unctad.org | Q&A with Ambassador Benedicto Fonseca, Chair of the Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation of the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development
Q&A with Ambassador Benedicto Fonseca, Chair of the Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation of the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development
30 January 2017
Who governs the Internet? To answer this contentious yet monumental question, member States of the United Nations have set in motion the Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation, whose deliberations are organized by UNCTAD. This anonymous-sounding body is listening to important voices from governments, international organizations, civil society, academia and the private sector, all of whom have stake in the future of the information age. Its chair, Ambassador Benedicto Fonseca, Director, Department of Scientific and Technological Themes, Ministry of External Relations of Brazil, spoke about the Working Group's most recent meeting which wrapped on 27 January in Geneva.

Q: Can you tell us more about the meeting of the Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation?

A: This is the first substantive meeting of the Working Group where we are really addressing the issues. We are fulfilling the mandate, given to us by the General Assembly, to develop recommendations on how to further implement Enhanced Cooperation which emanates from the World Summit on the Information Society.

The challenge for the group is to have a comprehensive vision of Enhanced Cooperation; its scope, its format; the way it should do things in relation to the existing processes and fora looking into the Internet. In regard to those existing fora and any need to design some institutional framework or agreement, this is the main scope of the Working Group.

As this is still the first substantive meeting we are drawing on contributions that were sent in response to questions we addressed to the wider community. We are trying to arrange the discussion in a way that will address those contributions from the point of the view of the elements that are there from the recommendations. We are taking a step-by-step approach in order to, by the end of the day, be able to come up with some recommendations in response to the mandate we have been given.

Q: What are the two main issues dominating the discussions?

A: Enhanced Cooperation is seen as a process or mechanism that will assist governments in fulfilling their roles with regard to Internet public policy and related issues. It is understood by particular folks in government and their role in public policy that there is disagreement with regard to how the other stakeholders - namely civil society, the private sector, the academic and technical communities - should participate, either on an equal footing or in a kind of consultation. So there are some wide differences in that regard.

There are also some differences in regard to the need to establish some framework for this. For example, some parties propose some new UN body in the same format as we have the World Health Organization for health or the International Telecommunications Union for telecommunications. Others think that all stakeholders should participate, due to the nature of the Internet, which refers to a very wide range of issues, yet others think this would not be appropriate.

I think these are the two issues of major contention, ones that we will have to concentrate on at some point.

Q: What are the next steps?

A: There's another meeting in May, back-to-back with the annual session of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development. Then, we'll meet again in September or October. After that we will meet again in January or early February next year because our mandate is to prepare recommendations that have to be considered by the UN General Assembly, and for that they need to be considered first by the CSTD and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).


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