Your Excellency Secretary-General Guterres,
Your Excellency the High Commissioner for Human Rights,
We write to you because of concerns regarding the ability of civil society delegates to effectively engage with important international conferences, concerns which have been exacerbated by over sixty civil society delegates to the WTO Ministerial Conference of December 2017 (who had been accredited by the WTO) having their accreditations revoked by the host country shortly before the conference is not only a violation of the relevant host country agreement, is also a human rights violation.
On December 8, 2017, two civil society delegates were denied entry at the border and deported:
- Sally Burch of Agencia Latinoamericana de Información (ALAI), who is also a member of the Steering Committee of the Just Net Coalition.
- Petter Slaatrem Titland, leader of the Norwegian chapter of Association for the Assessment of Financial Transactions and for Citizen Action (Attac).
In both of these cases of deportations, as well as at least in some of the other cases of revoked accreditations, the host country has thereafter reversed its decision. That however is not a full solution to the problem. Many of the civil society delegates had already cancelled their travel plans after having been informed of the host country having revoked their accreditation, or because they were denied visas.1 Further, the belated authorization of entry for Sally and Petter does not cure the harm that was done to them and the organizations they represent. In Sally’s case, she was deported back to her home country, Ecuador, and was not able to fly back to Buenos Aires in order to participate meaningfully in the WTO meeting.
In view of the important public policy issues that are being discussed at such international conferences, civil society engagement is of utmost importance. On one hand, the negotiators who shape the future of our world need to have access to the insights and perspectives of the civil society experts. On the other hand, the citizens of the world need ways to ensure that their problems and concerns are appropriately taken into consideration. In this context, the recent events are a great cause for concern, especially given that the events concerning the WTO Ministerial, while in some ways unprecedented, are not isolated, but part of a larger problem. For example, in November 2017, the participation of several civil society groups to the Global Conference on Cyberspace (GCCS) in India was delayed and, in several cases, denied.
Such denials can affect especially smaller civil society groups particularly seriously, in more ways than what is obvious. The effective and constructive participation at such conferences requires in-depth preparation which takes a long time. It is not only that the denial of participation results in the preparation being wasted. Already the risk that participation can be arbitrarily denied prevents civil society organisations from planning their engagement strategically. Time is also of the essence, as inefficiences and harms are compounded when the denial occurs immediately before or during events, leaving no meaningful time to appeal the decision.
These problems concern not just civil society engagement with one international organization such as the WTO, but civil society delegates to all international conferences where important public policy decisions are made. It is therefore appropriate for representatives of the UN to address the matter, and this is the reason why we are writing to you.
We respectfully request you to make a strong public statement on the rights that civil society delegates to international conferences have on the basis of international human rights law as well as on the basis of other instruments such as host country agreements.
In addition to the established diplomatic practices with host country agreements, we would suggest that the requested statement on civil society rights could mention the following human rights aspects;
- the right to peaceful assembly/association (Article 20 of the UDHR and Article 21 of the ICCPR);
- the recommendation of the former Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, who called on States members of multilateral institutions to: “Refrain from unduly preventing NGOs from obtaining accreditation with multilateral institutions, arbitrarily withdrawing accreditations, or deferring the examination of periodic reports of accredited organizations;” (A/69/365)
- the call from the current Special Rapporteur on the freedoms of opinion and expression for “broader and simpler accreditation of organizations to participate in and monitor” at inter-governmental and international institutions. (A/72/350)
We are very concerned about the future of the international discourse. Certainly the events in the context of the WTO Ministerial of December 2017 must not be allowed to set a precedent for the arbitrary refusal or revocation of accreditation and libel of civil society delegates.
