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The Secretary General Hamadoun I. Touré met civil society representatives during the just concluded World Conference on International Regulations (WCIT). The meeting had been requested by CSOs in attendance, to air their concerns as regards ITU.
The meeting kick started with three CSO reps outlining concerns. These included the substance of ITRs and what they should not address namely the internet/ICTs, internet governance, cybercrime etc., as these are handled in other platforms such as the IGF and ICANN through the multistakeholder model.
The process of WCIT was another concern. Mainly that registration for CSOs was not possible in certain countries as government operatives claimed that WCIT is a plenipotentiary meeting. A number of CSOs got accreditation as sector representatives, while those who were able to join their governments felt constrained as they could not air their views since all concerns had to be channeled through the official head of the delegation.
As such CS could not speak on matters of substance as this would not be representative of official delegations. This limited participation was identified as problematic.
CSOs felt that their expertise would be more useful if the ITU structure allowed for CS to attend as stakeholders. They impressed upon the Sec Gen on the need to look for ways of working together. Additionally, mobilizing resources by CS organizations to attend is not possible with all these restrictions.
As a way of moving forward, the CS representatives expressed the desire to engage and participate in a multistakeholder process. They suggested the need to recognize diversity and allow representatives to participate just like at WSIS.
In response, Hamadoun I. Touré pointed out that the meeting with CS was actually his initiative, and therefore he welcomed the letter written to him by the CS requesting for the meeting.
He pointed out that the ITU was a technical agency which has over 700 private companies as members. He welcomed CS organizations dealing in telcom issues to apply for membership and if they qualified, membership fees would be waived.
Additionally, he reported that this was the first treaty making meeting to be open to private members and members of the public through the telecasts. The rationale for closing meetings to members only was that this is a treaty making where people negotiate, give and cede certain positions, some take hardline positions and if this is webcast, it may open up to some teams sticking to positions and being unwilling to be flexible in the negotiations. Closing the meetings to members has been seen as allowing openness and transparency.
He refuted that WCIT would be about taking control of the internet and against freedom of expression. He faulted the many reports that had highlighted this matter and was emphatic that ITU's mandate is confined to infrastructure and not content.
Further, he pointed out that WSIS was the first conference where CS representatives were not demonstrating because they had been welcomed to participate. The IGF was born out of this process.
The CEO of ICANN was invited to WCIT so that it is understood ITU has a different mandate and cannot enter into internet governance. "ITU cannot have any new mandate that is not covered in the ITU strategic plan which runs until 2014. ITU provides networks and has come up with standards to allow for efficient flow of information through the internet. The problem areas in the negotiations are where issues overlap, but the ITU cannot for example deal with content”, said Toure.
He went on to report that ITU had recommended to governments to open up the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs) documents to the public, and encouraged them to include stakeholders in their delegations, although he insinuated that some CS usually have hidden agendas and therefore makes it difficult for them to be invited.
In sum, he promised to discuss with his Chair the issues raised by CS, and to also look into how other organizations such as UNESCO, WIPO, ICANN etc., are embracing multistakeholderism.