Decision not to decide saves Information Society summit

A few last-minute compromises cleared the way for the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) which will be attended by over 60 Heads of State and Government in Geneva from 10-12 December.

After an intensive round of negotiations over the weekend, the negotiators were able to reach a compromise over the three outstanding controversial issues, clearing the way for the actual Summit:

  • freedom of expression: China and other developing countries had problems accepting the wording of the Summit declaration on the issue of free speech and human rights. The negotiators agreed to use a reference to the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights instead of the more critical original text;
  • internet governance:the question of who should run the internet (the American semi-private body ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) or a regulatory body of the UN, as proposed by the developing countries. The controversy was solved by putting the issue on the back burner: the UN will set up a working party which will report back to the 2005 Tunisia Summit;
  • financing of information society in the developing world:African countries have asked for the creation of an international fund (a ‘digital solidarity fund’) to help poorer states finance information society projects; European countries, Japan and the US prefer to use existing aid money. The compromise would be to look into the possibility for such a fund but without giving any firm commitments.


Human rights organisations criticised the choice of Tunisia as host of the second phase of the Summit. Pointing to several violations of freedom of speech and expression in Tunesia, theWorld Organisation against Torturestated that the International Telecommunications Union (the UN agency organising the Summit) would have done better choosing another country in Africa where democracy is being developed (such as Senegal or South Africa).


In 1998, the United Nations decided to hold a World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) to ensure that everyone would have access to the latest information and communication technologies. In order to come up with plans to bridge the so-called 'digital divide', the UN will organise the Summit in two phases: the first one, to be held in Geneva from 10-12 December 2003; the second one scheduled for 16-18 November 2005 in Tunisia.


  • The first phase of WSIS takes place in Geneva from 10-12 December 2003;
  • The second Summit will be held in Tunisia from 16-18 November 2005.


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