Civil Society Delegates Excluded from Climate Summit, Gassed, Beaten

By Haider Rizvi

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, December 16, 2009 (ENS) – International civil society leaders say they want UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to order a probe into police excesses against the representatives of nongovernmental organizations who are attending the world climate summit organized by the Secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

As world leaders arrived here Wednesday morning for negotiations, the Danish police forcibly removed hundreds of activists and accredited NGO delegates from the summit compound, located a few miles from downtown Copenhagen.

“Climate justice! Reclaim power!” roared the crowd outside the Bella Center in unison with colleagues from the inside. The police put barricades on all sides of the compound and closed the nearby train station.

Demonstrators were tear-gassed by the Danish police in the morning hours despite the fact that none of them had resorted to any act of violence. Police fired pepper spray and beat protesters with batons. “Our protest was peaceful and non-violent,” one demonstrator told ENS.

About 4,000 campaigners marched on the Bella Centre in an attempt to stage a “People’s Assembly” inside the summit, but were stopped by police. At least 260 protesters have been detained following clashes outside the compound, said the Danish police spokesman Per Larsen.

Some of those who remained inside said they wanted to join the demonstration outside, but were unable to do so for fear of not being let back in by the police later. However, they maintained communication links with their friends and comrades via mobile phones.

The Danish police made it hard for journalists as well as accredited civil society activists to have unhindered access to the summit compound. Since the train would not stop at Bella Center, this correspondent, like many others, was forced to walk many icy blocks.

About 300 accredited NGO delegates who are part of the Climate Justice Now! Network marched out of the Bella Center and attempted to join the protests outside, led by members of the Bolivian delegation and the Indigenous Peoples Caucus.

These delegates were met with police truncheons; some were badly bruised. Hundreds more UNFCCC accredited civil society observers were denied access to the Bella Center all together, including the entire Friends of the Earth International delegation, who staged a sit-in in the lobby at the Bella Center, and the Indigenous Peoples Caucus, which was scheduled to meet with Bolivian President Evo Morales but was denied entry.

In their appeal to Ban, activists criticized both the UNFCCC chief Yvo de-Boer and the Danish government for police high-handedness against peaceful protesters.

“It looks like standing up for justice has upset those rich nations pushing for a weak and unfair deal,” said Nnimmo Bassey, chair of the environmental group, Friends of the Earth International, one of the organizations removed from the summit site this morning.

The Friends of the Earth delegation has been taking part in the negotiations over the past two weeks. When the delegation arrived today, all campaigners were denied access despite the fact that they were holding all the official UN badges as well as the secondary admission passes needed today.

Yesterday, Friends of the Earth organized a peaceful demonstration to demand heavy cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by the European Union. The group’s members said they had no prior warning of a ban on their further participation at the summit.

“This is unacceptable,” Marcelo Furtado, executive director of Greenpeace Brazil, told ENS. “What we see here is that countries are not able to agree on emission cuts, but when it comes down to cutting civil society’s access to the process, they are quite efficient about how many [activists] and when to target.”

Anne Peterman of Global Justice Ecology Project and Climate Justice Now! joined the march out of the Bella Center today “to protest the unjust agenda of the rich countries who are trying to strong arm the rest of the world into accepting their agenda of allowing global warming by two degrees [Celsius], which will literally wipe entire nations off the map.”

“I participated in this protest because climate change is already killing people in Africa,” said Mithika Mwenda of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance. “This is an emergency and we need climate justice now! We must acknowledge that we from the south are the real creditors and the governments of the North are the real debtors. They owe the world economic debt, ecological debt and climate debt and they must pay now!”

Last weekend, the Danish police rounded up more than 1,000 activists who pushed for a stringent deal on climate policies while deploring the rich countries for their apparent lack of will to make commitments on emission targets and financing for mitigation and adaptation.

For his part, de Boer defended the removal of some of the NGO representatives by saying that it was done so for the purpose of “safety.” He charged that some activists were bent on “interrupting the meetings.”

In response to a question about the police action against demonstrators who assembled in front of Bella Center, he said, “I haven’t been outside. I don’t know what is happening there.”

Activists deplored De Boer’s remarks and charged that he was on the wrong track.

“We know we live in dark times when UN officials like de Boer undermine fundamental freedoms like freedom of expression, participation and the right to assembly,” Michael Dorsey, a member of the Climate Justice Now! Network.

“The audacity and base desires of UN officials is truly sad and disappointing,” he said. “The UNFCCC Secretariat is actively trying to pull countries and peoples’ movements back into the waste bin of pre-World War times of info-control, totalitarianism and other crude and inhumane forms of suppressing basic 21st century democratic rights and freedoms.”

Despite tough policing, thousands of activists joined the protest outside the summit compound, braving chilly arctic winds and sporadic snowfall. Those who were inside also staged silent protests throughout the day.

“We need system change to create a world which is truly just and sustainable and solve the climate crisis,” said Natalie Swift of the Climate Justice Action, one of the groups at the summit that played a key role in organizing today’s demonstrations.

In their speeches and statements, a number of leaders from developing countries expressed their concern about the exclusion of civil society groups from the discourse and called for measures to make their presence at the summit fully assured.

In his speech, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez praised the youth involved in street action and said he liked their slogan, “Don’t change climate. Change the system.”

Meanwhile, activists are pushing for a UN investigation into today’s exclusion of NGOs from the summit.

Dorsey said, “Many await the day when the UN Secretary General will take disciplinary action against the unethical and inhumane treatment of nongovernmental organizational representatives at the Copenhagen negotiations.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.

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