19 Sept 2005 – Opening Plenary (10:00am – 12:00pm)

So,
all in all, a much more politically charge
d day than I thought it would
be. For the first time possibly ever, I was actually impatient to be on time
for the Opening Plenary of an event. I sat through about 30 minutes of speeches
given by the usual men in suits talking about how information society (IS) can
help development, alleviate poverty, empower the people, help development, create
opportunities, boost employment, benefit humanity (you would think we were
talking about the invention of white rice), help development, help development
blah blah blah.








Everyone
wanted to cash in on the IS money train by calling for global solidarity,
rising above narrow interests, staking the issues that the ‘right’ driving of
IS can foster, but not a single VIP mentioned complicity in the problems that
they wanted IS to solve, except perhaps for the vice president of the Swiss
Confederation of Foreign Address, who hinted that ICTs (information
communications technologies) might be responsible for widening the gap between
the rich and the poor.








Anyway,
then the agenda was approved, chairpersons of Sub-committee A (dealing with
internet governance) and Sub-committee B (dealing with all other issues) and
the Rapporteur were elected, and then came the issue of accreditation.








Applications
received from civil society organisations and business entities up to
1st
August 2005
,
as well as organisations that has consultative status with ECOSOC were
accredited. When the chair motioned for the agenda item to be closed, I held my
breath… would any delegate bring up the issue of HRIC’s accreditation? Since
observers did not have the floor to speak during this session, it would really
be up to HRIC’s lobbying of sympathetic governments to bring up this issue on
their behalf. My inner drama addict was not disappointed. The United States of
America (US) delegate sought clarification on the rejection of HRIC’s
application for accreditation. Not only that, the United Kingdom (UK) delegate
supported this issue by expressing its concern. No small feat since the
UK also represents the European
Union (EU), which in turn amounts to 27 other countries.








Charles
Geiger reiterated his carefully constructed response, much like yesterday’s: that
the Executive Secretariat is bound by the rules of procedure for accreditation,
which requires the submission of set of information from entities seeking
accreditation. This includes copies of the annual reports with financial
statements and list of financial sources and contributions, including govt
contributions, “if applicable”. The HRIC submitted two annual reports, and a list
of donors with the remark “and other generous supporters”. Apparently this was
not good enough. They needed a complete list of donors, especially re:
government donors (since HRIC apparently stated that they received financial
contribution from governments in the World Conference Against Racism, WCAR, held
in
Durban in 2002). There is
evidently some history here, which was not given the time nor space for
clarification or further information (as astutely and sardonically noted by the
UK delegate later, this was a meeting on Information Society). So when discussions were made with the
International Human Rights League (which HRIC is working with on this platform,
since they do not have accreditation), an auditor’s report was produced which
stated that there were no government contributions to the organisation in 2004.








Seems
fairly straightforward. But this was still insufficient since HRIC adamantly
stood its ground on protecting the identities of some of its donors who wished
to remain anonymous. I can understand why. If I was a person with some money,
living in
China and want to support HRIC’s
human rights work, should the Chinese government find out I have been
supporting one of their biggest pain in the neck, I could face serious trouble
at home. But rules are rules. This isn’t a complete file, despite repeated
reassurances from Mr. Geiger that HRIC have been transparent in their
application and that it is three inches thick, the application was rejected.








The
US delegate then expressed
their continued sense of being troubled by the matter and proposed a motion
that the organisation be accredited, especially in light of well-considered
concerns over issues of privacy. Thus, the first linguistic code of WSIS was
invoked (in the internet governance issue, protection of privacy is a huge
priority). This was for me, an eye-opening experience of tactical international
politics by States at a global platform. Watch carefully.








The
delegates from China then questioned how many other organisations were refused
accreditation, and stated that the plenary should not waste 10% of their 60
working hours available for the entire prep com 3 to discuss about
organisations whose failure to be accredited is clearly justified, especially
those organisations with “dubious governmental links”. Hmm… a judgement call
thickly buttered over through impeccable English (‘thank you’, ‘appreciate’,
‘valuable explaination’ etc etc etc).








Not
wishing to let things lie, the C
anadian delegate jumped into
the fray by expressing her concerns over the process. She noted that
considering the great care and attention given to language at such platforms,
no where does it state in the rules of procedure that a complete list is necessary. The Cuban delegate then asked for the agenda
item to be closed by displaying its confidence over the Executive Secretariat’s
“independence” and “objectivity” in dealing with the issue, namely that HRIC
does not satisfy all requirements for accreditation.








By
this point, I was getting lost in all the twists and turn of pulling things out
to convey meanings that were hidden under layers of rules and procedures – or
at least that was what it seemed to me. The Chair possibly sensed the
impatience of other delegates to get on with the agenda, and proposed that the
agenda item be suspended for further informal consultation with intereste
d delegates.








Nope,
the delegates from
China were not satisfied with
this. They insisted that this is a non-issue, and that should the consultation
an
d
d
iscussion
continue, then it will open up a “pandora’s box” of discussing all the other
organisations that also failed to be accredited, which they claim to be a break
from precedence and established traditions. Some back and forth arguments about
‘points of clarification’, ‘expressions of concern’, ‘explainations on rules
and procedures’:  China - UK - Chair - China - Chair - China - Chair - China - C
anada - China - Canada - China - Canada - Mr Geiger. It was like
watching an exhausting and slightly bewildering game of tennis/chess.








