Civil Society Addresses Issues for WSIS

Friday, July 23 2010

Civil Society Addresses Issues for WSIS

By Dafne Plou
Europe and North America WomenAction (ENAWA) Media Team at WSIS

The WSIS Civil Society Plenary unanimously adopted the Civil Society Declaration to the World Summit on the Information Society this week.  The document “Shaping Information Societies for Human Needs” sets a landmark in the type of consensus-building that envisions the priorities to which civil society should commit to in order to develop a people-centred and an inclusive approach to the Information Society. Civil society representatives came together to produce this declaration in order to overcome the narrow understanding that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) mean telecommunications and the internet, marginalising key issues of knowledge and technology development.

The civil society content and theme group of the WSIS process took a first step some weeks ago by producing a list of essential benchmarks. In them, civil society bases its inclusive approach on the respect of human rights principles and development priorities. This was done with the conviction that these principles and priorities should be embedded throughout the WSIS Declaration of Principles and Action Plan. Civil society plans to assess the outcomes of the WSIS process against these benchmarks.

The benchmarks start by establishing that the WSIS Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action should take the international human rights framework as their foundations. This implies the full integration and concrete application of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including labour rights, the right to development and the principle of non discrimination.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is recognised as fundamental to the information society. The right to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas regardless of frontiers are central in its development.

The right to development is included among the essential benchmarks. The need to challenge existing inequalities among and within nations and to struggle against poverty is considered a top concern that should be a priority in the WSIS agenda. The document states that "it is not possible to achieve sustainable development by embracing new communication technologies without challenging existing inequalities."

The issue of social justice is also strongly presented. Addressing gender issues, the document considers that "an equitable and inclusive Information Society must be based on gender justice and be particularly guided by the interpretation of principles of gender equality, non-discrimination and women's empowerment", as stated in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Disability, labour rights and indigenous rights are also considered with a social justice perspective.

The benchmarks address internet governance which "must be based on the values of open participation, inclusiveness, transparency and democratic accountability." They affirm that "many stakeholders, cooperating in strict accordance with widely supported rules and procedures, must define the global agenda". On intellectual property, these principles recognise human knowledge, including the knowledge of all peoples and communities, as the heritage of all human kind and the reservoir from which new knowledge is created. "Limited intellectual monopolies, such as copyrights or patents, are granted only for the benefit of society, most notably to encourage creativity and innovation."

Security and the right to privacy are also discussed in the list of benchmarks. "The power of the private sector and governments over personal data, including monitoring and surveillance, increases the risk of abuse, and must be kept to a minimum under clearly, specified, legal conditions," the document says.

Other issues include: sustainable development; literacy, education and research; cultural and linguistic diversity; access and infrastructure; free software; media and community media; access to information in the public domain; and open access to scientific information.

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