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Re: [SANET-MG] Canada Denies Visa for Africa's Top Biosafety Negotiator
I urge everyone to write asap:Hon. Pierre Pettigrew
Minister of Foreign Affairs Canada
The Minister can and should act promptly. Under the circumstances Canada
should provide for the Ethiopian government official.
Sincerely, Prof. Joe Cummins
Neil Sorensen wrote:
18 May 2005
Canada Denies Visa for Africa's Top Biosafety Negotiator
Montreal's status as UN's biodiversity headquarters is jeopardized
Ottawa - In a breathtaking display of political interference, the
Canadian government has blocked entry of Africa's chief negotiator for
the Cartagena (biosafety) Protocol, who was scheduled to attend UN
meetings beginning next week in Montreal. The Protocol is the United
Nations treaty that governs the international movement of genetically
modified (GM) organisms.
Dr. Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, the Ethiopian government's chief
scientist and its representative to the Montreal-based UN Convention on
Biological Diversity (CBD) had his passport returned without the
requested Canadian visa yesterday, and without explanation.
The renowned scientist submitted his passport to the Canadian embassy
on May 5 and had planned to fly to Oslo, Norway for inter-regional
negotiations prior to attending the Montreal meetings that begin
Wednesday, May 25. Because his passport was returned only May 17, Dr.
Tewolde was forced to miss the Oslo meeting.
Officials at Foreign Affairs and Citizenship and Immigration have been
unable to offer an explanation for rejecting the negotiator's visa. Dr.
Tewolde has been to Canada often over the past decade, participating in
intergovernmental negotiations on biodiversity and biosafety. Since the
Rio Earth Summit of 1992, Dr. Tewolde has been one of the most well
known leaders among African diplomats addressing environmental issues.
However, his positions have not been popular with the Canadian
During the negotiations on a UN treaty on crop genetic resources
adopted in Rome last year, Dr. Tewolde spoke on behalf of all
developing countries in demanding the right of farmers to save and
exchange seeds and in opposing "life patenting" (intellectual property
over biological products and processes). In the negotiations that led
up to the Cartagena Protocol, the Ethiopian clashed with his Canadian
counterparts, demanding higher standards to prevent GM contamination.
At UN meetings in Montreal and around the world, Dr. Tewolde has spoken
passionately against Terminator technology (genetically-modified seed
rendered sterile at harvest time, forcing farmers to buy new seeds each
growing season). In February, the Canadian government was prepared to
dismantle a de facto moratorium on Terminator at a UN biodiversity
meeting in Bangkok. Canada was deeply embarrassed (and highly
criticized) when its position became known.
The Ethiopian scientist had made it known that he would be coming to
Montreal next week to press for the labeling of genetically modified
seeds and food products and for companies and governments to accept
liability when their seeds lead to GM contamination. Canada has thus
far failed to ratify the UN biosafety protocol and is known to be
opposed to both compulsory GM labeling and liability.
"I had planned to participate in these negotiations and continue with
trying to help finalize the unfinished business of protecting
biodiversity and human beings," wrote Dr. Tewolde in a letter sent
today to colleagues around the world.
Montreal's UN future in doubt:
In 1995, the Canadian, Québec, and Montreal governments persuaded the
United Nations to locate the Secretariat for the UN Convention on
Biological Diversity in Montreal. One of the critical requirements for
hosting a major UN agency is easy access for foreign diplomats to
attend intergovernmental discussions.
"In barring Dr. Tewolde from participating in the Montreal meetings,
Canada is jeopardizing Montreal's future as a United Nations city,"
said Eric Darier, a campaigner with Greenpeace in Montreal, "If Ottawa
is doing this for its own political purposes, it is making a grave
mistake and tarnishing Canada's reputation in the process."
"Dr. Tewolde is one of the most respected scientists in his field,"
said Pat Mooney, Executive Director of ETC Group in Ottawa, "If the
Canadian government can't make sure Dr. Tewolde has his visa for the
opening of the meetings, Canada does not deserve to host the Convention
on Biological Diversity." ETC Group is a Canadian-based international
civil society organization with observer status in the United Nations.
Mooney talked with Dr. Tewolde by telephone today.
Dr. Tewolde himself is concerned that Canada's actions signal a
pattern, "Now that I have been prevented from coming to Montreal, who
knows which ones of you will be prevented next time?" he wrote.
Dr. Tewolde is the recipient of a number of awards and honors for his
work in defending biodiversity and the environment. In particular, he
received the Right Livelihood Award (also known as the Alternative
For further information:
Eric Darier, Campaigner, Greenpeace, Montreal (514) 933-0021 x 15;
mobile (514) 605-6497
Pat Mooney, Executive Director, ETC Group (613) 241-2267; mobile (613)
Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator, Ban Terminator Campaign, (613) 241 2267
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