Press Releases

    ECOSOC/6218
    12 July 2006

    Economic and Social Council Discusses Implementation of, Follow-Up to Major United Nations Conferences, Summits

    Also Takes Up Economic, Environmental Questions: Science, Technology for Development

    (Reissued as received)

    GENEVA, 10 July (UN Information Service) -- The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) this afternoon discussed two topics under its general segment, namely the implementation of and follow-up to major United Nations conferences and summits; and economic and environmental questions: science and technology for development.

    Ali Hachani, President of ECOSOC, said the general segment of the substantive session began today, with the consideration of the report of the Secretary-General on the modalities of the inter-agency coordination of the implementation of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) outcomes including recommendations on the follow-up process under item 6, entitled "implementation of and follow-up to major United Nations conferences and summits", and of the report of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) on its ninth session. 

    Patricio Civili, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said the main message of the Secretary-General's report was that implementation of and follow-up to WSIS outcomes would require consistent support and guidance from national governments, the systematic engagements of relevant intergovernmental bodies and international organizations, as well as the active involvement of all other stakeholders.  It was hoped that the information on the steps undertaken by the Secretary-General and the United Nations system, as well as the recommendations contained in the report would help the Council to formulate conclusions and provide guidance to the system, so that the momentum already generated in the follow-up was sustained in the period ahead.  

    In a keynote address, Jamaludin Jarjis, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation of Malaysia, said access to information should now be regarded as a utility and basic human right.  It should be recognised that the current conventional development means and institutions were no longer adequate or appropriate for the knowledge-driven economy and society, where knowledge capital was the "new currency" and the new "raw material".  The United Nations should and could be a key playmaker for the formation of a global information society, possibly seeking an extended mandate with new operating models driven by knowledge.  Developing countries needed knowledge and ICT for development, but they should respond to the needs of the recipients and benefit them, according to their own economic, social and cultural environment.   

    Dirk Bruinsma, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, said the implementation and follow-up of the outcome of the WSIS constituted a compelling objective to UNCTAD.  All should make efforts in the implementation of the goals in an efficient manner, further working on the strengthening of the digital divide so that developing countries could benefit from the information society.  UNCTAD had made the implementation of and follow-up of the major UN conferences and summits through its mechanisms a priority on its agenda.

    Speaking in the course of the general discussion were the representatives of South Africa for the Group of 77 and China, Finland for the European Union, the Russian Federation, Switzerland, Byelorussia, the United States, Slovakia, Chile, Guinea, Egypt, Cuba, El Salvador, Argentina, Guinea-Bissau, the International Telecommunication Union, and the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization.  Also speaking was a representative of the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations.

    The next meeting of the Economic and Social Council will be at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 11 July, when the Council will start its operational activities segment, taking up the operational activities of the United Nations for international development cooperation. 

    Documents

    The report by the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (E/2006/31), on its ninth session considered the agenda item "bridging the technology gap between and within nations" as the substantive theme.  The session provided an opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of science and technology for development, to share national experiences and to identify specific measures needed at the national and international levels to bridge the technology gap, including the digital divide.  Under the substantive theme, the Commission recommended to the Economic and Social Council the adoption of a resolution on science and technology for development, in which the Council would welcome the Commission work on the substantive theme while acknowledging that the technology gap between and within nations, including the digital divide, is wide and substantial.

    The Commission held a multi-stakeholder panel discussion on the role of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development in United Nations system-wide follow-up to the outcome of the World Summit on the Information Society.  The Commission agreed that the substantive agenda item for the 2006-2008 review and policy cycle will be "promoting the building of a people-centred, development-oriented and inclusive information society, with a view to enhancing digital opportunities for all people", with special emphasis on development dimensions of information and communication technologies, including risk-benefit analysis to bridge the digital divide.  A joint bureau meeting was held between the Economic and Social Council and the Commission on 16 May 2006. The President of the Council briefed the bureaux on the outcome of the Council open-ended consultation on the role of the Commission in the follow-up to the World Summit on the Information Society held the same day.

    The report of the Secretary-General (E/2006/85) on modalities of the inter-agency coordination of the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society, including recommendations on the follow-up process, says the outcomes of the Geneva and Tunis phases of the World Summit on the Information Society outline a comprehensive vision for a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented information society, in which information and communication technologies would be harnessed to empower individuals, communities and nations to achieve their full potential.  At present, the benefits of the information and communication technology revolution are unevenly distributed between countries and within societies.  Participants in the Summit therefore stated their firm commitment to turn the digital divide into a digital opportunity for all, particularly those who risk being left behind and being further marginalized.

