out… all other points of disagreement. And what we have here are things that we agree on. It doesn’t mean that there are things that each party wouldn’t want to see here. There are some […] things that anybody would want to see added there, but still… since these are points of still [unfinished] discussions, we prefer to go by this way.

[…] I want to present this document, Chairman, as a whole. I’m not going to run into asking to be done by acclamation, before… If anyone has any strong concern, express it. We don’t do that—make it a fait accompli and then we leave some people unhappy. So I don’t want that to happen. This is a serious business. We all came for that. We are not alone. We are here. There are thousands of people on the web that are looking into this as well, with us, and they are part and parcel of this […] We have constituencies back home that we are going to be accountable to. […] And they are watching over this as well.

It’s an important matter and that is why we have to take it very seriously and not rush it. So I present this, Mr. Chairman, a document as a whole. If there are any questions, do it before we proceed for a formal approval of it. I will be ready to answer.

[…] I’m lucky because, most of the time, I come to the discussions when all the parties are tired. So at the end of the day, they say “Yes, Hamadoun, yes, we agree,” and just take it. I don’t want to do that. Really I want to give the credit back to all of the people who have enriched this document, because every single word has been weighted, just like we did during the WSIS process.”

It was then time for those on the floor to speak. Iran was the first and only speaker from the floor:

“Although Iran was not comfortable with the language of the text… but for the sake of compromise, I would like to show our flexibility in this regard.”

And with that, the single source of objection to UNESCO’s proposed text for Action Line C9 was removed. The Chair of the HLE immediately requested participants to endorse both of the following documents:

There was applause in the room: both documents were endorsed. The final approved versions are now available as a single PDF document, WSIS Outcome Documents: Geneva 2014.

Phew! We got it through…

Toure then spoke again, telling everyone how relieved he was that the new version of the Vision document had passed:

“I was telling the Minister [and Chair of the HLE] that I was praying all day, all morning, this morning, and I was telling everyone, “Keep your fingers crossed and, if you can, even the legs under the table,” so that we can have something. I was keeping even the toes in my shoes crossed, so that I make sure something happens. And really you made my day. Let me again take the opportunity to thank Prof. Minkin and his team. It is true dedication that he has shown on this effort for many years. I take the opportunity to really, really thank our other two Vice-Chairs of this conference, who used their diplomacy and their know-how […] in dealing with the WSIS preparatory process. I can’t thank enough all of the delegations who have been involved. They have been very kind to us.

[…] There is no time to make any enemies. We are all friends. We have shown that spirit here. And that spirit should continue. I’m proud to be leading the union, the ITU, with that kind of spirit of cooperation among all the member states. This is a technical organization. We have been able to work together over for 149 years in that spirit. And the spirit is still alive. You have demonstrated that here again. Because we are, here, not only ITU’s usual constituency, it’s beyond. ITU and beyond. That is really great. I would like to thank you all. Thank you very much again.”

The Deputy Director General of UNESCO, Mr Engida, then spoke briefly:

“UNESCO is extremely pleased that we can reach consensus on some of the contentious issues. We have got a document in front of us. I think what lies ahead of us is a challenge. And that challenge is to put all these words into practice. UNESCO certainly will accompany most of you in this exercise.”

Then the HLE Vice-Chairs spoke. First, Mr Samassékou. Then Mr. Karklins. Karklins was the first and only person in the session to use the word “multistakeholder”:

“Congratulations to all of us for reaching the consensual agreement on two outcome documents. Let me speak with my hat of the former Chairman of the preparatory committee of the Tunis Phase of the World Summit, where decisions on the follow-up and review were taken. The […] distinctive feature of the WSIS process is in its multistakeholder character. […] Not only in implementation—working together, delivering on promises and decisions of the WSIS—but also multistakeholder engagement in defining next steps, what needs to be done, how it needs to be done and how obstacles may be overcome.

It just proves that multistakeholder engagement works. It works on all levels. And we should not be afraid of it. It has proven its ability to produce results on occasion of the first review event, which was organized in February 2013, that resulted with a consensual final statement. It’s proven itself today, when the decision was made by consensus in multistakeholder engagement.

And as former chair of the Tunis Phase of the platform, where follow-up mechanisms were defined, I would really invite all governmental delegations to pass the spirit of this multistakeholder engagement to New York, where decisions on the final modalities [of the overall review of WSIS] need to be taken and a review needs to be conducted by the United Nations General Assembly. Tell them that multistakeholder model works and this is very beneficial for everybody.”

The MPP Chair, Prof. Minkin then spoke. Then Switzerland as host country of the HLE.

Then Toure again. This time naming and thanking a long list of UN agencies also involved in the HLE, as well as some of the key elected officials of ITU.

Toure presented ITU medals to the Chairs of the HLE and MPP.[3]

The Chair of the HLE spoke a bit more, and then the session was over at 6:15 pm. The whole thing had taken only 45 minutes from the time it began to the time it was over.

But what does it all mean?

Despite all the glowing statements by UN agencies and Chairs and Vice Chairs about how successful the development of the outcome documents was, I feel very uneasy about the way the Vision document “reached consensus”. I understand the motivation of all those who pushed so hard to get that last-minute consensus so the meeting could be considered a “full success”. However, I’m rather worried that by resorting to the informal, undocumented and more multilateral techniques to “fix” the non-consensus items, it sets a worrying precedent for multistakeholder processes in intergovernmental settings.

The MPP may not have been perfect, but if 15 days of tought discussions between many stakeholders—both governmental and non-governmental—was unable to reach consensus, was it really better to do hard and non-transparent lobbying over a day and a half to push for agreement than just to accept that the issues need further work and may need to be parked for now?

Part of the problem with doing “multistakeholder” in (what is traditionally) an intergovernmental setting is that there are hard and fast deadlines for reaching consensus. There is a need to produce outcome documents from meetings.

In contrast, multistakeholder processes in the Internet world have historically not been up against hard deadlines. The processes take as long as they take. Even if it takes years to reach consensus on anything. Even if people get very frustrated with how long it can take.

Transplanting this way of working into an environment that requires a glossy printed outcome document by the end of a meeting seems to be risking some of the mechanisms and principles of the more open-ended multistakeholder model.

How do you successfully navigate the choppy waters between bottom-up multistakeholder processes and top-down, timeline-driven intergovernmental environments? To be honest, I haven’t got a clue. They can co-exist welll… until a hard deadline looms.

In my next post, I’ll look at some other cases where similar multistakeholder/intergovernmental collisions have occurred. Stay tuned.

[1] I’ve included a lot of direct statements made by officials during the meeting. I’ve done this, rather than summarized the essence of what they said, because I didn’t want to inadvertently colour their statements with my own views of what happened.

[2] I have truncated the speeches by Toure (and later Karklins), as denoted by use of “[…]”. I’ve done this for two reasons:

  • I’ve removed the boring bits (when people aren’t speaking from notes, they can restate themselves and waffle a bit)
  • I’ve removed a lot of the half spoken thoughts and repetition of words that occur when people speak out loud

Where it seemed to be useful, I’ve also added words inside square brackets where it seemed useful to clarify the speaker’s statement.

[3] I thought the awarding of ITU medals was rather incongruous, given the event was coordinated by ITU, and not an ITU event. With all the mentions of the “ITU way of doing things” in the session, it’s no wonder so many people think the HLE is an ITU event. All those efforts over the past few months by ITU to stress that the HLE was a UN-wide event have largely been defeated by so many references to ITU-specific processes during the event.