Stephanie Borg Psaila   23 Nov 2010   Internet Governance

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The mandate of the Internet Governance Forum expired with its 5th meeting in Lithuania two months ago. A renewed mandate for another five years is currently being debated at the UN. At which stage are the negotiations?

The five-year mandate of the IGF was spelt out in paragraph 72 of the Tunis Agenda. Five years ago, the Tunis Agenda also outlined the procedure for review (paragraph 76), by which the UN Secretary General would be asked “to examine the desirability of the continuation of the Forum, in formal consultation with Forum participants, within five years of its creation, and to make recommendations to the UN Membership in this regard.”

Discussions on the future of the IGF started well over a year ago. During the 4th meeting, the closing session, chaired by UN Undersecretary General Mr Sha Zukang, was dedicated to the IGF’s future. Formal consultations ensued, and the Secretary General presented the recommendations in favour of an extension.

On 2 November, 2010, Yemen presented, on behalf of the members of the Group of 77 (G77) and China, a draft resolution entitled ‘Information and communications technologies for development’. Felix Sakamande, who is following the process in New York, describes the draft as a good attempt at capturing concerns, including the democratic management of Critical Internet Resources, the broadening of the digital divide, and the honing of the IGF’s funding model. The draft resolution was presented under Item 17 of the agenda of the Second Committee, the UN committee entrusted with economic and financial matters.

During the past three weeks, informal negotiations have been taking place within the Second Committee with a view of agreeing on a final draft. Negotiations are now taking place among states. Once they conclude negotiations within their own groups and arrive at a consensus, the Second Committee will then forward its draft text for consideration in the plenary of the General Assembly.

Sounds straightforward. In reality, since negotiations are taking place behind closed doors, we are left to wonder whether states will face a hard time in reaching consensus in the Second Committee, and later on at the General Assembly.

The Intellectual Property Watch has already tagged the text as controversial, due to oversight and funding issues. We are therefore left to wonder also what amendments will be introduced. Will the changes iron out the controversy? Will multistakeholderism continue to be emphasised? And will we finally see any reference to principles that protect the Internet’s architecture and our increased reliance on it?

That the IGF will be extended for another five years is almost considered a fait accomplit. The object of contention is not the renewed term of mandate. It’s how the IGF will be mandated to proceed that we’ve set our eyes on.

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