After
a five-minute suspension to the plenary, it was decided that China’s motion for
a roll-call vote on the issue of procedure (to break, or not to break with
tradition, that is the question) – despite the fact that the Executive
Secretariat explained that there has been no precedence of this matter in the
WSIS process (though, if I have understood correctly, there has been plenty in
other UN summits and meetings, where informal consultations were held).








So!
Each State was called and had to vote on whether they agreed with China’s
motion of not proceeding with the
discussions, disagreed with this motion and wanted to persist in further
discussions, abstain from voting, or if there is silence, be recorded as
‘absent’. The voting took roughly half an hour, and the results were somehow predictable.
There were 122 delegates recorded as present, where 52 were in favour of the
motion, 35 against and 74 either abstained from voting or were absent. When I
spoke to the women working in HRIC (who by random luck were sitting three seats
away from me at the observer’s platform), apparently a roll-call vote was also
conducted in WCAR; with slightly better results though: 50 against them, and 45
in support.








Slightly
deflated, and hungry (this matter took up the entire morning and the plenary
had to be continued at the afternoon session), I tried to interview Sharon Hom
of HRIC but she was hurrying off to speak to the delegates from
China, as well as to thank
delegates from countries that supported their struggle. Or maybe it was because
I let it slip that I am a newbie in international advocacy to her colleagues
earlier. Hmm…








So
anyway, why is this such a huge issue? After all, with or without
accreditation, HRIC is still able to be present at the meeting (under the
auspices of another NGO who is
accredited, i.e. the International Human Rights League), lobby the State
delegates there, and raise their issues and perspectives at the civil society
caucuses. As mentioned, I am relatively new to high level lobbying work, so I
sought out the opinions of Karen (Banks of APC WNSP) and Avri (Doria of International
Engineering Task Force, IETF).








It
would appear that the implications have both symbolic and material weight.
Firstly, by piggy-backing on another organisation’s accreditation, autonomy and
independence is compromised. No matter how supportive the host organisation may
be, the riding organisation would still need to speak through the cloak,
priorities, work and language of another. They can’t leave organisational
materials like books, pamphlets, urgent call for alerts etc. around, they can’t
organise side or parallel events in their own right, they can’t intervene and
speak at panel sessions, they probably can’t even have a name tag that says
which organisation they’re from. Identity is lost.








It
is an unspoken (well, maybe only audible in private corners) fact that the
efficacy of international advocacy platforms are at best, intangible. However,
these spaces and events create an opportunity to network, become more visible
in certain fields, which in turn legitimises (to some extent) the
organisation’s work in a particular area, which then makes (potential/actual)
funders and partners refer to it intimately on acronym-basis, and importantly,
gives it credible weight that necessitates recognition by governments of the
locales it works with/in. This then lends itself negotiating power at the
various nexus of struggles that may or may not require impeccable language
(‘expresses concern’, ‘appreciate clarification’, ‘explainations on procedures’
=/) for results.








Further,
the tennis/chess game witnessed illuminated for me the subtle undercurrents of
geopolitics played through HRIC as a site of contest. A majority of countries
from the economic ‘North’ (e.g. U.S., Norway, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden,
Australia) opposed China’s motion while countries that rub shoulder with China
in a more ambiguous fashion (e.g. Malaysia, which made me wonder if my
country’s vote in favour of China’s motion had anything to do with Deputy Prime
Miniter Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s economically-urged and enthusiastic visit
to the country recently) either agreed or abstained from voting. It became a
slippage from ‘should we discuss this further or not’ into ‘are you for fundamental human rights like
freedom of expression and information, or against it?’.






I
wonder how HRIC feels about this, that their localised struggle for legitimacy
has also become a place where government giants try to outbid each other in a
summit about information for development, freedoms, and justice. I wished I got
that interview with
Sharon
!



[an unofficial civil society report of this session can be found on the CONGO site]


jac smk



Responses to this post

Hey Mavic!<br />Thanks for the comment. Really good to hear you're enjoying the blog. I guess it's one of the most effective ways to try and make sense of the confusion that are UN processes, while still being frank about being blur like a squid ;-) Hope it is somehow bringing the event closer to home.. Would be interested to find out about what happened at the Summit! Apparently only three civ soc reps spoke? Maybe you should start a blog on IWTC site :-D --jac
Posted on 09/22/2005 - 22:35 | Reply
Hi Jac, <br />Thanks for your blogs. I enjoy them immensely. Having been part of a few UN processes, I get a sense of deja vu. Most of the tme it's very frustrating --in the middle of it you want to ask yourself --"what am I doing here?" "what are all these clowns talking about?" "such a waste of time and resources!" But I still believe that there's something to be gained --the term 'sexual harassment' for example, did not exist before but now there are legislations against it. That of course happened becuase of the sustained lobbying and advocacy efforts of women --like what we are doing in the WSIS now ...By the way, the 2005 World Summit has just concluded --which was actually a done deal even before it started. You can't expect bold and dramatic changes from such global meetings like these. The governments always try to find a common platform wherein they can have some consensus. Why am I not surprised that there was no mention of media and ICTs role in advancing women's status, promoting women's empowerment and gender equality? Certainly because it's not seen as a 'quick win' agenda item. --Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, International Women's Tribune Centre and AMARC Women's International Network
Posted on 09/21/2005 - 14:08 | Reply

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