OEWG 2021-2025 Organisational session

1 Jun 2021, 09:00h - 18:00h

New York, NY

Event report

The OEWG 2021–2025 is the second OEWG to be held on security of, and in the use of ICTs. It will last 2021–2025 and this organisational session was convened to determine its modalities and schedule.

The session was opened by Ms Izumi Nakamitsu (Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, UNODA), who noted the existing general agreement that the Chair of the OEWG should be Amb. Burhan Gafoor (Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Singapore to the United Nations in New York). Gafoor was elected by acclamation.

Gafoor reflected on the work of the previous OEWG, noting that it is ‘the only democratic, universal, and transparent forum’ to discuss developments in the field of ICTs in the context of international security. In his opening remarks, Gafoor reaffirmed that the results of the previous GGEs and OEWG form the basis for the work of the OEWG 2021–2025.

The delegates then adopted the provisional agenda, which will apply to all sessions of the group. The Chair invited delegations to make their statements on procedural issues related to the organisation of work based on organisational note and logistical note.

During the first procedural part of the meeting, the states have discussed how the OEWG 2021–2025 would organise its work, and what rules of procedure should be applied. The states agreed that the mandate for the OEWG 2021–2025 stems from the UNGA Resolution 75/240, and that the work of the group will be consensus based.

Implementation of consensus

Another point discussed was the implementation of consensus within the work of the OEWG 2021–2025. Russia put forward a suggestion to amend the organisational note to limit the consensus requirement only for the decisions of the OEWG 2021–2025. Others have stated that the work of the OEWG 2021–2025 as such is based on consensus.

Gafoor gave his summary of the consensus within the work of the OEWG 2021–2025, stating that the OEWG 2021–2025 as a subsidiary body of the UNGA will follow UNGA procedural rules, including acting and taking all the decisions on a consensus basis. The states adopted this without objections.

The basis for the work of the OEWG

Cuba, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela, China, Nicaragua have voiced that the UN GA Resolution 75/240 presents the basis for the work of OEWG 2021–2025. Canada, the Czech Republic, EU and its member states, Ireland, New Zealand, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Estonia, South Korea, Norway, and Poland did not refer specifically to this resolution, but rather mentioned the previous acquis and the need to build on it, in order to ensure its universal acceptance and effective implementation. Egypt, Thailand, Philippines, and Suriname noted that the report of the previous OEWG presents the basis for future work. Mexico noted that the OEWG is a means to reach decisions.

Establishment of thematic subgroups

States also discussed the possibilities of establishing thematic subgroups.

In favour of establishing subgroups

Pakistan stated that establishment of thematic subgroups would prove helpful in fulfilling the mandate of the OEWG and facilitating the exchange of views. The EU and its member states noted that, in case of the establishment of any subgroups, those should have an added value to the work of the OEWG and contribute to the overall objective, and pointed out that the Program of Action (PoA) would provide for a permanent infrastructure for this purpose.

South Africa, Poland, and Venezuela proposed the creation of six subgroups on threats, norms, international law, confidence building measures (CBMs), capacity building, and institutional dialogue. Australia and Romania noted that thematic subgroups, if at all established, should deal with those six topics.

Sequentially held subgroups

According to some delegations, subgroups could lead to fragmentation of discussion if not held consecutively. Delegations that made statements to this effect were Argentina, Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Norway, Poland, and South Africa. Chile, France, and South Africa also pointed out that inclusiveness would suffer as well if subgroups were not held consequently, due to limitations of smaller delegations.

Hierarchy between subgroups

Russia suggested setting up a priority subgroup on threats and rules of responsible behaviour, as well as subsidiary subgroups on applicability of international law in the ICT sphere, on confidence building measures, capacity building measures, and regular institutional dialogue. However, Brazil, Costa Rica, India, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and Switzerland explicitly noted that they are against creating a hierarchy between subgroups and themes, since all of the themes discussed at the OEWG are of equal importance. Due to such concerns, Costa Rica and India decided not to support the idea of subgroups.

