12. December, 2017|Statements|No comments

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. This is not only a violation of the relevant host country agreement, it 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 listened to and 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.

This kind of response to the events related to the WTO Ministerial Conference of December 2017 will on one hand be valuable for the concerned civil society delegates and their organizations in regard to having their good name and reputation restored after having been unjustly accused (by the host country) of having posted “incitements to violence and chaos” in social media.2
The larger context of these attacks on the honor and reputation of civil society delegates are the provisions in the host country agreement which permit the host country to refuse entry on national security grounds. We do not object to these provisions provided that they are only applied in exceptional cases, and with due justification, and with due process. We do however object to the abuse of these provisions to arbitrarily revoke the accreditation of (in this case, a large number of) civil society delegates who had been accredited by the WTO. In this kind of situation, unless civil society delegates have an effective remedy against such attacks on their honor and reputation, the provisions of the host country agreement —that were intended to guarantee the rights of inter alia the civil society delegates— only result in insult and libel being added to the injury of not being able to participate in the conference.

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.

2. http://www.mrecic.gov.ar/sobre-la-acreditacion-de-ongs-la-conferencia-ministerial-de-la-omc-en-buenos-aires

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 Guterres

We, the undersigned, endorse the above Open Letter on Civil Society Rights to UN Secretary-General António Guterres.


48 signatures

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Organisational endorsements
35Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO)BelgiumDec 18, 2017
34Asociación Peruana de Comunicadores “Monseñor Luciano Metzinger - APC SignisPerúDec 15, 2017
33Plataforma Não ao Tratado TransatlânticoPortugalDec 15, 2017
32ATTAC Hungary AssociationHungaryDec 15, 2017
31Global Network InitiativeUnited StatesDec 15, 2017
30Attac IcelandIcelandDec 15, 2017
29Ved International SocietyIndiaDec 15, 2017
28Attac IrelandIrelandDec 14, 2017
27Attac NorgeNorwayDec 14, 2017
26Australian Fair Trade and investment NetworkAustraliaDec 13, 2017
25FEDAEPSEcuadorDec 13, 2017
24The Norwegian Trade CampaignNorwayDec 13, 2017
23Labour,Health And Human Rights Development CentreNigeriaDec 13, 2017
22Frënn vun der ËnnLuxembourgDec 13, 2017
21Transnational Institute (TNI)NetherlandsDec 13, 2017
19Ecologistas en AcciónSpainDec 13, 2017
18Columbia Global Freedom of ExpressionUnited StatesDec 13, 2017
17Usuarios Digitales del EcudorEcuadorDec 13, 2017
16European Digital Rights (EDRi)EUDec 13, 2017
15Association for Progressive Communications (APC)Dec 13, 2017
14PowerShift e.V.GermanyDec 13, 2017
13Public KnowledgeUnited StatesDec 13, 2017
12Fundación Vía LibreArgentinaDec 13, 2017
11Attac AustriaAustriaDec 13, 2017
10TEDICParaguayDec 13, 2017
9Trades Union Congress (TUC)-Ghana Ghana Dec 13, 2017
8Friends of the Earth InternationalInternational Dec 13, 2017
7Association for Proper Internet GovernanceSwitzerlandDec 13, 2017
6SonTusDatos (Artículo 12, A.C.)MexicoDec 13, 2017
5Agencia Latinoamericana de Información - ALAIEcuadorDec 13, 2017
4AttacArgentinaDec 13, 2017
3Access NowUnited StatesDec 13, 2017
2Electronic Frontier FoundationUSADec 12, 2017
1Just Net CoalitioninternationalDec 12, 2017
Individual endorsements
13Fabian KasparSwitzerlandJan 07, 2018
12Samuel KellenbergerSwitzerlandDec 17, 2017
11Michael StolzSwitzerlandDec 17, 2017
10Sonja Santiana CruzGermany / EcuadorDec 14, 2017
9Alfredo CalderónPuerto RicoDec 13, 2017
8Graham CobbUnited KingdomDec 13, 2017
7John MoreUSADec 13, 2017
6Ian PeterAustraliaDec 13, 2017
5Julian WellsUnited KingdomDec 13, 2017
4Victor AgüeraUnited KingdomDec 13, 2017
3William DrakeSwitzerlandDec 13, 2017
2Craig FaganDec 13, 2017
1Michael J. OghiaSerbiaDec 13, 2017

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