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Swiss hold out hope for summit success

The summit wraps up on Friday Keystone

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) stands a greater chance of success, thanks to last-minute negotiations led by the Swiss.

This content was published on December 9, 2003 - 08:12

Delegates have managed to agree on most of the key sticking points to be tackled at the United Nations gathering, which kicks off on Wednesday in Geneva.

But they remain divided over the issue of who will pay for the development of information and communication infrastructures in poor countries.

Following a weekend of intense, closed-door discussions in Geneva, a final round of talks is being held on Tuesday – the eve of the summit – in an attempt to overcome this last stumbling block.

Swiss role

“The work isn’t done yet, but I’m confident that we’ll succeed,” said the head of the Swiss Federal Communications Office, Marc Furrer, who is brokering the eleventh hour discussions.

The WSIS was originally called to help bridge the digital divide between industrialised and developing nations, but negotiations quickly became entangled in topics such as press freedom and control over the internet.

As the host country of the event, Switzerland was charged with leading formal and behind-the-scenes talks between government delegations, after a fourth round of preparatory meetings in November failed to resolve outstanding differences.

“We took the lead as the facilitator, negotiator and mediator on all of the topics and I could see how much Switzerland, as a country, is accepted in this role due to our impartiality and neutrality,” Furrer told swissinfo.

Another high-ranking Swiss official, Daniel Stauffacher, said he was surprised by the “willingness of all countries to make compromises and to help Switzerland make this [event] a success”.

“We got a lot of support and at the end of the day, everybody made some great concessions, while not compromising their interests,” he added.

Digital solidarity

Late on Saturday, negotiators from 192 countries managed to agree on almost all of the draft documents to be presented to the more than 60 heads of state or government expected to attend the summit.

Disputes over references to human rights, media freedom, intellectual property rights and internet governance and security have all now been resolved.

The only outstanding question is whether a special international fund should be created to subsidise the integration of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in poor countries.

Most African countries support the idea – tabled by Senegal - while many industrialised nations staunchly oppose it, saying they believe existing funds should be redirected towards ICT development.

Other delegations, including the Swiss, would like to see both possibilities examined further before taking a decision on whether to launch a special fund.

“It’s clear we need resources, but we should first check whether there are already resources, because some exist but are not used,” said Furrer.

On Tuesday, negotiators will be focusing on the wording of a text saying that a further study is needed before any fund is created.

“The stakes are very high for everyone,” said Stauffacher. “But we’re sure we’ll reach an agreement on the text, and then everything will be agreed.”

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in Geneva

Key facts

Over 60 heads of state or government are expected to attend the World Summit on the Information Society, which starts on Wednesday in Geneva.
Thousands of representatives of civil society, the private sector and international organisations will also take part in the event.
The aim of the WSIS is to make sure all people have access to the emerging Information Society.
But deep divisions over issues like financing, human rights and internet governance have forced organisers to hold last-minute talks ahead of the summit.

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