My views and short report – UN Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation

Here are my personal views and a short report as a participant in the Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation (UNWGEC) – its second meeting just happened in Geneva (6-8 of November). It just follows the latest edition of the UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF) held last October in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia.

In the discussion of enhanced cooperation among nations for the advancement of the information society and knowledge (and with this phrase I try to synthesize my view of the subject), the IGF is always taken into account, both to highlight its (relative) relevance and to suggest the way forward for international governance of the Internet.

Several governments also insist that the 2005 Tunis Agenda (attached in PDF), a non-binding commitment among governments, should not be changed — some even hail the Agenda as a “bible” to be followed, even if it has not been followed by some of the very governments which view it as such, and even if the dynamics of rapid worldwide development of the Internet requires periodic revisions.

The Tunis Agenda contains a lengthy specification of the mandate the IGF should follow, as described in its paragraph 72:

72. We ask the UN Secretary-General, in an open and inclusive process, to convene, by the second quarter of 2006, a meeting of the new forum for multi-stakeholder policy dialogueócalled the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). The mandate of the Forum is to:

  1. Discuss public policy issues related to key elements of Internet governance in order to foster the sustainability, robustness, security, stability and development of the Internet.
  2. Facilitate discourse between bodies dealing with different cross-cutting international public policies regarding the Internet and discuss issues that do not fall within the scope of any existing body.
  3. Interface with appropriate intergovernmental organizations and other institutions on matters under their purview.
  4. Facilitate the exchange of information and best practices, and in this regard make full use of the expertise of the academic, scientific and technical communities.
  5. Advise all stakeholders in proposing ways and means to accelerate the availability and affordability of the Internet in the developing world.
  6. Strengthen and enhance the engagement of stakeholders in existing and/or future Internet governance mechanisms, particularly those from developing countries.
  7. Identify emerging issues, bring them to the attention of the relevant bodies and the general public, and, where appropriate, make recommendations.
  8. Contribute to capacity building for Internet governance in developing countries, drawing fully on local sources of knowledge and expertise.
  9. Promote and assess, on an ongoing basis, the embodiment of WSIS principles in Internet governance processes.
  10. Discuss, inter alia, issues relating to critical Internet resources.
  11. Help to find solutions to the issues arising from the use and misuse of the Internet, of particular concern to everyday users.
  12. Publish its proceedings.

It is clear that this broad mandate is not being fulfilled by the IGF. First of all, these items show that the IGF should be a process-oriented forum, not merely a sequence of events.

Secondly, there are clear references to recommendations that should be generated by the IGF – for example items e, g, h, and i – which have been basically ignored by the UN.

The fact is that the IGF is leaving aside significant components of its mandate, and even governments which swear fidelity to the Tunis Agenda have not given importance to these shortcomings. Further, the MAG (which is dedicated only to organize each yearly event) is composed basically on UN-filtered sectorial representation but not the necessarily on the expertises needed to carry out this challenge.

It is therefore necessary to rethink the IGF if it is deemed to be (or might become) a central instance of enhanced cooperation. Otherwise it might be replaced in favor of other ways to advance this process.

As for WGEC, whose goal is to deliver recommendations on enhanced cooperation to the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (UN UNCSTD) in the first half of 2014, which will be brought to the UN General Assembly in September of the same year, the work so far has revealed some worrying weaknesses.

The central result of the first meeting of WGEC, in June 2013, was the production of a questionnaire that was answered by all sectors. There were 69 responses , thus distributed: 29 from governments, 23 from civil society, 11 from the “technical-academic” sector, and eight from the business sector. More than half of the responses came from developing countries.

It produced a consolidation of the results with some flaws (including the mistakenly taking responses from the Best Bits group of NGOs for the APC responses), but even so the consolidation gave a reasonable idea of the various views of the working group in relation to themes of cooperation and improved governance of the Internet. [summary is attached in PDF]

The summary and procedures in the second meeting (6-8 November) reveal the risk of retracing the path already followed for building the Tunis Agenda, as well as the efforts of the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG , which met November 2004 to June 2005). Effectively, significant time was consumed in preparing a list of over 300 topics possibly related to Internet governance and enhanced cooperation. Group difficulties in dealing with such a number of issues in order to try to group them into key issues was such that we constituted a specific group (“correspondence group”) to come up with a short list of topics. The perception of “d√ɬ©j√ɬ†-vu” for the old-timers who participated in the WGIG and the WSIS process is inevitable.

