WCIT WATCH: ITU Secretary General issues information note addressing civil society concerns at WCIT

WCIT WATCH: ITU Secretary General issues information note addressing civil society concerns at WCIT

Last week, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) published an information note from Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré dated December 14 in which he reports to ITU Members on the ITU’s “ongoing and constructive dialogue with Civil Society.” The information note responds point by point to concerns raised in a December 9 letter from members of civil society and provides an account of a December 10 meeting between Touré and members of civil society present in Dubai for the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT).

Additionally, the information note includes an annex containing submissions from civil society to the ITU’s public comment platform for WCIT. Nearly 70 civil society representatives had requested that these submissions be included in an information note for the official historical record of WCIT in the December 9 letter. Some members of civil society reiterated this request in a separate post-WCIT statement issued on December 28.

It is unfortunate that while the information note responds to concerns communicated by members of civil society to the ITU, it is addressed to Members of the ITU and locked behind password protection for which only governments and sector members have access. The information note has been made available for public viewing through WCITLeaks.

The content of the information note is pasted, below. The full document with annexes is available here.

The December 9 letter from members of civil society referenced in the ITU’s information note can be viewed here.

The Decmber 28 post-WCIT statement from members of civil society on the future of multi-stakeholder engagement at the ITU can be viewed here. The ITU has communicated that it will provide a response to this statement as well.

Check this site for further analysis and updates.


Note by the Secretary-General


I would like to take the opportunity during WCIT-12 to report to Members on our ongoing and constructive dialogue with Civil Society. You will recall that you instructed me to establish a web page to gather public comments from civil society group. This public platform was established and some twenty nine contributions (attached) were submitted by civil society groups. We greatly appreciate the hard work and effort that civil society groups invested in this exercise and we duly promoted their contributions and encouraged our members to consult the inputs during national-level preparations and consultations for the conference.

During the year, and increasingly as we approached the conference, myself and my team have engaged with different civil society representatives and organizations. We have listened to their concerns and proposals and we have taken on board their concerns, many of which are related to a perception that ITU is unnecessarily closed to civil society membership and participation and is not transparent or flexible enough when it comes to sharing institutional documents or facilitating access to our various meetings, working groups and committees. 

During WCIT12 a great many civil society representatives have been present either as part of delegations, as sector members or as public observers. In a letter dated 09 December 2012, these civil society representatives published an Open Letter where they outlined three main areas of concern. This Open Letter is also published on the ITU website. In advance of receiving this letter I had extended an invitation to meet with civil society representatives at the conference so I could hear their ideas and concerns.

On the 10 DEC 2012 we met together in Room F at the World Trade Centre and had a very good discussion lasting approx. 80 mins. The meeting began with some opening comments from civil society organizations present and centered on ongoing concerns about any increased or regulatory role that ITU would play in Internet governance; concerns about how many civil society representatives have difficulties to be included in their national delegations and thus experience difficulties to travel to WCIT12 or participate in any meaningful way; an interest to develop the experience of WCIT12 as an opportunity to continue our dialogue and relationship between the ITU and civil society moving forward, particularly with the approaching WSIS and WTPF events.

In response to the Open Letter I had this to say: 

• I appreciate this opportunity to talk with you today. It was my intention to call this meeting so I am glad that you also shared the same thinking. I appreciate the inputs that we have already received from Civil Society, I assure you they are making a difference, and we should continue to engage after WCIT.

• We need your help in particular to ensure that ITU, and the role of ITU is better understood. If certain member states want to propose texts that are not popularly supported they are free to do so – it does not mean that it is part of the ITU agenda, rather it means that ITU is a forum where everyone is free to express their opinions.

• I believe WCIT12 is playing a truly significant role in bringing several contentious issues out in the open where the public and media are better informed about the nature of these issues, the details of the differences of opinions and the need for a multi-stakeholder forum going forward so we can eventually agree and ensure that people of the world increasingly benefit from digital inclusion. 

• I wanted also to thank you for your support and solidarity last week. Many of you issued statements urging misguided activists not to hack or sabotage the workings of the conference. I think these calls for support were critical in avoiding a potential disaster and it showed that on many issues we stand as one and I thank you again for that. 

• As I mentioned in my opening speech – just because some may not share the same views on how certain issues should be moved forward, does not mean that we do not share the same common objectives.

Reply to the specific questions raised in the Open Letter:

• We ask that you work with us to find an effective manner to bring these public comments into the deliberations while they remain relevant, for example by including them as Information Documents (INF) in the document management system.

First of all, allow me to recall that for WCIT-12 ITU has moved continually to share documents and information. All input documents are currently available; we webcast plenaries and Comm 5 in six languages with captioning. We provide a platform through ITU TV for members and delegates to share their views and are constantly engaging and sharing information via our social media channels. In short, we are more open than ever before and I am very proud of this progress. 

With regard to public comments – the Secretariat was specifically instructed not to process the comments in any way, so we did not plan to produce a compiled document. In October this was communicated to civil society via Access Now who informed us they would share our responses through their network. At their request we also extended the 03 November deadline to allow additional submissions from Civil Society. 

Any Member State can, at any time, submit a contribution, which could include any of the public comments and the ITU Secretariat regularly informed and promoted the public comments to its Members. After the deadline for submissions in November we followed up with a letter to Member States reiterating what has been said previously i.e. “Member States are encouraged to give due consideration to views and opinions expressed at this website in their preparation for the WCIT-12.” 

I will inform our members again about the existence of the submissions and include them as an annex to an Information Note which will update members on the ongoing dialogue that the ITU is having with civil society. 

• We ask that you further enhance the transparency of the WCIT by allowing access to and webcasting of the Committee 5 working groups.

This issue was debated at length during the open plenary, proposed originally by Sweden, and was not agreed by Members. As Secretary General I cannot overrule my members but I can inform them of your request and seek their support for it.

• We recognize that the current institutional structures do not facilitate independent civil society participation in the work of the ITU. Given that it is unlikely that institutional changes can be implemented during the WCIT, we ask that the two above issues be addressed immediately and that the ITU commit to reviewing and putting in place mechanisms that will encourage a more flexible approach to participation by civil society.

Only the Plenipotentiary Conference of the ITU – the highest governing body of the organization – can change institutional rules and procedures or effect changes to the ITU Constitution. I believe post-WCIT-12 we will have time to take stock and provide our membership with some important recommendations in line with what you raise. I would also take the opportunity to remind you that all civil society organizations, who are international in nature and who are working in the area of ICTs are welcome to join the ITU and apply for exemption of fees. I believe we will all benefit from a greater civil society engagement at ITU and in line with this I recently invited the International Trade Union Movement to join.


I believe that the contributions from civil society and the engagement we have increasingly had with them in the run up to WCIT-12 has been important in raising awareness about our respective roles and responsibilities, organizational structures, differing methods of work and advocacy and so on. Civil society groups have provided some very important inputs and observations and I believe their increased participation as members of the Union will ultimately benefit our work and our reputation. I extend a promise to look for examples within the UN system which ITU might use to model greater civil society engagement.

Many of the issues we discuss now and in the future will have inevitable aspects of convergence between the telecommunications and Internet worlds and when this happens the voice of civil society needs to be heard and needs to have a channel within the ITU where it can be acknowledged and formally contribute. 

Annexes: Views and opinions from Civil Society to WCIT-12