The Eiffel Tower is illuminated in green with the words "Paris Agreement is Done," to celebrate the UN COP21 Climate Change deal. Photo: Reuters / Jacky Naegelen
The Eiffel Tower is illuminated in green with the words Paris Agreement is Done, to celebrate the UN COP21 Climate Change deal. Photo: Reuters / Jacky Naegelesn

Women’s groups in the Asia-Pacific region are deeply concerned about legislation passed by the government of Poland that aims to prevent any “spontaneous” public gathering of climate groups during COP24 in the city of Katowice early next month and subject human-rights defenders to state-led surveillance, including accessing and storing all personal information.

The full name of COP24 is the 24th Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The legislation initiated by the government of Poland sets a dangerous precedent that undermines human rights and fundamental freedoms, particularly the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, association and of speech, and the right to privacy in the context of digital technologies, multilateral process, and the role and importance of people’s organizations in fighting climate change.

Civil-society organizations from the Global South see this law as a deterrent to attending COP24, participating in the negotiations, and organizing people’s actions that are crucial to raising concerns while finalizing the Paris Agreement.

“This clampdown on civil-society space and freedom of expression is a sign of increasing influence of the profit-earning actors who do not want to change the system of exploitation that is leading to climate change,” said Banamallika Choudhury, a member of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD).

“By closing spaces for voices of the people to come into global platforms like the COP, the profit-making exploitative industries and the states continue business as usual at the cost of the planet,” added Choudhury, who is also a principal of NEthing in northeast India.

At a pre-COP24 session in September in Bangkok, representatives of the Polish government were asked about the bill and how it would affect the right to peaceful assembly.

“When asked at the inter-sessions, the incoming Polish presidency responded that the bill was enacted to solicit funding support for the COP24,” said Misun Woo, APWLD regional coordinator. “This basically means that the global climate negotiation is resourced by the groups who want to suppress democratic and peaceful civil-society organizing.

“In addition, tying this bill to the visa application process is fundamentally discriminatory against women human-rights and environmental defenders from the Global South who are most affected by climate change. Global solidarity is required to resist this tactic of oppression.”

The UN’s decision to work with oppressive governments like Poland’s violates the Paris Convention, UN principles on human rights and the European Union’s Aarhus Convention and enables increasing threats to environment and human-rights defenders and shrinking civil-society spaces.

In a letter sent by APWLD to UNFCCC this month, we raised security and personal safety concerns that will be faced by civil society. The Polish government has still not disclosed what data will be screened and what will be labeled “spontaneous demonstration or gathering.”

With previous experience of facing immigration screening and policing of civil-society at COP19 Warsaw and the current provisions of the new bill that subject everyone to undisclosed state surveillance, it is a grave concern for women from the Global South on personal and organizational levels who will likely be subjected to such scrutiny.

Civil-society organizations demand that the Polish government repeal this legislation and give assurances that human rights will be protected at COP24, including the right to assemble. We remind the government of Poland to uphold its legal and human-rights obligations as set out in the European Convention of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

This article was adapted from a press release by APWLD.

Shradha Shreejaya is program officer for climate justice at Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD). She is an ecologist from Kerala, India.