When I traveled to Poland to attend the United Nations climate conference yesterday, I passed through immigration without any problems. But not all representatives of civil society groups participating in the negotiations have been that lucky.
Human Rights Watch is aware of at least 13 people whom Polish authorities, over the past week, barred from entering Poland and making their voices heard at the climate change gathering in the city of Katowice.
The ground invoked to deny them entry at the Polish border, at least in some cases, was that the person was considered to pose a threat to public order, internal security, public health, or international relations to one or more members states of the European Union. However, all the NGO representatives had valid visas and UN accreditation. Two of the activists are nationals of European Union countries and entitled to free movement in the EU. Moreover, at least five of the environmental activists who were denied entry were held and questioned at the border for several hours.
The Climate Action Network, comprising more than 1,300 organizations working on climate change in over 120 countries, decried the incidents in a statement published yesterday. After the statement was published, one NGO representative, who was being held at the border, was granted access.
The denials of entry follow the adoption of a Polish law earlier this year that restricts protest rights and increases surveillance powers during the climate conference. UN human rights experts, as well as nongovernmental organizations including Human Rights Watch, had raised concerns that the law could hamper civil society’s involvement at the climate summit. In response, the Polish government expressed its commitment to work closely with civil society – a commitment yet to materialize.
The civil society representatives who came to Poland in an effort to strengthen the rules for the implementation of the Paris Agreement and solve the global climate crisis should be welcomed and not turned away at the border. The Polish government should stop restricting the rights of environmental activists whose voices are essential to the negotiations.