    The implementation of the Summit outcomes is particularly challenging for many reasons. These include the complex and interconnected nature of the issues involved, the rapidity of change in the field of information and communication technology, and the cross-cutting nature of the issue, which touches on the mandates of most United Nations entities.  As the focal point for inter-agency coordination with respect to implementation, the United Nations Group on the Information Society will interface with country-level coordination arrangements spearheaded by the resident coordinator system and with the United Nations Development Group. The principal task of the resident coordinator system will be to mainstream the Summit outcomes into the United Nations Development Assistance Framework/common country assessment and poverty reduction strategy papers and to support Governments in incorporating Summit outcomes and information and communication technologies into their national development strategies and e-strategies.

    Statements

    ALI HACHANI (Tunisia), President of the Economic and Social Council, said the general segment of the substantive session began today, with the consideration of the report of the Secretary-General on the modalities of the inter-agency coordination of the implementation of the World Summit on the Information Society outcomes including recommendations on the follow-up process (E/2006/85) under item 6, entitled "Implementation of and follow-up to major United Nations conferences and summits", and of the report of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) on its ninth session (E/2006/31). 

    The Summit took place in two phases: in Geneva in December 2003, and in Tunis, in November 2005.  The outcomes of both phases of the Summit received endorsements by the General Assembly.  The Summit addressed a number of specific requests to the Council, including that the Council oversee the system-wide follow-up of the Geneva and Tunis outcomes.  The report of the Secretary-General contained a number of recommendations on how the Council could fulfil its oversight responsibility, as well as on how the CSTD could be strengthened to enable it to assist the Council in its task.  

    PATRIZIO CIVILI, Assistant-Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, introducing the report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), said that the four outcome documents of WSIS-the Geneva Declaration of Principles, the Geneva Plan of Action, the Tunis Commitment and the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society -- had collectively framed a compelling vision of the Information Society.  It had been said, "vision without implementation is an illusion".  The framers of those outcome documents were well aware of that and accompanied the vision with an extensive, forward-looking programme of action to carry forward the Summit's decisions.  The Geneva Plan of Action, adopted in 2003, set forth eleven Action Lines and established a set of connectivity targets to be reached by 2015, inspired by the Millennium Development Goals.  In the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society, world leaders agreed to a concrete blueprint and mechanisms to achieve those objectives, involving all stakeholders, and with particular reliance on different institutions and bodies within the UN system.

    The main message of the Secretary-General's report was that implementation of and follow-up to WSIS outcomes would require consistent support and guidance from national governments, the systematic engagements of relevant intergovernmental bodies and international organizations, as well as the active involvement of all other stakeholders.  It was hoped that the information on the steps undertaken by the Secretary-General and the United Nations system, as well as the recommendations contained in the report would help the Council to formulate conclusions and provide guidance to the system, so that the momentum already generated in the follow-up was sustained in the period ahead.  

    JAMALUDIN JARJIS, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation of Malaysia, in a keynote address, said the world was now moving closer to a global knowledge-driven and knowledge-enabled economy.  Access to information should now be regarded as a utility and basic human right. The United Nations and its organs were to be congratulated for taking a leading role towards the formation of a truly equitable global information society.  It should be recognised that the current conventional development means and institutions were no longer adequate or appropriate for the knowledge-driven economy and society, where knowledge capital was the "new currency" and the new "raw material".   The United Nations should and could be a key playmaker for the formation of a global information society, possibly seeking an extended mandate with new operating models driven by knowledge.  Certainly the multi-stakeholder approach was a step in the right direction. 

    Beyond the issue of physical access and connectivity, the substantive value and challenge of the global information society was on content and community issues with huge economic and societal implications.  The richness and diversity of content, culture, values and communities should be retained.  The real value of the networked and information society could be further realised when it would be possible to unleash and accelerate innovation for human advancement.  The proper environment for an information society that promoted innovation should therefore be created.  The Knowledge and ICT development agenda was a means to development, and should therefore be linked to the overall development programme.  The development need of different communities should be addressed to suit their development agenda.  A total solution should be provided beyond basic connectivity and information access, providing equal opportunity for all to learn and innovate while there was collective contribution to human development.  Developing countries needed knowledge and ICT for development, but they should respond to the needs of the recipients and benefit them, according to their own economic, social and cultural environment. 

