Polish authorities silencing the climate defenders at COP24

PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons/ Akcja Demokracja

It’s December 8 2018, Sunday morning, when a member of the Ukrainian environmental NGO Ecoaction has her sleep disturbed in a hotel in Katowice. On the other side of the door are the border police asking to see her passport and, a while later, taking her away in handcuffs without giving any explanation. Apparently, she was on a blacklist, together with over a dozen climate activists who were detained or refused entry to Poland to participate in the UN climate summit (COP24) being held in the city from December 2 to December 14 2018.

The activist from Ecoaction was detained together with her colleague and placed in a detention cell, where they stayed for 12 hours, during which they had no access to a lawyer. Both of them were accredited as COP24 observers and participated in side events. Both were eventually released because of a lack of evidence.

It was not an isolated case. Poland, as the hosting country for COP 24, had already aroused the concern of the international community in July, when a restrictive  billon specific solutions related to the organization of sessions of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in the Republic of Poland” was passed by Poland’s parliament. The new law, specifically prepared for the occasion of COP24, allowed the Polish authorities to “collect, obtain, gather, verify, process and use information, including personal data about persons posing a threat to public safety and order, including outside the borders of the Republic of Poland” if there was a “justified assumption” they would be staying in Poland. The law allowed the Polish authorities to snoop on COP24 participants and forbade spontaneous demonstrations during the event.

This didn’t go unnoticed. A number of international NGOs and United Nations agencies raised concerns about the law being passed and pointed out that the law was in contravention of the Aarhus Convention, violated basic human freedoms, and was completely unconstitutional.

Their concerns were legitimate. At the time of COP 24 at least 14 activists, including a member of the official Georgian delegation, Nugzar Kokhreidze (from the Dialogue of Generations organization), were prevented from entering Poland and/or deported. Some of them were stopped at airports and others pulled off trains or even temporarily detained, as the case of the Ecoaction activists shows. In most of the cases the police officers were unable to give them a reason for their detention or just simply stated that the person detained was on a list of dangerous people. The activists were from different countries, including Germany, Belgium, Ukraine, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia. According to the Polish authorities, the people detained were on an alert list and represented a national threat. The civic society argued that the true reason was to silence the climate activists and prevent them from attending the climate march that was held on December 8 and in which more than 130,000 participated.  

“Hours before the climate march, which was duly registered and approved by the respective authorities in advance for December 8, and is a peaceful non-violent action, at least 10 observers from civil society organizations from eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (EECCA) were detained at the border and denied entry on allegations of being “a threat to public order and security”. Those, who are only planning to come to COP24 are also at risk. People are detained for long periods in ill-fitted rooms, searched and interrogated. Then they are deported. For the first time in COP’s entire history, the declared climate justice, key human rights and liberties, transparency and accessibility of the process that are guaranteed by the Europeean Union legislation and the rules of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) for the annual Conference of Parties (COP24), were flagrantly violated and became a humiliating obstacle for the civil society representatives from a climatically vulnerable region

Svitlana Romanko, regional coordinator of 350.org in Eastern Europe,
Caucasus and Central Asia (EECCA)

Further reading

ENG 07/12/2018 Joint statement of the 350.org group

UKR 09/12/2018 Press release of Ecoaction