Civil society betrayed by the CSTD

In its meeting on 6 December, the CSTD (United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development) decided to establish the Working Group for IGF improvement as a government-only working group, in flagrant disregard of ECOSOC resolution 2010/2, and contrary to earlier promises at the Vilnius IGF meeting for an open, multi-stakeholder group on the model of the WSIS Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG). The group will instead have 15 governmental members (three from each UN region) plus five governmental representatives from the five host countries of the IGF. Behind all their diplomatic words, this shows the contempt with which the international community of states really holds multi-stakeholder governance. Of course, this outrageous decision has been presented with a positive spin. The Chair of the CSTD claims that “all stakeholders which are allowed to participate in the CSTD work are invited to participate in the first meeting of the working group on IGF improvements scheduled for December 17.” This sounds good until you realise that:

  • Very few of the civil society organisations active in Internet governance are “allowed to participate in the CSTD work,” as this requires ECOSOC accreditation which is difficult and time-consuming to obtain. Previously other NGOs who were accredited to WSIS were also invited to participate, but this invitation has since lapsed.
  • Although a few large, well-resourced NGOs may be able to speak and have input into the discussion, these stakeholders will not be able to make decisions on recommendations to be put forward by the working group.

As I put it on the IGC’s governance mailing list a couple of days ago, I am put in mind of the way that the OpenOffice.org community recently broke away from Oracle (formerly Sun), which had become unfriendly to the open source community, to form the Document Foundation, and renamed its product LibreOffice. Quoting from its Web site:

The Document Foundation will continue to be focused on developing, supporting, and promoting the same software, and it’s very much business as usual. We are simply moving to a new and more appropriate organisational model…

If Internet governance processes in the UN system continue to become more intergovernmental, it may force members of the IGF, including civil society society, private sector and governments supportive of multi-stakeholder democratic principles, to break away and operate independently…