    DIRK BRUINSMA, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that UNCTAD was fully involved in the work of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and was committed to its implementation.  The implementation and follow-up of the outcome of the WSIS constituted a compelling objective to UNCTAD.  All should make efforts in the implementation of the goals in an efficient manner.  UNCTAD believed that there were no more meetings but actions.  During the December meeting, UNCTAD would focus on the follow-up of the Summit, further working on the strengthening of digital divide so that developing countries could benefit from the information society.  UNCTAD had given a priority in its agenda to the implementation and follow-up of the major conferences and summits through its mechanisms.

    D. KUMALO (South Africa), speaking for the Group of 77 and China, said the World Summit on the Information Society requested the Council to oversee the system-wide follow-up of the outcomes.  In order to effectively assist the Council in its system-wide follow-up of the outcomes, while at the same time maintaining its traditional mandates on science and technology for development, the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) should be strengthened in terms of its membership, mandate, and working methods.  The CTSD should, among other things, review progress at the international, regional and national levels in the implementation of action lines, recommendations and commitments contained in the final documents of the Summit; make recommendations to the Council on policy guidance and concrete options for future activities with time-frames; and promote dialogue and build partnerships for further development of the information society with the participation of all stakeholders in accordance with the established practices of the Council. 

    The substantive support of UNCTAD should be enhanced to enable it to respond to substantive requirements of follow-up and to service the Commission.  UNCTAD should be provided with the necessary human and financial resources in order to enable it to provide enhanced support in light of the expanded mandate, and to ensure that it did not come at the expense of the valuable work that UNCTAD was already doing in Science and Technology Programmes.  The G77 and China remained available to engage in discussions and negotiations. 

    YRJO LANSIPURO (Finland), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the European Union relied on the United Nations system as the backbone of the overall coordination of the implementation by and with UN agencies and of the system-wide follow-up of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) outcome.  The European Union highlighted the role to be played by the UN Group on the Information Society, established within the framework of the Chief Executives Board for coordination of the UN system, as the focal point for inter-agency coordination of implementation and the roles the Council and the Commission on Science and Technology for Development would assume in the system-wide follow-up.  The European Union was pleased to associate itself with the Secretary-General's recommendations 19 and 20.  WSIS had to be placed in the broader context of internationally agreed development gaols, including the Millennium Development Goals, in both implementation and follow-up 

    The European Union stressed the unique multi-stakeholder character of the WSIS and applauded the intentions to mainstream that approach to all levels of implementation and follow-up.  The European Union took note of the recent launching of the Global Alliance for ICT and Development and of its potential as a tool for dialogue, coordination and advocacy.  The WSIS had left a valuable legacy that one should not squander.  The European Union was committed to continue its support to the WSIS process and to work, together with all stakeholders, for the attainment of its objectives.

    VLADIMIR ZIMYANIN (Russian Federation) said the conclusions of the last session of Commission on Science and Technology for Development were commended, and its results on the topic of reducing the technological gap between and within countries were noted.  Its progress on creating a network of scientific centres within countries was also noted, as was the need to strengthen the problems linked to science and development in the transition countries.  The Russian Federation would participate in consultations in the working group on issues of reform.  However, reform should not be at the expense of the existing mandate, but should be in line with the reform of other United Nations bodies.  As regarded participation in the Commission's work by NGOs, civil society and representatives of the private sector, this should be determined in accordance with the rules of procedure of the Council.  It was hoped that the fundamental dialogue with all interested delegations would take place under the context of the global alliance.

    THOMAS GASS (Switzerland) said that Switzerland felt that the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) follow-up should be an integral and equally important part of and firmly embedded in the integrated follow-up of the major United Nations conferences and summits in the economic, social and related fields.  The Council should therefore discuss the system-wide follow-up to the WSIS outcomes in the context of its annual consideration of the integrated and coordinated follow-up to and implementation of major UN conferences and summits, on the basis of a thematic approach of cross-cutting issues that would link the outcomes of WSIS with internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals.  The review by the General Assembly of the implementation of the WSIS outcomes scheduled for 2015 should also take place in the broader review of the internationally agreed development goals.

    The Council, in its system-wide follow-up to the outcomes of WSIS, should draw on the work of its subsidiary bodies, in particular a strengthened Commission for Science and Technology for Development (CSTD). The mandate of the CSTD should be extended.