1. For further details, we refer you to the Our World Is Not For Sale (OWINFS) Network, ourworldisnotforsale.net.
Cc: Mr. Roberto Azevêdo, Director-General of the WTO
Mr. David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
Ms. Annalisa Ciampi, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
Mr. Edison Lanza, Inter-American Commission of Human Rights’ Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression
Aarhus Convention Secretariat
Endorsements of Open Letter on Civil Society Rights to UN Secretary-General António GuterresRead the petition
|35||Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO)||Belgium||Dec 18, 2017|
|34||Asociación Peruana de Comunicadores “Monseñor Luciano Metzinger - APC Signis||Perú||Dec 15, 2017|
|33||Plataforma Não ao Tratado Transatlântico||Portugal||Dec 15, 2017|
|32||ATTAC Hungary Association||Hungary||Dec 15, 2017|
|31||Global Network Initiative||United States||Dec 15, 2017|
|30||Attac Iceland||Iceland||Dec 15, 2017|
|29||Ved International Society||India||Dec 15, 2017|
|28||Attac Ireland||Ireland||Dec 14, 2017|
|27||Attac Norge||Norway||Dec 14, 2017|
|26||Australian Fair Trade and investment Network||Australia||Dec 13, 2017|
|25||FEDAEPS||Ecuador||Dec 13, 2017|
|24||The Norwegian Trade Campaign||Norway||Dec 13, 2017|
|23||Labour,Health And Human Rights Development Centre||Nigeria||Dec 13, 2017|
|22||Frënn vun der Ënn||Luxembourg||Dec 13, 2017|
|21||Transnational Institute (TNI)||Netherlands||Dec 13, 2017|
|20||ARGENTINA SOLIDARITY CAMPAIGN||United Kingdom||Dec 13, 2017|
|19||Ecologistas en Acción||Spain||Dec 13, 2017|
|18||Columbia Global Freedom of Expression||United States||Dec 13, 2017|
|17||Usuarios Digitales del Ecudor||Ecuador||Dec 13, 2017|
|16||European Digital Rights (EDRi)||EU||Dec 13, 2017|
|15||Association for Progressive Communications (APC)||Dec 13, 2017|
|14||PowerShift e.V.||Germany||Dec 13, 2017|
|13||Public Knowledge||United States||Dec 13, 2017|
|12||Fundación Vía Libre||Argentina||Dec 13, 2017|
|11||Attac Austria||Austria||Dec 13, 2017|
|10||TEDIC||Paraguay||Dec 13, 2017|
|9||Trades Union Congress (TUC)-Ghana||Ghana||Dec 13, 2017|
|8||Friends of the Earth International||International||Dec 13, 2017|
|7||Association for Proper Internet Governance||Switzerland||Dec 13, 2017|
|6||SonTusDatos (Artículo 12, A.C.)||Mexico||Dec 13, 2017|
|5||Agencia Latinoamericana de Información - ALAI||Ecuador||Dec 13, 2017|
|4||Attac||Argentina||Dec 13, 2017|
|3||Access Now||United States||Dec 13, 2017|
|2||Electronic Frontier Foundation||USA||Dec 12, 2017|
|1||Just Net Coalition||international||Dec 12, 2017|
|13||Fabian Kaspar||Switzerland||Jan 07, 2018|
|12||Samuel Kellenberger||Switzerland||Dec 17, 2017|
|11||Michael Stolz||Switzerland||Dec 17, 2017|
|10||Sonja Santiana Cruz||Germany / Ecuador||Dec 14, 2017|
|9||Alfredo Calderón||Puerto Rico||Dec 13, 2017|
|8||Graham Cobb||United Kingdom||Dec 13, 2017|
|7||John More||USA||Dec 13, 2017|
|6||Ian Peter||Australia||Dec 13, 2017|
|5||Julian Wells||United Kingdom||Dec 13, 2017|
|4||Victor Agüera||United Kingdom||Dec 13, 2017|
|3||William Drake||Switzerland||Dec 13, 2017|
|2||Craig Fagan||Dec 13, 2017|
|1||Michael J. Oghia||Serbia||Dec 13, 2017|