Since our last Action Alert highlighting concerns over holding an unprecedented and untried major Basel meeting by electronic means during a global pandemic, we are aware of many Parties that have similarly voiced their concerns.
The African Group, for example have submitted a letter to the Secretariat voicing their opposition to the proposal. Why was this letter not shared with the Parties?
Other Parties in developing countries and countries with economies in transition have told us they too are opposed to the proposal. We do not know how many Parties in total are opposed to the electronic meeting but we know the number is significant. And we also know that decisions of this magnitude are made by consensus. There is no consensus.
At BAN, we believe, as does the Secretariat, that face-to-face meetings must not take place until the risk from COVID-19 is abated and all Parties are able to safely attend them. But we also do not believe that a pandemic justifies pretending that an electronic meeting can be conducted in accordance with the Rules of Procedure and in a manner that will not vastly disadvantage fair proceedings and participation, particularly from developing countries. We believe that a decision of this magnitude has to be made by a consensus of the Parties and not by the Secretariat and Bureau.
Since the last BAN Delegate Alert, the Secretariat, instead of addressing these concerns has, in their "Frequently Asked Questions" response, simply defended their position and avoided the central questions that remain.
Below are 9 questions that remain unanswered for which we believe the Parties still deserve answers:
1. WHO HAS DECISION MAKING POWER? Under what Party-derived mandate did the Bureau and Secretariat make the decision to conduct OEWG12 electronically? Why were the Parties, who are masters of the Convention, not asked whether they wished to proceed in this radical departure from the past means of conducting meetings?
2. WHAT ABOUT THE PARTIES WHO DO NOT AGREE? How many countries in total and which ones, have already contacted the Secretariat or Bureau and voiced their dissent to the idea of holding an electronic OEWG in the manner and on the date proposed? This information should be shared with all Parties.
3. WHY DO WE HAVE RULES IF WE SIMPLY BREAK THEM? How is it possible to assert that the Rules of Procedure apply when those rules require that meetings be conducted in the 6 official UN languages? Indeed Rule 53 requires that
made in one of the 6 official UN languages, including those sent in by email during the 48-hour offline period, must be translated into the other 5 languages. The decision at COP13 regarding the OEWG11 was for that meeting only and still required translation into the 6 official languages. Language and translation is vital for fair participation in UN meetings. It is not a rule that can be so easily broken by the Secretariat. It is a hard and fast rule of the Convention.
4. HOW CAN THIS MEETING BE CONSIDERED PUBLIC? The Rules of Procedure also demand that the meeting be public. A public meeting cannot be guaranteed if any technological problem, no matter how small, prevents a participant from accessing or participating in the meeting during the meeting. How can this possibly be assured online when it is commonplace for calls to drop, platforms and networks and equipment to malfunction etc. If somebody is on lockdown/curfew and their computer breaks, how will we ever know and how can this ever be remedied fairly?
5. HOW CAN SMALL, STRESSED COUNTRIES OPERATE ON 48-HOUR DEMAND? How can it be assumed that small governments around the world can function at a capacity to allow interagency or regional discussions to take place on highly technical matters, and arrive at decisions within 48 hours? If staff are on leave, working at home away from their files, or furloughed, how can they be expected to participate competently?
6. WHY ARE WE PRETENDING THERE IS NO DIGITAL DIVIDE? How is it conceivable that a meeting conducted by electronic means does not disadvantage those in developing and transitional countries given that there is a well-known and documented existence of a digital divide in the world based on both access to appropriate hardware, software and infrastructural platforms such as AC electricity, internet and mobile phone service?
7. HAVE WE LOOKED BEYOND GENEVA? As the Secretariat insists that all venues in Geneva are booked up, have they considered using other venues in other cities? If anything, more venue availability is expected in future due to the large number of recent cancellations.
8. WHY NOW? WHY THE RUSH? Why should we not accept that we can easily extend the existing deadlines and mandates for intercessional work made at COP14 until such time as we can schedule a proper, face-to-face meeting that assures adequate and fair participation? Why the rush into a process that will likely be highly chaotic, disempowering, negative and illegal? At the latest, we know we can postpone the meeting until the COP15 date at which time we know we can use the COP15 venue.
9. PROCEDURAL VS. CONTENT? How can the Secretariat assert that the issues of OEWG12 will be procedural only and therefore somehow less important to warrant full participation? Procedural matters can be decisive to issues. For example, a decision as to whether to provide further debate on a highly controversial or new issue is a "Procedural" decision with huge consequences and cannot be relegated to being decided with less democracy and fairness.
We believe the Parties have the right to know the answers to the these questions, and the right to decide on whether to go forward as proposed, once they have the answers.