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[SANET-MG] letter from Tewolde
Open Letter from Tewolde
-His Excellency Dr. Klaus Töpfer, Executive Director,
United Nations Environment Programme,
-Excellencies, heads of the various United Nations Agencies,
-Government Delegations to UN meetings,
-Non-Governmental Organizations that participate and want to contribute
to transparency in the UN System,
-Community Organizations that participate and want to contribute to
transparency in the UN System,
-Professional Organizations that participate and want to contribute to
transparency in the UN System,
-Mass media that want to promote transparency
in the UN System,
-Fellow citizens of this World who want the UN Process to become
participatory and thus our own,
-Friends from all over the World who have been helping me with your
pressure on the Government of Canada,
Subject: Open Letter: Now that Canada has been pressurized into giving
me a visa, does it mean that Multilateralism is assured?
It is good news that the global indignation from many of you has induced
the Canadian Government to give me a visa to participate in what is left
of the biosafety negotiations in Montreal. But, I do not find this good
enough to ensure the future of multilateralism.
Before suggesting what needs to be done, I want to recapitulate briefly
what happened to me.
I was to participate in a preparatory meetings of the African Region to
negotiate the Material Transfer Agreement (MTA) of the International
Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture on 11-12 May
2005 in Lusaka, Zambia. I was then to go to Oslo for an inter-regional
meeting on the same issue on 19-20 May 2005. From Oslo, I was to go to
Montreal via London on 23 May 2005 for two sets of negotiations on the
Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological
Diversity. Montreal is the seat of the Secretariat on Biological Diversity.
On 5 May 2005 I handed to the Canadian Embassy in Addis Ababa a letter
written by my Ministry of Foreign Affairs, my diplomatic passport and
forms given to me by the Canadian Embassy itself to fill in duly filled
in. Not only did the Canadian immigration officials not give me a visa
promptly, which they should have done as hosts of the Secretariat of the
Convention on Biological Diversity, but they simply kept my passport
disregarding my other travels. So, I could not go for the Lusaka
meeting. I was afraid that I would miss the Oslo meeting as well. I was
to travel to Oslo on the night of 16 May 2005. So, I started making
phone calls to the Canadian Embassy urging them to give me my passport
with a Canadian visa, or at least my passport without a Canadian visa.
They sent me my passport without a Canadian visa. The passport reached
me on 17 May 2005, 12 days after I had given it to them, and after the
flight that would have taken me to Oslo had left. So, I immediately
notified the focal points of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in each
country of my situation. Various NGOs and the mass media got hold of
this notification as well, though not through me. I was hoping for a
quick and quiet diplomatic solution to the problem. But it took pressure
from many quarters, especially from organizations in Canada which became
upset by the visa refusal as well as from the mass media coverage,
especially in Canada, to enable me to receive my passport with a
Canadian visa affixed to it in the late afternoon of 24 May 2005. The
negotiations on Liability and Redress begin today, 25 May 2005, and will
finish on 27 May 2005. I will be able to leave Addis Ababa on the night
of 25 May 2005, and reach Montreal on the evening of 26 May 2005. Thus,
I will have missed most of the negotiations on Liability and Redress.
In the exchange of information following my appeal for pressure to be
applied on Canada, I came to realize that many others have also had
their visas delayed or totally denied. They are all from developing
We, in the developing countries, are already disadvantage in the
multilateral fora of the UN thanks to our colonial and neocolonial past
not only because of our low awareness, but more so because of lack of
financial resources to enable us to travel and participate. And yet,
except for the UNEP Headquarters which is in Nairobi, Kenya, all
secretariats of UN organizations are in the rich industrialized countries.
If these countries can unilaterally de facto veto the participation of
the delegates from developing countries whom, for various reasons, they
do not like, the little ability that we have will be nullified and we
cannot talk of multilateralism in the UN System anymore.
Why do I think that the Canadian Government does not want me to
participate in the FAO and UNEP multilateral fora?
1. Because I have been the spokesperson of the African Group on plant
genetic resources under the auspices of the FAO and I have argued for a
fair share of benefits to the poor rural people of the world in the use
of their genetic resources by the rich, including Canadian companies;
2. Because I have been a spokesperson of the G77 and China excluding
Argentina, Uruguay and Chile in insisting on responsible genetic
engineering that safeguards human beings and biodiversity, calling,
among other measures, for the labelling of products of genetic
engineering to enable people to choose what they buy, and for a global
liability and redress regime for forcing biotechnology companies to
compensate for any damage they may cause anywhere;
3. Because I am from one of the poorest of countries and there would
thus be little problem for Canada in ignoring protestations from my
country on a bilateral basis.
If multilateralism under the UN is to generate a global consensus, we
must act now. I suggest action at the following levels.
A. Global Grass Roots Action.
I suggest that we identify nodes in each Region of the world to which
such unilateral State actions against multilateral participation by
representatives of Governments, Non-Governmental Organization, Community
Organizations and Professional Organizations as envisaged in Agenda 21
are reported. I also suggest that these nodes keep interacting among
themselves to apply pressure simultaneously and to name and shame
arrogant States. NGOs could play this role effectively.
B. UNEP and other UN Agency Level Action.
I appeal to H. E. Dr. Klaus Töper, the Executive Director of UNEP, and
to the other Heads of UN Agencies to have explicit decisions passed in
their respective organizations that will enable the sensure of arrogant
member States that prevent the participation that Agenda 21 expects of
all of us. To this effect, they also need to establish channels for
reporting such cases of preventing participation by those to who such
participation has been denied.
C. State Level Action
All states should ensure that their citizens who go to other countries
to participate in multilateral fora have round trip tickets to bring
them back home. A country that hosts a multilateral forum should also
have the right, after that multilateral forum is closed, to repatriate,
forcefully if need be, any participant that came to that forum to the
country she/he came from.
D. Convention Secretariat Level Action
Conferences of Parties to the respective Conventions should transfer
their respective Secretariat to another Party if the host country
prevents any legitimate participation in the activities of that Secretariat.
You will recall that, in my Second Update of 23 May 2005, I suggested a
draft decision to be passed by COP/MOP 2 concerning access to the
Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. I would like that
suggested decision to be slightly modified as follows:
D.1 Any delegate shall be given a visa by the Government of Canada on
demand provided that that demand is conveyed formally from the
delegate's Government which is a Party to the Convention on Biological
Diversity or any protocol emanating from it or from an organization
accredited to that specific meeting by the Secretariat of the Convention
on Biological Diversity to the effect that the delegate will be
travelling to Canada for work related to the Convention on Biological
Diversity or to any protocol emanating from it.
D.2 One refusal or delay by the Government of Canada in issuing a visa
requested as in (a) above that results in any diminition of
participation by the delegate in the planned work shall become
sufficient ground for the closure of the Secretariat of the Convention
on Biological Diversity in Montreal and its transfer to the territory of
another Party. The complete transfer of the Secretariat shall be
effected within 2 years from the date when the impeded work of the
delegate was to have began.
If we do not take these sets of actions, the UN system will end up an
instrument of a small group of powerful countries to keep some sections
of humanity lulled into submission and other sections radicalized into
terrorism. I appeal to you all to do your share to make multilateralism
a reality for a harmonious and safe world: a soporific world is as
objectionable as a chaotic world.
Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher
Director General, Environmental
Protection Authority of Ethiopia
Cc:- - Dr. Hamdallah Zedan, Executive Secretary of the CBD
- The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister,
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Embassy of Canada, Addis Ababa
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