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The final Vision document includes the Action Lines section, so as well as the rather out-of-date Action Lines text from the original WSIS process (10 years is a long time for the world of ICTs), we now have an updated version.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

2 thoughts on “The endorsement of the WSIS+10 Vision document

  1. Thanks for your great blogging. I have two comments.

    We must take care to separate the debate about multistakeholder versus multilateral from working methods, one being about who participates in what capacity, and the other being about how decisions are made by a group. In NETmundial and the MPP, the working methods were, well, fresh.

    Similarly, the pace of the progress is also a separate dimension. There are some issues that can take decades to decide in the multilateral framework. When do you think the next trade round will be, for example?

  2. Pingback: WSIS+ 10 | Information Policy Biz

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