    ANDREI SAINYKH (Belarus) said Belarus fully supported the draft resolution prepared by the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD).  The recommendations were of current interest, and could be an important contribution to overcoming the gap in the level of technological development between and within States.   A particular priority for Byelorussia was the implementation of technology and its modernisation, with participation of scientists and the industry, in the context of achieving the national development goals and the Millennium Development Goals.  To that end, a plan for a national innovation system was being innovated, and the CSTD's work would make a significant contribution to that work.  Also of great importance was the CSTD's work in the field of education, as young people were encouraged to work in science and technology.  The activity of the Commission to create centres to transfer experience was also very important, and the scientists of the developing countries should study research methods.  Efforts to intensify the Commission's work on reviews of scientific and innovation policies in countries were also important.  The proposal to expand the mandate, and areas of work of the Commission were supported, but this should preserve the priorities in its work, avoid duplication, and ensure just geographical distribution of the members. 

    TERRY MILLER (United States) said the World Summit on the Information Society had not given any mandate to the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD).  The United States believed that the review process of the work of the CSTD should be seen within the system-wide approach.  It also believed that the CSTD might have a limited role in the implementation of and follow-up to the UN conferences and summits.  The task to expand the CSTD would be costly and ineffective.   The focus of the discussion should be on the follow-up.  The duplication of tasks should be avoided by creating database, as did the ITU.  Unlike other agencies, the CSTD was composed of scientific individuals and it should maintain its scientific and technical nature.  The CSTD should continue with the resources available to it without further looking for additional resources.  The role of the private sector should be made to be involved in the work of the CSTD.  The consensus reached by the WSIS should be maintained.

    STEFAN MORAVEK (Slovakia), Chair of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD), said the CSTD was very honoured by the high level of confidence that the international community had placed in it to assist the Council in the follow-up to the World Summit on the Information Society.  The Commission had played an important role in the area of science and technology including ICT, as a forum for improving the understanding of science and technology issues, and for the formulation of recommendations on science and technology matters within the United Nations system.  In order to meet its objectives, it had adopted innovative modalities of work, particularly by using information and communication technologies and involving high-level policy makers, prominent experts, and Nobel laureates in its session. 

    The Commission had decided to select as its substantive theme for the 2006-2008 session "promoting the building of a people-centred, development-oriented and inclusive information society, with a view to enhancing digital opportunities for all people", which constituted the main commitment of the international community in the World Summit outcomes.  This clearly showed the full engagement of the Commission to its new assignments.  It looked forward to cooperating with all stakeholders involved in the implementation and follow-up to the World Summit in order to meet those important and challenging tasks.

    The representative of Chile said the consensus of the Tunis Summit was very important in the process of advancing the information society.  The Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) would assist the Council in the follow-up process of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).  For that reason, there was no need to create a new body to be entrusted with the task of implementation of the outcomes and the commitments of the WSIS.  The Commission should be in a position to design strategy for the purpose of increasing dialogue among the stakeholders of the Summit.  Since the Commission was an intergovernmental body, it was critically important to have the participation of governments and other bodies involved in the information society.  The WSIS had been an important outcome of the international community in the field of information.  It was important for the Secretary-General to highlight the problems arising from the implementation of the results of the WSIS. 

    ALPHA IBRAHIM SOW (Guinea) said Guinea supported the statement by South Africa.  The need to transform the digital gap into a digital opportunity for all should not be forgotten, in particular for the marginalized and those who might be left behind such as the least developed and poorer countries.  The Geneva Plan of Action of 2003 set forward 11 major orientations and a set of objectives based on the Millennium Development Goals.  These latter should be genuinely at the centre of the concerns that had been expressed, and Tunisia was to be commended for its efforts at ensuring success at the Summit.  A new approach was promoted, based on all stakeholders. 

    The establishment by the Secretary-General of the United Nations Group on the Information Society was welcomed, consisting of bodies and competent organizations of the United Nations.  A distinction should be made between inter-agency coordination and inter-governmental follow-up.  The Council's role of supervision and monitoring should also be emphasised.  The new mandate of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development was supported, but there should be consistency in the follow-up, particularly in the field, and in developing countries. 

    AMR ALJOWAILY (Egypt), associating himself with the statement made by South Africa on behalf of the Group of 77, said that Egypt had participated in the negotiating stages and later in the final work of the World Summit on the Information Society.  Egypt believed that there should be a follow-up mechanism to ensure the outcomes of the Tunis Summit.  The Economic and Social Council and the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) had been recommended by the Summit to carry out the implementation task.  The CSTD should be strengthened, instead of creating a body to deal with the implementation task.  Egypt stressed that the phases of the Tunis Summit should be based on a people-centred approach.

