Yesterday I wrote to Trade Minister David Parker asking him to intervene urgently over the sudden and bizarre de-registration of representatives of prominent NGOs who had been accredited to attend the World Trade Organization ministerial conference from 10 to 13 December in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Parker is one of four vice-chairs of the eleventh WTO ministerial conference (MC11). To his credit he moved immediately. Vitalis Vangelis, the deputy head of MFAT responsible for these issues emailed back that:
The Minister has asked me to underline to you that we absolutely share your concern that this is a very troubling development. The Minister has also told me to formally and urgently instruct our WTO Mission in Geneva to take this up as a priority with the WTO Secretariat, including to clarify what has happened – and quickly. A Formal Message (ie an instruction to the Mission) is being sent tonight to that effect.
For more background, let’s have a closer look, Lori Wallach from US Public Citizen explains the context …
As if the WTO was not already in a legitimacy crisis, 40 non-governmental organizations were just abruptly notified that their accreditation to attend the WTO ministerial starting in ten days has been revoked.
Yup, literally on the anniversary of the WTO Seattle meltdown – 11/30!
The WTO Secretariat began warning people not to travel to Argentina as they will be sent home. Those banned include representatives from global union confederations, Friends of the Earth, and development think tanks – literally organizations and individuals who have attended every WTO ministerial since the WTO was launched… It is a bizarre list of 60 people and 20 groups from all over the world.
The WTO Secretariat says that they have warned Argentina, whose government is behind these bans, that this move will cause serious harm to the WTO’s legitimacy. Argentina won’t budge, so now the leading NGO network focused on WTO is calling for the WTO Director General to move the ministerial, which is planned for Dec 10-13 to WTO HQ in Geneva.
With Argentina refusing to budge, now the WTO DG and member states will have to decide if the ministerial proceeds in Buenos Aries or gets relocated/postponed…
Deborah James, who coordinates the Our World Is Not For Sale network, whose members were mainly targeted in the blacklist, sent out the following call to action:
Argentine Government Revokes World Trade Organization’s Accreditation of Key Civil Society Organizations, Just Days before Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires
Groups Call on Argentine Government to Rescind Disaccreditation, Call on WTO Director General Roberto Azevêdo and WTO General Council Not to Hold Ministerial in Argentina Unless Decision is Reversed
Washington, DC ― In an unprecedented action, the Argentine government has revoked the accreditation of 63 civil society experts ― trade unionists, development advocates, digital rights activists, environmentalists, and others ― just days before the 11th Ministerial meeting of the WTO (MC11) in Buenos Aires, advising the WTO that the experts will not be allowed in the country to participate in the meeting. The majority of the rejected organizations work together through the global Our World Is Not for Sale (OWINFS) network.
Civil society delegates from the following countries and organizations, many of whom have attended multiple WTO Ministerial meetings in the past, were sent a note from the WTO Secretariat on November 29 notifying them that the Argentine government had denied the accreditation already issued by the WTO: Argentina (Instituto del Mundo del Trabajo, Fundación Grupo Efecto Positivo, and Sociedad de Economía Crítica), Belgium (11.11.11), Brazil (Brazilian Network for People’s Integration, REBRIP), Chile (Derechos Digitales), Finland (Siemenpuu), Indonesia (Institute for National and Democracy Studies), Netherlands (Transnational Institute), the Philippines (People Over Profit) and the UK (Global Justice Now!), as well as international organizations including UNI global union (based in Switzerland) and UNI Americas (based in Uruguay) and Friends of the Earth International. A full list is available upon request. It has not go unnoticed that of the total of 20 organizations that have been banned, only two are from corporations, while the overwhelming number of corporate representatives will be allowed in.
Today, the groups sent a letter (bit.ly/2kc9RGO) calling on the Argentine government to reverse the bans, and on the Director General and the WTO membership not to hold the meeting in Argentina unless the participation of the groups is re-instated.
The standard agreement between international organizations and the host country of an international conference provides for accreditation, visas, and entry to all those the international organization accredits ― diplomats, media, non-governmental organizations, etcetera. The agreement has a provision for the host, only on exceptional security considerations, to refuse entry to a person. But based on the experience of the more than 250 members of OWINFS who have attended international meetings of the WTO, the United Nations, and other fora, hosts have never denied entry, except for at most, one or two specific persons, with at least some justification provided. Previous WTO Ministerial meetings in Singapore, the United States, Qatar, Mexico, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Indonesia, and Kenya did not see similar such repression. “We have participated in many previous Ministerial meetings without any problems, but now our entire four-person delegation has had their accreditation revoked – in spite of the fact that we have been engaging our government on WTO for years, and have non-refundable tickets and hotel reservations,” said Nick Dearden of Global Justice Now!
By offering to host the Conference, Argentina committed itself to ensure the access of all people, including delegates, staff and accredited NGOs that the WTO decides, according to its own procedures, should have access to it. If any host country starts taking decisions limiting access and does so arbitrarily and without having to explain any motives, not only is this conference’s integrity being attacked, but a key principle of international diplomacy is being violated. The WTO should not accept such a blatant violation of well-established international norms.
It is ironic that this occurred on the same day that Argentina is celebrating the transfer of the presidency of the G20 from Germany to Argentina. The banning of registered WTO delegates is an outrageous and worrying precedent, not just for the WTO meeting itself, and also for the G20 presidency of Argentina, but also for all future international meetings that are hosted by repressive governments.