UN-backed summit ends with declaration on 'information society for all'

12 December 2003

The first phase of a United Nations-backed global summit on information and communications technologies (ICT) ended today with the unanimous adoption of a declaration on the values of an "information society," one that protects the freedom of the press, strives for universal access to technological progress and respects multilingual and diverse content, as well as a plan of action emphasizing cooperation and partnerships between governments, the private business sector and civil society.

The Declaration of Principles expresses "the common desire and commitment" by governments at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) to build a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented information society, where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge.

The Declaration also voiced the hope that individuals, communities and peoples would be enabled to achieve their full potential in promoting their sustainable development and improve their quality of life, premised on the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and respecting fully and upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Plan of Action translates the values expressed in the Declaration into deeds that would achieve development goals by promoting the use of ICTs and to help countries overcome the digital divide. It notes that the information society is an evolving concept that has reached different levels across the world, reflecting the different stages of development.

The Plan also emphasizes the important role that governments, the private sector and civil society have in developing and implementing comprehensive, forward looking e-strategies. International and regional institutions also have a key role to play in integrating the use of ICTs in the development process and making available the necessary resources for building the information society and for the evaluation of the progress made.

Among some of the contentious issues that were dealt with in the outcome documents, delegates agreed to set up an open and inclusive working group on Internet governance to make proposals for action prior to the second phase of the summit in Tunisia.

On a fund to finance the development of ICT around the world, delegates assigned a review of existing funding mechanisms to a task force under the auspices of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and asked it to also study the feasibility of a voluntary Digital Solidarity Fund.

Yoshio Utsumi, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the lead UN agency in organizing the Summit, said he was pleased with the outcome of the meeting in that the international community had plotted a course that would take it to Tunisia in November 2005, and had agreed on a common set of policy principles. Furthermore, a set of actions had been agreed upon.

Earlier Friday, Mark Malloch Brown, Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), noted the conference was the first to deal with a number of new issues, such as digital governance and the funding of a global digital infrastructure, and observed that no international consensus had emerged on them.

It is a good thing "we'll get a second bite of the apple" at the second part of the conference in Tunisia, he told a press briefing, as "this Summit will be remembered for not what it achieved so much as the fact that for the first time, it framed the issues and put them on the international agenda, and began but certainly did not finish the job."


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