    OSCAR LEON GONZALEZ (Cuba) said Cuba associated itself with the statement of South Africa on behalf of the Group of 77 and China.  The representative of Egypt had said a number of things with which Cuba agreed.  In the opinion of Cuba, there was a debate that had already taken place at the World Summit, where resolutions had been adopted by consensus, and therefore the discussion held at the Summit should not be reverted to.  What was involved here was the fulfilment of the guidelines that had been set forth in the Tunis Declaration, and endorsed by the United Nations Member States.  What needed to be done was very clear: the Council should supervise the implementation throughout the system of what had been agreed at Tunis, and the Council should review the mandate, programme and composition of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development, including considering the strengthening of that Commission. 

    The session was quite clear, and all the elements which had come out of the Summit indicated that the Council should work in that direction.

    A. ALCAINE (El Salvador) said the delegation of El Salvador had actively participated in the Tunis Summit.  All the negotiators in the Summit were referring to strengthening and follow-up of the outcome of the Summit.  His delegation was ready to participate in an informal discussion on the issue of the follow-up.   The information society should be inclusive and for all people.

    MARCELO F. VALLE FONROUGE (Argentina) said the report of the Secretary-General contained a comprehensive description of the main points.  Argentina supported the concepts contained in the statements made by South Africa on the importance of supporting the working methods of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) in order to ensure that there was coverage of the follow-up of the outcome of the Summit.  It was important to strengthen methods of work and the mandate of the CSTD, and it was also important to look at equitable geographic distribution as an important element.  The body should be multi-lateral, but also equipped with multi-stakeholder elements.  The terms of reference had to be updated to ensure that the new tasks were covered.  It was important to analyse carefully the participation of all concerned in order to examine their different roles and ensure effectiveness and efficiency and avoid any overlap. 

    ALFREDO CABRAL (Guinea Bissau) said the Minister of Malaysia had clearly indicated the problems relating to the digital divide and the geometric growth.  There was a need for cooperation from those who mastered technology and its means.  And it was through such cooperation that the developing countries could achieve what they wanted to achieve relating to the digital divide.  The process of technology transfer required the participation of all.  The effectiveness of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development should be the guiding principle in its undertakings.

    ARTHUR B. LEVIN of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) said the World Summit process had enabled world leaders to address, for the first time, the broad and profound implications of the communications revolution on the future of society.  It had also produced concrete and far-reaching results that should facilitate the collective efforts to bridge the digital divide and that clearly recognised the vital importance of information and communication technology to economic and social development.  The World Summit's process had been a bold attempt to address the issues raised by information and communication technology in the context of a United Nations summit, while embracing an inclusive and multi-stakeholder approach designed to reflect the multidisciplinary and crosscutting nature of the issues. 

    As prescribed in Tunis, action was underway on the implementation side.  Meetings had already been held to organise and launch work under the 11 Action Lines.  The Council was given the main responsibility for the system-wide follow-up of the Summit.  The real success of the Summit would only be measured by the extent to which the world collectively fulfilled the commitments undertaken in Geneva and Tunis.  The goal of bridging the digital divide was not beyond reach.  The information society was fast taking hold throughout the world, reshaping lives, societies, and economies.  The ITU stood ready to continue its work so that the hopes and the dreams of the information society became a reality for all. 

    INGEBORG BREINES of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said it was important to improve cooperation between agencies involved in science and technology and to forge a new and improved partnership in science and technology.   It was vital for any new terms of reference for the Commission on Science and Technology for Development to take into account UNESCO's particular mandate in science, in order to avoid any overlap.  As the specialized agency of the UN system in the area of science, UNESCO assisted a series of countries in the formation of national science policies, in strengthening university-industry partnership and in developing incubators in that respect.  UNESCO assisted in promoting the use of information and communication technology to bridge the gap between science and technology, for example by developing open source software for virtual laboratories, establishing networks and UNESCO chairs in science and technology, including for women; in creating a world academy of young scientists; and in formulating ethnics in science.

    PHILIPPE DAM, of the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations, said the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) was the most appropriate institution within the United Nations to take up a leading role in assisting the Council and providing it with in-depth expertise and policy advice on the follow-up to the World Summit on the Information Society outcomes, in particular on its development dimension.  To that end, the CSTD mandate should be given an additional specific focus on the follow-up to the Summit.  It should include the role of reviewing and analysing the progress of implementation, and providing policy guidance and recommendations.  The newly established Global Alliance for information and communication technology and Development was a very significant tool for providing a space for multi-stakeholder cross-sectoral policy dialogue on the use of ICT for advancing the Millennium Development Goals.

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