Peru was of the opinion that there needs to be a balance between the subgroups, but elaborated no further.

Opposing the formation of subgroups

Colombia stated that the work should not be divided into subgroups, as it would be too difficult to participate in the work of the OEWG. Canada, Costa Rica, and Ecuador also expressed their preference to continue having thematic discussions and plenaries under the guidance of the Chair and in a format which reproduces the successful approach of the previous OEWG, as this would reduce the organisational burden on the Secretariat and member states.

Involvement of other stakeholders

With respect to the involvement of stakeholders in the work of OEWG 2021–2015, the states did not come to a conclusion during the organisational meeting. The main issue, as pointed out by Gafoor, is whether the states would adopt the precedent of the first OEWG in involving other stakeholders, or would a different arrangement be adopted.

Argentina, Canada, the EU, Ecuador, Mexico, the UK, Cuba, New Zealand, Suriname, Ireland, Switzerland, Norway, and France would like to see the involvement of all stakeholders, as the interconnected and complex nature of cyberspace requires joint efforts by government, private sector, civil society, technical community, and academia.

Mexico asked for a formal adoption of the multistakeholder model, noting that a mechanism which would allow other stakeholders to present their input should be established.

Russia voiced its support for the multistakeholder dialogue, but would like to see only involvement of the NGOs with consultative status at ECOSOC. Costa Rica was of the opinion that all NGOs which countries deem important, not just those with consultative status at ECOSOC, should be engaged in multistakeholder dialogue.

Iran, Nicaragua, India, and Indonesia suggested that participation of other stakeholders should be addressed in the same way as the previous OEWG, in an informal setting.

Chile’s viewpoint is that there need to be new practices for allowing participation of new stakeholders, and it suggested that other stakeholders should be able to make their contribution in official sessions. South Africa noted that civil society, the private sector, and academia can be engaged in specific thematic subgroup discussions. Switzerland advised to look at language agreed by the UN group to fight cybercrime regarding the participation of non-state actors, which is as follows ‘Encourages the Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee to host intersessional consultations to solicit inputs from a diverse range of stakeholders on the elaboration of the draft convention’.

Other issues

Programme of Action (PoA)

According to the EU, the establishment of the PoA holds great value for the international Community, while the open-ended working group could contribute to the global understanding and the establishment of this PoA as a universal and inclusive permanent platform for tackling common challenges in a concrete manner. Estonia, France, the UK, and South Korea uphold the commitment to discuss the proposed PoA in this OEWG.

Complementarity of UN processes

A few delegations took the opportunity to underline that there must be complementarity between fora that deals with cybersecurity in ICTs. Switzerland, Thailand, and Philippines underlined the complementarity between the OEWG and GGE, while France stressed that there is work underway to ensure the complementarity of PoA and OEWG.

In person or hybrid meetings?

Formal meetings for making decisions should be held in person to avoid technical problems which could present an obstacle to take the floor, Iran, Egypt, and Nicaragua stated. Indonesia and Costa Rica, on the other hand, advocated for the consideration of hybrid meetings, which would allow delegates from the capitals to attend.

Open questions

The chair concluded the session by noting which questions should be addressed in informal discussion during the intersessional period June–December.

  1. How to enhance the participation of stakeholders in a way that enjoys consensus?
  2. Are thematic groups necessary for conducting thematic discussions? If so, how and when should those groups be established?
  3. How should annual progress reports be put together?
  4. Are there any elements from the previous working group on which the second OEWG should work on?
  5. What are the initiatives of states aimed at ensuring security in the use of information and telecommunications technologies that the OEWG needs to consider?

States have concluded on a preliminary date for the first substantive OEWG 2021–2025 to be held on 13–17 December 2021, with a total of 11 substantive sessions during the course of the upcoming five years.