While outcomes of a process like the WSIS+10 Review process are non-binding, they can shape and inform what states do at the national level. They are essentially a set of promises made by states, which can then influence other related debates, be cited in high-profile documents by other bodies, and be used (by civil society and the public) to remind governments of their commitments. Getting the right language into the WSIS+10 Review outcome document was therefore seen as important.
The following issue areas were identified as key priorities for civil society:
- Development: ICT for development and access had been central to the WSIS at the Geneva and Tunis summits, but had gradually slipped off the agenda in favour of internet governance issues like enhanced cooperation. The Review was seen as a way to reinstate development as a core WSIS priority.
- Security: the WSIS offered an opportunity to ensure that states committed to a human-rights respecting agenda on security.
Another key area for discussion was the roles of stakeholders. The WSIS ‘Tunis Agenda’ (the outcome document of the second summit), while reiterating that international policy making ultimately rests with states, did also acknowledge the essential role of other stakeholders. The Review offered the opportunity to restate the importance of an open, transparent, and inclusive approach, and review the role of the IGF in the broader internet governance landscape.
Pre Review (January-June 2015)
Before June 2015 – and even before the modalities of the Review were set out – civil society groups began to prepare for the Review. Coordination and information sharing activities in this period were carried out online through mailing lists, and during a dedicated face-to-face coordination meeting.
Online communication: Civil society groups used existing mailing lists to share information about the upcoming review. A dedicated mailing list was created in May, which was then used during the Review process to share information on modalities and procedures and coordinate joint submissions of text into the Review.
Face-to-face meeting: Held in Paris in March 2015, this meeting brought together more than thirty groups from around the world. It enabled civil society to:
- Share information about the process;
- Begin to coordinate joint priorities and messages to feed into the review;
- Map related processes and events;
- Identify potential allies, and key actors to lobby.
During Review (June-December)
There were two official opportunities to input into the draft outcome text of the process; the first draft, or ‘non-paper’ (July 2015) and the second draft or ‘zero-draft’ (October 2015). A third round of comments on the draft was opened by the co-facilitators following the IGF, following pressure from groups, who wanted an additional chance to comment on the draft. More than 100 civil society groups in total either submitted text into one or both of these documents, or signed onto joint submissions.
Non-government stakeholders also participated in the two in-person Informal Interactive Consultation Meetings held in July and October 2015, and were able to engage with the co-facilitators at the 2015 Internet Governance Forum (IGF) at a dedicated main session and side meetings. Notably, civil society were also able to participate in the High-Level meeting where the outcome text was adopted. Although the text had already been finalised by this point, this illustrates civil society’s success in opening up the process to greater non-governmental input.
In the absence of official UN-coordinated regional meetings and financial support from the UN, civil society groups had to be proactive in coordinating their engagement. This meant both carving out new spaces, and repurposing existing ones.
This took place at several levels.
National level: At the national level, groups reached out to national decision makers, including representatives of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and of Telecommunications/ICT departments. For example, in India, civil society groups shared their submissions into the draft outcome text through a roundtable and meetings with policymakers.
Regional level: At the regional level, civil society organised informal face-to-face meetings in order to broaden engagement and identify joint priorities which could then be used for advocacy with state representatives. This took a variety of forms. In some cases, sessions on the WSIS+10 Review were organised at existing platforms or events such as national and regional IGFs. In other cases, groups pooled funding in order to organise dedicated events on the Review, such as in Asia and the African IGF.
Global level: Building on these national and regional efforts, an informal face-to-face meeting, bringing together a diverse range of groups from across the world, enabled civil society to deliver a joint submission into the Review, which suggested specific text edits based on an agreed set of civil society priorities.
The WSIS+10 outcome document was adopted by all members of the UN General Assembly at its 70th session in December 2015 (A/RES/70/125). It was generally recognised as a progressive text, in particular for:
- Its inclusion of a separate section on human rights, perhaps the most significant and obvious impact of civil society engagement in the WSIS+10 Review. This section included language on surveillance and on privacy, preceding the section on “building confidence security in the use of ICTs”. This was important because it helped to balance text in that section otherwise strongly emphasised issues like national security, terrorism and cybercrime.
- Its nuanced articulation of the digital divide and of access, acknowledging the importance of addressing inequalities in gender, educational level, and geography (rural/urban). The text also included a standalone paragraph on gender, and a commitment to ensuring the “full participation” of women in decisionmaking processes related to ICTs.
- Its call to strengthen the IGF through reforms. The outcome document said that the IGF’s mandate should be renewed for ten years, rather than the five which had at one point been proposed, and also incorporated some of the recommendations of a 2012 UN working group report on “improvements to the IGF”, such as having formal IGF outcomes from each conference. Since the IGF is one of the only international multistakeholder internet policy forums, strengthening its outcomes could help civil society play a greater role in shaping internet governance norms and policy development.
All of these aspects of the outcome document corresponded to text edits suggested in a joint contribution from global civil society, and reflect sustained advocacy and lobbying efforts around the submission.
But civil society’s gains were not limited to the text itself. By putting pressure on the co-facilitators and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), and by lobbying states, civil society were able to secure many more opportunities for input into the WSIS+10 Review process than had been originally set out by the co-facilitators in June. This included an additional opportunity to input into a draft of the text in November, and the chance to address all stakeholders at the High-Level Meeting, where the outcome text was adopted. This sets an important precedent for future WSIS-related engagement.
This text has been compiled by Global Partners Digital, on the basis of observations and input by civil society groups and individuals participating in the WSIS Review process. Special thanks go to Deborah Brown of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) .