5.1.2. First phase

The Geneva phase of WSIS took place from 10 to 12 December 2003, attended by almost 50 heads of state, 175 national delegations and approximately 12 000 participants. In addition to the formal plenary sessions, almost 300 other events took place during the Geneva phase from 5 December, including three multi-stakeholder round table discussions.

None of these events will receive further consideration here. Rather, our attention will be limited to the Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action, drafting of which was complete before the Geneva phase of the summit officially even opened. Although the IGF was not conceived until the Tunis phase of the summit, a brief analysis of the Geneva output documents is important not only to set the scene, but because the principles agreed in Geneva remain one of the few fixed points of reference by which any reforms that may be proposed for the IGF will be judged by the international community of states. Declaration of Principles

The core of the Declaration of Principles is contained in eleven “key principles for building an inclusive Information Society.” Only two of these call for examination here, but the subjects of the others may be gleaned from the headings they are given in the Declaration which are as follows:

The need for multi-stakeholder involvement in Internet governance is enshrined in the very first of these principles, which provides in full:

Governments, as well as private sector, civil society and the United Nations and other international organizations have an important role and responsibility in the development of the Information Society and, as appropriate, in decision-making processes. Building a people-centred Information Society is a joint effort which requires cooperation and partnership among all stakeholders.[1]

This theme recurs in the paragraphs on Internet governance within the explication of the “Enabling environment” principle, which deals with the need for an international and national legal and economic environment to support the development of the Information Society. It defines the agreed roles of the stakeholder groups as they were briefly referred to in the Introduction and will be repeated in the Tunis Agenda:

We reaffirm that the management of the Internet encompasses both technical and public policy issues and should involve all stakeholders and relevant intergovernmental and international organizations. In this respect it is recognised that:

  1. Policy authority for Internet-related public policy issues is the sovereign right of States. They have rights and responsibilities for international Internet-related public policy issues;

  2. The private sector has had and should continue to have an important role in the development of the Internet, both in the technical and economic fields;

  3. Civil society has also played an important role on Internet matters, especially at community level, and should continue to play such a role;

  4. Intergovernmental organizations have had and should continue to have a facilitating role in the coordination of Internet-related public policy issues;

  5. International organizations have also had and should continue to have an important role in the development of Internet-related technical standards and relevant policies.[2]

The Declaration of Principles continues by calling for the establishment of WGIG, and states:

The Internet has evolved into a global facility available to the public and its governance should constitute a core issue of the Information Society agenda. The international management of the Internet should be multilateral, transparent and democratic, with the full involvement of governments, the private sector, civil society and international organizations. It should ensure an equitable distribution of resources, facilitate access for all and ensure a stable and secure functioning of the Internet, taking into account multilingualism.[3] The stakeholder groups revisited

Already, some lack of clarity in the definitions of the stakeholder groups has appeared, which is something of a hallmark of the WSIS output documents. In some paragraphs, either intergovernmental organisations[4] or international organisations[5] appear to be treated as separate stakeholder groups. Even more problematically, the two occasionally seem to be conflated.[6]

Except in such cases where intergovernmental and non-governmental international organisations are treated together, the phrase “international organisations” is generally used in the WSIS output documents to refer to the institutions of the Internet technical community. This much is clear from the definition of their role as a stakeholder group: “the development of Internet-related technical standards and relevant policies.”[7]

Although there is no entirely satisfactory basis upon which to reconcile these conflicts, it will be taken that the authoritative statement of stakeholder groups in post-WSIS Internet governance is limited to governments, the private sector and civil society. This is largely consistent with the terms of the WSIS output documents; for example, in that the definition of the roles of stakeholders refers to “all stakeholders and relevant intergovernmental and international organizations”[8] which suggests that intergovernmental and international organisations are not to be considered as stakeholders in their own right.

