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Unacceptable Repression Of Registered NGOs At Abu Dhabi WTO Ministerial

Along with more than 30 others, I was registered by the World Trade Organization (WTO) to attend this week’s ministerial conference in Abu Dhabi (MC13) as a representative of non-government organisation (NGO) the Pacific Network on Globalisation. I am also a guest of the UAE Chair of the MC13, having been part of an advisory committee to them on the ministerial, said University of Auckland Professor Emeritus Jane Kelsey.

I have been to almost all every WTO ministerial conference. Never before have I seen this level of repression of those who are registered as NGOs. This has crippled our ability to do our job of making concerns and analysis on the substance of negotiations known to delegates, and for grass roots NGOs to speak for those directly affected.

There was no prior warning before we came to Abu Dhabi that we would be totally locked down in this venue and be unable to do anything. Now we are here, the rules are being changed almost every hour. People are feeling very unsafe, especially as people are arbitrarily arrested for doing the most basic things.

We have no access to delegates. We have been ordered not to distribute any papers, including press releases, to anyone, even in the public space. Several people have been arrested for doing so. The first, an Indian farmer’s representative, was handing a letter from farmers to a journalist they know. He had to sign an affidavit that he would not do so again on pain of imprisonment.

Two women – one American and one Norwegian – were detained yesterday for taking photographs in the public space where we were told that was okay. One of the women was arrested for filming the other being arrested.

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Personally, I have been stopped from distributing press releases in a public area on one of my specialist areas of Investment Facilitation to delegations outside a meeting on that issue. My bag has been searched repeatedly with every paper examined, and I was body searched when going through security with a Palestinian Lebanese colleague who had been ordered to remove her Keffiyah.

The New Zealand Minister and officials have been very helpful in raising these issues at the highest level but nothing has changed. The WTO seems powerless to require the basic free speech rights that have applied to other ministerials.

In an ultimate irony, this ministerial is being promoted by the WTO as “inclusive”. That simply means the Director General’s hand picked civil society “representatives” on gender, unions, SMEs etc.

As New Zealand considers entering into negotiations for a free trade agreement with the UAE, we need to be very conscious of what we are dealing with.

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