12 Jun 2019

Cyber norms in NYC: takeaways from the OEWG meeting and UNIDIR Cyber Stability Conference

At the start of the year, the UN General Assembly established two processes—the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) and Open Ended Working Group (OEWG)—to discuss developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security, and to advance responsible behaviour in cyberspace.

At GPD, we’ve been following both processes closely. Last week, we were in New York attending two significant events in the calendar. The first was the organisational meeting of the OEWG (3-4 June), where member states started discussing the Group’s programme of work and agreed basic rules of procedure —including the way decisions will be made and the involvement of non-government stakeholders.

The second was the UNIDIR Cyber Stability Conference, where Sheetal made the case for greater stakeholder engagement. The Conference was a valuable opportunity for both government representatives and other stakeholders to gauge the main issues that will come up at the OEWG and GGE.

On the margins of these events, GPD met with a diverse range of other groups, with a focus on information-sharing, coordination and network building.




  • Unsurprisingly, given the precedent that the OEWG process could set, there’s a lot of interest from member states to engage. Almost 100 member states attended the organisational meeting, many via capital-level representation—which suggests that the stakes are seen to be high.
  • There’s little sign of disagreement (for now…). There was agreement on basic modalities, including reaffirming that outcomes should be consensus-based. However, current geopolitical dynamics between the key players are expected to play a significant role in shaping discussions as the two processes evolve.
  • There was a commitment to ensure OEWG discussions complement the GGE discussions. This was reflected in the selection of Chairs for both processes – Brazil (GGE) and Switzerland (OEWG); Swiss being GGE member was one of the criteria for their selection.

On the modalities for the OEWG:

  • OEWG registration for all non-governmental stakeholders (including tech companies) will be open in the coming days via the UNODA website.
  • Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis and approved on a “no-objection basis”, meaning as long as no government objects to an application, they will be registered. If successful, they will be eligible to attend subsequent meetings.
  • It’s currently unclear how non-governmental stakeholders will be able to participate (i.e. whether there’ll be an opportunity to take the floor). This will be known when the programme of work is finalised by the Chair and published; possibly at the end of June or beginning of July, but there could be delays.

On what will be discussed at the OEWG:

  • The importance of building on the 2015 GGE consensus report (A/70/174) and operationalising existing norms was raised multiple times, suggesting that some member states might want to make this the focus of the OEWG agenda.
  • Some member states expressed concerns that discussions could stray into issues outside the remit of the UNGA First Committee—and hinted at possible disagreements further down the line on issues like cyber threats. For example, can content like “fake news” or “hostile propaganda” be classified as a cyberthreat and if so, what does this mean for how the internet is regulated?
  • Disagreement also seems likely on the question of whether new norms are even needed (some states think that the current norms are sufficient).



The OEWG Chair, Switzerland, will now start consulting member states and will publish a full program of work in due course, including a more detailed outline of modalities.

GGE regional consultations will be run by the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (ODA) in consultation with relevant regional organisations. In this, the ODA have committed to engaging non-governmental stakeholders.

This is what we know so far in terms of the dates for the regional consultations:

  • EU consultation: 20 June. This will include a civil society segment.
  • Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) consultation: end of June. The OSCE civil society network will be consulted.
  • Organization of American States regional consultation: 15-16 August.
  • Asian Regional Forum in October (dates tbc)
  • African Union consultation: early 2020 (dates tbc)



In terms of opportunities for civil society engagement, there are three practical ways to get involved now:

  • Identify areas of interest and develop key messages to feed into the next OEWG meeting in September. Our explainer on the GGE and OEWG, outlining the key concerns from a human rights perspective, is a good place to start.
  • Look into the possibility of hosting a side-event on the margins of OEWG’s first substantive session in September.
  • Prepare a joint statement in October as part of UNGA First Committee Session discussions. See the statements from the last session here,

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