[NEWS AND VIEWS]
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December 12, 2003
A parting shot.
Civil Society wound up summit proceedings with a strongly worded statement condemning both the Swiss authorities and the summit organisers - a statement that caused Kofi Annan's special advisor, Nitin Desai, to erupt in fury when it was put to him by Daily Summit at WSIS's closing press conference.
Civil society activists, however, ducked questions over whether they would boycott the second part of the summit in Tunis, if Tunisia did not improve its human rights record. An indication, we suspect, of deep divisions within the lobby.
"We unanimously condemn the undemocratic actions of the Swiss authorities and the summit organisers in suppressing dissenting and alternative voices," the statement said.
It highlighted the eviction of Polymedia (previously reported as more cock-up
than conspiracy), the alleged confiscation of newspapers, and the treatment of 50 protestors who were surrounded by 40 police officers, before being searched and taken to the police station if they refused to identify themselves.
â€œThese events continue the pattern of political repression that has been a constant feature of public life in Geneva since the G-8 meeting early in 2003. We strongly condemn these violations of the right to assemble and freedom of expression that have cast a shadow of hypocrisy over the summit."
"I have a feeling that these people were at a different conference," Nitin Desai responded when we read extracts from the statement to him. "I would like to see who these people are, who they are speaking for, and what level of consensus there have behind them."
Civil society's troubles over Tunisia continue. Rights and democracy activist Diana Bronson
said she was unable to speak on behalf of civil society, when asked whether NGOs would be prepared to go to Tunis. After the press conference, however, she told Daily Summit there was a boycott was on the cards.
â€œSpeaking personally, I would say that there is possibility that civil society will not be going if there aren't improvements in Tunisia. But I would add that the chances of a boycott are not strong," she said.
President of Switzerland, Pascal Couchepin commented: "The decision [to go to Tunis] is absolutely clear. It was taken at international level by the United Nations. We know there are problems in Tunisia. We know progress is needed in human rights. But we don't think it is right for a single country to say anything against a decision taken by the international community."
"But we don't think it is right for a single country to say anything against a decision taken by the international community."
Ok, fair enough. What about a few countries? Honestly, though, which countries have said anything?
I think it's that Second Superpower all over again...
"... the treatment of 50 protestors who were surrounded by 40 police officers, before being searched and taken to the police station if they refused to identify themselves."
This quote requires clarification: According to Geneva03, 9 people were detained. 8 of them were released soon, and the last person was released in the evening.
For details, please check the Geneva03 report:
----Geneva 03 report----
Police demonstrate Animosity and Aggression
by Geneva03 Friday December 12, 2003 at 06:25 PM
Geneva Police hassle peaceful demonstrators
Fifty peaceful demostrators representing the Geneva03 movement were aggresively dispersed from outside of the central train station today. Police asserted that the congregation was unauthorized and demanded identification from participators.
Nine members were subsequently detained for refusal to present identification and other non violent acts of protest. Eight were later released, while one girl remains in custody under the charge of uttering threats and insults.
When demonstrators relocated to outside the police station, as a symbol of solidarity to the detained girl, police in riot gear became verbally aggressive towards everyone in the vicinity, including pedestrians and accredited members of the press. They threatened both detainment and deportation to the multi national assembly, and demanded that the crowd disperse within five minutes.
As the participants sat down to translate the demands and to discuss what action should be taken, police misinterpreted this motion as the staging of a sit-in, and charged the group.
The group fled, with the police pursuing them into the street, and attempted to follow several members into the public library nearby.
Employees of the library refused to let the police enter, and several participants fled through a back window, only to be accosted by the police outside, who searched their belongings and identification. Two remaining members witnessed this through the front door, and waited inside until the police finally left the premises.
There just hasn't been much momentum behind the campaign to move the summit - note civil society's dithering. Surprisingly little comment from anyone.
Yes, the dailysummit report on the statemenst of the Civil Society Plenary is slightly misleading. Here is a press release. Check out www.hubproject.org for details.
Press Release on Civil Society Plenary Condemning Rights Violations
December 12, 2003
The Civil Society Plenary, meeting in its final session during the first phase of the UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) taking place from December 10-12, 2003 in Geneva, unanimously condemns the undemocratic actions of the Swiss authorities and the Summit organisers in suppressing dissenting and alternative voices.
Over the past three days:
- The Polimedia Lab organised bz Geneva 03 collective (http://www.geneva03.net), meant to be an open space for participatory communication, was shut down by riot police on Tuesday December 9th, 2003.
- Printed documents critical of the WSIS and of the media and IT corporate monopolies were confiscated and prevented from being circulated inside the Palexpo, the official venue of the WSIS on December 10th, 2003.
- A peaceful demonstration of 50 local and international people at the Gare Cornavin, Geneva, on December 12th, 2003, protesting the WSIS and the corporate control of information and supporting community media, was surrounded by about 40 civil police and several vans filled with riot police, and prevented from continuing. Demonstrators were detained, searched, identified and those refusing to be identified were taken to the police station.
These events continue the pattern of political repression that has been a constant feature of public life in Geneva since the G-8 meeting in June 2003.
We strongly condemn these violations of the right to assemble and freedom of expression that have cast a shadow of hypocrisy over the summit.
For more information on these incidents, please contact Geneva 03, telephone 079-757-4372
Just a quick comment about Civil Society,
I think there is a great misunderstanding that the "Civil Society" provides a common voice for all interested parties at the WSIS. After participating at Prepcom III, I found it very frustrating to make much of a dent about the issues I was trying to represent.
There is a bit of a heirarchy within the "Civil Society", and my impression is the only way to be heard within this group, is to lobby very hard and be very vocal, which is not necessarily the best way to get your views across and digested.
However, without a better system in place, I don't know if there are other alternatives. I just feel it is necessary that the wider community understands that the official views put out by civil society don't necessarily represent everyone or even the majority of civil society.
In many cases, these decisions are being made by a small number of people that are the organizing committee behind civil society.
I had thought that simply as a citizen, I already belonged to something called "civil society".
Now it seems there's an organisation claiming, presumably, to speak on my behalf.
Who on earth are they? When did they decide they represented me? Did I miss that meeting?