" ITREALMS: WSIS-05; Beyond Tunis commitment

Thursday, December 08, 2005

WSIS-05; Beyond Tunis commitment

Features of the week:

The second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS-05) ended recently in the Tunisian capital, with mixed feelings across the stakeholders on the Tunis Commitment, reports REMMY NWEKE.

At the end of every United Nations organised summit, nowadays, there is a ‘statement of commitment’ by the involved member-nations to ensure that implementation goes beyond mere gorgeous speeches from country representatives.

The second phase of the World Summit on the Information (WSIS-05), which ended penultimate Friday in Tunis, capital of the northern African country, Tunisia, was not left out as there was a document tagged ‘Tunis Commitment’.

President of the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) of the Tunis Phase,
Ambassador Janis Karklins, said the second phase held between November 16 and
18, 2005, was a reiteration of unequivocal support for the Geneva Declaration of
Principles and Plan of Action adopted at the first phase of the WSIS in Geneva
in December, 2003.

“We reaffirm our desire and commitment to build a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society, premised on the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations (UN), international law and multilateralism, and respecting fully and upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, so that people everywhere could create, access, utilise and share information and knowledge, to achieve their full potential and to attain the internationally-agreed development goals and objectives, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),” the Tunis commitment stated in part.

The summit reaffirmed the universality, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelation of all human rights and fundamental freedom, including the right to development, as enshrined in the Vienna Declaration, just as it also reaffirmed that democracy, sustainable development, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as good governance at all levels are interdependent and mutually reinforcing and further resolution to strengthen respect for the rule of law in international as in national affairs.

The phase attended by 19,401 participants as at Friday, November 18, with States and European Community recording 5, 857 participants representing 174 entities, the international organisation recorded 1,508 with 92 entities represented.

The Civil Society Organisations (CSO) has 6,241 representing 606 entities, whereas 4,816 came from the business sector on behalf of 226 entities while 979 came from the media representing 642.

Further, the phase reaffirmed paragraphs 4, 5 and 55 of the Geneva Declaration of Principles where it recognised that freedom of expression and the free flow of information, ideas, and knowledge, are essential for the Information Society and beneficial to development.

According to the office of Mr. Karklins, “The Tunis Summit represents a unique opportunity to raise awareness of the benefits that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) can bring to humanity and the manner in which they could transform people’s activities, interaction and lives and thus, increase confidence in the future”.

Hence, the summit was an important stepping-stone in the world’s
efforts to eradicate poverty and to attain the internationally-agreed
development goals and objectives, including the MDGs.

Mr. Karklins said in the submission that by the Geneva decisions, the summit established a coherent long-term link between the WSIS process, and other relevant major United Nations conferences and summits, calling upon governments, private sector, civil society and international organisations to join forces to implement the commitments set forth in the Geneva Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action.

This is in addition to the context of the outcomes of the Tunis phase on the review of the implementation of the Millennium Declaration which are of special relevance.

He stressed that the summit’s commitments made in Geneva and build upon in Tunis by focusing on financial mechanisms for bridging the digital divide, on Internet governance and related issues, as well as on follow-up and implementation of the Geneva and Tunis decisions, as referenced in the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society (IS).

While reiterating the important roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders, the Tunis Commitment outlined what in paragraph 3 of the Geneva Plan of Action, was the acknowledgement of the key role and responsibilities of governments in the WSIS process.

In this stead, the summit restated the resolve in the quest to ensure that everyone could benefit from the opportunities that ICTs could offer, by recalling that governments, as well as private sector, civil society, United Nations and other international organisations, should work together to achieve.

These consist of improving access to information and communication infrastructure and technologies as well as to information and knowledge; build capacity; increase confidence and security in the use of ICTs; create an enabling environment at all levels; develop and widen ICT applications; foster and respect cultural diversity; recognise the role of the media; address the ethical dimensions of the IS; and encourage international and regional cooperation.