One of the problems of a working group like this is that participants are defined in terms of their sectoral representations and not necessarily because of their expertise on the issues (something similar to what occurs with MAG). This creates an additional difficulty for both the consolidation of the issues and the drafting of a qualified report.

Faced with the lack of time and the uncertainties generated by this process, some sectors have presented concrete proposals, which I relate below.

A group of civil society organizations and individuals presented an interesting list of possible recommendations to be evaluated and possibly adopted in the final report WGEC (I added the numbering for easy future reference). I have reservations about the effectiveness of the role of IGF so far, but overall I agree with the approach and consider a contribution to guiding the future WGEC report. Their suggestions:

Draft recommendations bullets prepared by a group of WGEC Members and Observers

  1. Acknowledges that the Tunis Agenda, if it is to continue as a reference point for all stakeholders, should be considered as a living document which needs to be updated to reflect the roles and responsibilities of all participants;
  2. Encourages the rethinking of the stakeholder roles that were defined by governments unilaterally in the Tunis Agenda, noting that these roles were originally defined by governments in December 2003, Geneva Declaration of Principles;
  3. Affirms that the internet belongs to everyone: everyone can use it and everyone can improve it: this also applies to its governance;
  4. Acknowledges that Enhanced Cooperation is well underway as intended in Tunis Agenda paragraphs 67 through 75;
  5. Concludes that no new multilateral arrangements, are required for Enhanced Cooperation;
  6. Acknowledges that new mechanisms spring into existence organically as they are needed and that there is no need to create new mechanisms in a top down manner;
  7. Acknowledges the efforts of various existing mechanisms to understand internet governance and to make public policy in light of, and taking into account, its multi-stakeholder nature;
  8. Congratulates the IGF for its work in meeting its Tunis Agenda defined role in fostering Enhanced Cooperation;
  9. Encourages the IGF to cover all issues of Internet governance that are of concern to stakeholders and to form ongoing Issue Discussion Groups within the IGF to make recommendations on these issues to the larger IGF community;
  10. Encourages the IGF to follow the recommendations of the CSTD WG on IGF Improvements including its mandate to give advice to the functional Internet governance and management organizations;
  11. Encourages those making public policy to engage more fully in the IGF and to bring to the IGF their questions on internet related matters within their mandates;
  12. Encourages all governments to commit to the IGF, and to use the IGF process as an opportunity not just to engage with all other stakeholders, but as an opportunity to work with each other on an equal footing;
  13. Invites all Internet governance and management organizations to participate in the IGF.
  14. Reinforces the multistakeholder approach and encourages all stakeholders to engage more in and work with existing organisations and to explore ways in which stakeholder engagement can be enhanced.

In summary, the path is to focus, focus, focus on a small but essential set of topics and try to build proposals for enhanced cooperation among nations (rather than just among governments) around these themes (and this points to the requirement of pluriparticipative processes all along). Otherwise, the WGEC will end up replaying the generalities of much of the Tunis Agenda and will barely advance.

On the side of governments, suggested guidelines came from the governments of Brazil, Mexico, the UK and Sweden:

  • Members [of the UN] should explore ways to strenghten participation of all stakeholders from developing countries in existing global internet governance fora including through funding mechanisms and alternative working methods such as remote participation.
  • Members should increase efforts to empower stakeholders to particpate through capactity building, including but not limited to, training programs, awarness raising, best practice sharing.
  • Members should work with developing countries to create a fair and consistent domestic framework that stimulates competition and creates affordable access for all stakeholders.
  • The role of governments should include, but not be limited to, to empower internet users, ensure a fair and consistent legal framework that is transparent accountable and equitable and protect human rights online, to foster a robust global internet infrastructure and support mulitstakeholder processes and partnerships.

At this point, I believe the proper junction of the two proposals can help speed up the process towards the final report of the WGEC.