UN OEWG 2021-2025 Holds its First Session; No Agreement on Multistakeholder Modalities

On the week of 13-17 December 2021, the Open-ended Working Group on security of and in the use of information and communications technologies 2021-2025 (OEWG) held its first substantiative session in New York. States held discussions focused on rules, norms, and principles of responsible state behaviour of states, international law, capacity building, confidence building measures, as well as the modalities for the participation of industry, civil society, and academia in the discussions. During the December 2021 session, the Chair invited civil society to join a virtual informal consultative discussion which was held on Thursday, 16 December 2021, where members of the multistakeholder community were given 2-minute speaking slots to convey messages of support and share their expertise. Their input can be found here. Tentative dates for additional stakeholder information sessions have been scheduled for 24 March and 21 July 2022.

Modalities for stakeholder participation was a contested topic even before the December session began, as a letter from the OEWG Chair H.E. Ambassador Burhan Gafoor dated 15 November 2021, had proposed multistakeholder participation identical to the ones of the previous OEWG. Several Member States of the OEWG were not fully aligned with the Chair’s proposed modalities and called for more transparency and participation, voiced in a letter signed by 44 States and the multistakeholder community addressed to the Chair prior to the negotiations. During the December session, several discussions on multistakeholder modalities were held, and to find a solution to the disagreement between States, the Chair held an informal open-ended virtual session on 13 January 2022 to further discuss disagreements. After the session, the Chair published a revised draft of the modalities, in an attempt to address the views and concerns of all delegations with a view to finding consensus. The draft was placed under silence procedure on 18 January 2022, which was however broken by the Russian Federation, with the support of several Member States of the OEWG. As of late January, no consensus on a revised draft for the multistakeholder modalities had been found. This issue is expected to be discussed further in informal plenary, bilateral and small group meetings in February. An informal meeting to discuss modalities has been scheduled for 11 February 2022. A second substantiative session of the OEWG is supposed to be held on the week of 28 March – 1 April 2022 but the uncertainty about stakeholder modalities is causing indecision about the timing and agenda of this meeting.