The phase ended with a confirmation that these are the key principles for
building an inclusive Information Society, the elaboration of which could be
found in the Geneva Declaration of Principles. Just as participants recognised
that access to information and sharing and creation of knowledge contributes
significantly to strengthening economic, social and cultural development, thus
helping all countries to reach the internationally-agreed development goals and

The document noted, this process could be enhanced by removing barriers to universal, ubiquitous, equitable and affordable access to information even as underlining the importance of removing barriers to bridging the digital divide, particularly those that hinder the full achievement of the economic, social and cultural development of countries and the welfare of their people, particularly in developing countries.

Besides, ICTs are making it possible for a vastly larger population than at any time in the past to join in sharing and expanding the base of human knowledge, and contributing to its further growth in all spheres of human endeavour as well as its application to education, health and science.

ICTs have enormous potential to expand access to quality education, to boost literacy and universal primary education, and to facilitate the learning process itself, thus laying the groundwork for the establishment of a fully-inclusive and development-oriented IS and knowledge economy which respects cultural and linguistic diversity.

“We emphasise that the adoption of ICTs by enterprises plays a fundamental role in economic growth. The growth and productivity enhancing effects of well-implemented investments in ICTs could lead to increased trade and to more and better employment,” the document declared.

Additionally, it was recognised that both enterprise development and labour
market policies play a fundamental role in the adoption of ICTs, precipitating
the invitation on the governments and the private sector to enhance the capacity
of Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs), with the hope that they provide
the greatest number of jobs in most economies.

By soliciting a joint stakeholders input in placing the necessary policy, legal and regulatory frameworks that foster entrepreneurship, particularly for SMMEs, the summit underscored ICT revolution as having a tremendous positive impact as an instrument of sustainable development.

It also maintained that an appropriate enabling environment at national and international levels could prevent increasing social and economic divisions, and the widening of the gap between rich and poor countries, regions, and individuals; including between men and women.

The issue of building ICT infrastructure did not pass untouched as a call for adequate emphasis to be on developing human capacity and creating ICT applications and digital content in local was made. While language, where appropriate, should be used to ensure a comprehensive approach to building a global IS.

Recognising the principles of universal and non-discriminatory access to ICTs for all nations, the need to take into account the level of social and economic development of each country, and respecting the development-oriented aspects of the IS, was equally highlighted that ICTs are effective tools to promote peace, security and stability, to enhance democracy, social cohesion, good governance and the rule of law, at national, regional and international levels.

ICTs, the summit agreed could be used to promote economic growth and enterprise
development. Infrastructure development, human capacity building, information
security and network security were also recognised as critical to achieve these

Further recognition was given to the need to effectively confront challenges and threats resulting from use of ICTs for purposes that are inconsistent with objectives of maintaining international stability and security and may adversely affect the integrity of the infrastructure within states, to the detriment of their security.

Therefore, the summit said it was necessary to prevent the abuse of information resources and technologies for criminal and terrorist purposes, while respecting human rights.

And in furtherance to the commitment, various nations were tasked to evaluate themselves and follow up progress in bridging the digital divide, taking into account different levels of development, in order to reach internationally-agreed development goals and assessment of effectiveness of the investment and international cooperation efforts in building the anticipated Information Society.

Governments of all nations were urged to use the potential of ICTs, to create public systems of information on laws and regulations, visualizing a wider development of public access points and supporting the broad availability of this information.

It is widely believed that full and timely implementation of the decisions which were taken in Geneva and Tunis, as outlined in the Tunis Agenda for the IS will go a long way in enthroning a truly Information Society.
Secretary-General of UN, Mr. Kofi Annan has dismissed those who thought the summit was to undermine the United States role in managing the technical aspect of the Internet.

While the chief organiser of the summit and secretary- general of the
International Telecommunication Union, Mr. Yoshio Utsumi, was satisfied with the
outcome of the summit, stressing that countries should continue to dialogue on
key issue centered on Internet Governance (IG) with the IG forum coming on

Obviously, this was why, Head, National IT Development Agency (NITDA) Mr. Vincent Olatunji informed Champion Infotel in Tunis that the agency would restrategise to enable it implement the WSIS outcome within its own framework.

As we look forward to actual implementation process, it is hopeful that beyond the second phase of WSIS’ tunnel is the light of the 21st century society built on ICTs.

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