Non-profits from 22 countries including India prevented from attending WTO meet

The civil society representatives allege that the move to restrict access for non-profits aims to de-democratise the organisation

By Himanshu Nitnaware
Published: Monday 13 June 2022
Photo: @wto / Twitter__

Over 50 non-profits from 22 countries around the world including India and several African countries were prevented from attending the World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference that started June 12, 2022, in Geneva.

The civil society members from India, the UK, United States, Ghana, island nations in the Pacific, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malawi, South Africa, Morocco, Argentina, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Germany, France, Norway, Uruguay, Brazil, Belgium, Switzerland, the Philippines and the Netherlands alleged in a statement that the last-minute withdrawal of access to the WTO, on the opening day was a “repressive tactic”.

They added that three days prior to the beginning of the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) at the WTO premises, they were informed their previously approved access for the first day was withdrawn, citing “unexpected security-related reasons”.

Richard Hill from Association for Proper Internet Governance (Switzerland), a civil society representative, said, “As a Swiss citizen, I am surprised, disappointed, and outraged that the members were not allowed to enter the WTO premises for the opening of the WTO Ministerial meeting on Sunday, even though I am a registered and accredited civil society representative to the meeting.”

He added that this was particularly surprising for a meeting held in Switzerland, which has a long and robust tradition of consulting and listening to all concerned parties, in particular civil society.

The members view the WTO’s locking out the non-profits on the opening day as a move to de-democratise the organisation and distance it from the civil society bodies. In sharp contrast, the WTO welcomed large global corporations to the meet, the members said.

However, sections of civil society said this was not the first time such restrictions were imposed. In 2017, some non-profits were not allowed access during the 11th MC held in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Sofía B Scasserra from Instituto del Mundo del Trabajo, UNTREF, Argentina, faced restrictions again in 2022, after 2017.

She said, “Four years ago, many in civil society were left out of the Buenos Aires Ministerial, showing how undemocratic it is and how it makes decisions behind people's backs. Today, we hear that civil society would not be let in on the first day, for reasons not explained to us.

“I thought it would be different here, but it is the same story repeating itself. We fear that the WTO is now normalising this process of excluding civil society from its processes, while businesses are embraced more by it. This is completely unacceptable and goes against the interests of the people in whose name the WTO convenes.”

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