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Groups Protest U.N. Climate Summit for Shutting Out Civil Society

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As the Cancún climate talks headed toward a conclusion on Friday, civil society groups spoke out against what they said was a flawed United Nations process. As the talks wrapped up inside the conference rooms of Cancún’s luxurious Moon Palace resort, civil society groups protested the process—and found themselves increasingly iced out. John Hamilton files a report from Cancún. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As the Cancún climate talks headed toward a conclusion Friday, civil society groups protested against what they said was a flawed U.N. process. The umbrella group Grassroots Solutions for Climate Justice blasted the forum for excluding the voices of indigenous peoples left vulnerable to the effects of climate change. As the talks wrapped up inside the conference rooms of Cancún’s luxurious Moon Palace resort, civil society groups protested the process and found themselves increasingly iced out.

John Hamilton filed this report.

JOHN HAMILTON: As U.N. talks in Cancún neared their conclusion on Friday, climate justice activist Diana Pei Wu approached an entryway to the COP16 conference. A security guard scanned a barcode on her credentials.

DIANA PEI WU: What’s going on? Really?

So, today, when I walked in the door, as I do every morning, they scanned the badge, and it turned red, and it flashed. And it made this beeping noise. And then he kept scanning. He was like, “What’s wrong with the badge?” And I’m, “I don’t know what’s wrong with the badge.”

So we’re going to go over here to security. They’re like, “Oh, we don’t know what’s wrong with it.” They’re just going to go and replace it. So, hopefully, they’ll just replace it.

SECURITY: Oh, OK. It says, “not registered.”

DIANA PEI WU: It says, “Not registered”?


DIANA PEI WU: It says, “Not registered”?


DIANA PEI WU: That’s really strange.

JOHN HAMILTON: Diana Pei Wu had been cut off from access to climate talks because of her association with a peaceful protest held at the event earlier in the week. Her colleague, Anne Petermann of the Global Justice Ecology Project, was given the explanation from a U.N. official.

ANNE PETERMANN: So when I talked to Warren on the phone, Warren Waetford, the NGO liaison, he said, “Yes, we reviewed the footage and decided that she was part of the protest,” even though what she was in fact doing was filming the protest.

DIANA PEI WU: We know that these are very political decisions. And so, the idea that this is all — that it’s wrong to chant, that it’s wrong to walk together, en masse, seems to me a shutting down of free speech and the democratic processes, which the U.N. is supposed to represent.

ANNE PETERMANN: The U.N. is silencing dissent! The U.N. is silencing indigenous people!

JOHN HAMILTON: The frustration felt by NGOs over the U.N.’s clampdown led to a series of protests throughout the final hours of climate talks. Anne Petermann led an afternoon demonstration at the foot of the stairs used by climate delegates.

ANNE PETERMANN: The U.N. is silencing dissent! We must respect indigenous rights!

JOHN HAMILTON: Patrick Reinsborough is with the grassroots organizing group, the smartMeme Project.

PATRICK REINSBOROUGH: What we just saw here inside the Moon Palace was over a dozen members of civil society who had become so frustrated with the systematic silencing of their voices that they decided to engage in symbolic civil disobedience. And placing themselves directly on the stairs coming down from the plenary, they put gags over their mouth, gags that read ”UNFCCC.” And they held signs representing a lot of the constituencies, a lot of the issues that are being censored in these talks. So I think they were using their bodies in a final last-ditch effort to show the censorship and silencing that’s happening inside these talks.

PROTESTER: Long live international solidarity! Long live international solidarity!

PROTESTERS: Two thousand three hundred thirty-one, 2,332, 2,333, 2,334.

JOHN HAMILTON: As evening set in and climate talks neared completion during a final plenary, a delegation of youth activists held a vigil outside the session. They counted upwards toward the number 21,000.

PROTESTER: Every one of these numbers represents a death by climate change that has occurred just this year. Since last COP to now, there has been approximately 21,000 deaths. Each of these persons has a story. We are here asking for justice for these people and to end the suffering and ask purely for our survival.

PROTESTERS: Two thousand four hundred twenty-five, 2,426.

JOHN HAMILTON: When the demonstrators continued their vigil past the time allotted to them, U.N. guards moved in and dragged them towards a waiting bus. The protesters linked arms, and the scene quickly became chaotic

As they wrestled activists onto buses, U.N. guards also seized press credentials from the necks of journalists, and detained a photographer while seizing his camera. Gonzalo Zapata is a journalist from the newspaper Por Esto in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo.

GONZALO ZAPATA: [translated] We were covering a peaceful march of some young people, and suddenly U.N. security asked for a truck to come to take the kids away, who weren’t doing anything to deserve that. Then they grabbed a companion. They put him on the bus and started to take him away while beating him.

JOHN HAMILTON: Jorge Silva was covering the protest, working as a photographer for the Reuters news service. A U.N. official said he had assaulted a guard. But other journalists quickly rushed to his defense.

GONZALO ZAPATA: [translated] We tried to stop them from taking him, since they were beating him inside the vehicle. And then the U.N. security attacked us and were later joined by the Mexican authorities.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And so, you tried to stop the bus from leaving?

GONZALO ZAPATA: [translated] Yes, yes, because he is a colleague who was being taken away for simply doing his work as press. They put up cardboard to block the window and continued to beat him on the bus.

JOHN HAMILTON: Observers from civil society groups said the chaos of the final day of climate talks was emblematic of a conference that shut out voices from the grassroots. Kumi Naidoo is international executive director of

KUMI NAIDOO: Civil society is shut out. I’ve met government delegates who said, “Oh, I would love to come for that side meeting. I would have loved to have come for the climate-induced migration conversation,” which is a really big
question on climate refugees, “but it takes me 45 minutes to get from here to there and back.” So, there has been no real enabling environment created for civil society to be able, you know, to have access to delegates and to convey our concerns and our views and perspectives.

ANNE PETERMANN: The U.N. is silencing the Global South! The U.N. is silencing women!

JOHN HAMILTON: For Democracy Now!, I’m John Hamilton in Cancún, Mexico.

ANNE PETERMANN: The U.N. is silencing indigenous peoples!

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