It can also be justified on the conceptual basis that, as already observed, the legitimacy of intergovernmental organisations as a stakeholder group is purely derivative in nature,[9] and by the same token the legitimacy of non-governmental international organisations is, or is drawn from, that of civil society and/or the private sector. It is also consistent with the view of WGIG, which took it that there were only three distinct stakeholder groups[10] (after having specifically considered adding the technical community as a fourth).[11]

This certainly does not mean that intergovernmental and other international organisations should be excluded from multi-stakeholder governance processes. On the contrary; their participation is important on instrumentalist grounds, respectively because of their centrality to the existing international system and to the present architecture of the Internet. For example, even if all stakeholders, including all affected governments, reached agreement on a reform to intellectual property law, it would not be possible to effectuate that reform without also securing the involvement of WIPO; and neither would it be possible to effectuate reforms to the technical architecture of the Internet without the involvement of the IETF.

However, this does not require those institutions to be treated as separate stakeholders rather than as observers,[12] advisers, or as members of one or more of the other stakeholder groups as appropriate. For example, ICANN’s GAC could participate as an intergovernmental organisation, the ALAC as civil society, and the GNSO’s commercial and business users constituency as a member of the private sector. Plan of Action

Much less time needs to be spent discussing the Geneva Plan of Action, which builds upon the Declaration of Principles by setting out a range of general objectives to be achieved by the application of those principles. These are categorised into eleven action lines, one for each of the principles, that have been referred to in follow-up documents and activities by their identifiers “C1” to “C11.” There are also eight subsidiary lines under C7, “ICT applications: benefits in all aspects of life,” namely e-government, e-business, e-learning, e-health, e-employment, e-environment, e-agriculture and e-science.

Most of the objectives are very general, leaving specific targets to be determined on a national level, and making no prescription of the means by which they are to be accomplished. By way of example, action line C5 (“Building confidence and security in the use of ICTs”) simply states in respect of spam that parties are to “[t]ake appropriate action on spam at national and international levels.”[13] These do not require further consideration here.

One of the more specific action lines is C6 (“Enabling environment”), which requests the UN Secretary-General to establish the WGIG “to investigate and make proposals for action, as appropriate, on the governance of Internet” [sic].[14] It was originally expected that governance of the Internet would be dealt with in the Geneva output documents themselves, but when agreement could not be reached, even when PrepCom 3 was twice extended to PrepCom 3A and 3B, the deferral of this issue pending the report of a smaller task force was a compromise reached around 24 hours before the official opening of the summit.[15]

Internet governance was not the only issue so deferred. Another section of the Plan of Action, following the eleven action lines, established a Digital Solidarity Agenda, with the aim of “putting in place the conditions for mobilizing human, financial and technological resources for inclusion of all men and women in the emerging Information Society.”[16] As part of this Agenda, calls were made by developing country governments for the establishment of a Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF) for financing ICT infrastructure development.

As agreement on this issue could not be reached within the Geneva phase either, the Plan of Action called for it too to be reviewed by a dedicated task force, which became the Task Force on Financing Mechanisms (TFFM). As it transpired, the DSF was established outside the WSIS process altogether in March 2005, as an independent multi-stakeholder network.[17] This largely disposed of the issue prior to PrepCom 3 of the Tunis phase, and no further discussion of it will be necessary here either.



WSIS, Geneva Declaration of Principles (2003), para 20


WSIS, Geneva Declaration of Principles (2003), para 35


WSIS, Geneva Declaration of Principles (2003), para 48


WSIS, Tunis Agenda for the Information Society (2005), para 73


WSIS, Geneva Declaration of Principles (2003), para 48


WSIS, Geneva Declaration of Principles (2003), para 20; WSIS, Tunis Agenda for the Information Society (2005) , para 52


WSIS, Geneva Declaration of Principles (2003), para 35


WSIS, Geneva Declaration of Principles (2003), para 35


See Section


WGIG, Report of the Working Group on Internet Governance (2005), 8–10


Doria, Avri, WSIS, WGIG, Technology and Technologists (2005)


As they do within the IGF’s Advisory Group: see Section


WSIS, Geneva Plan of Action (2003), para 12(d)


WSIS, Geneva Plan of Action (2003), para 13(b)


Kleinwächter, Wolfgang & Stauffacher, Daniel, Introduction (2005), 4


WSIS, Geneva Plan of Action (2003), para 27


See http://www.dsf-fsn.org/.