A crazy week ahead for International Geneva

The Swiss army mobilized with 700 soldiers in support of cantonal law enforcement, restricted airspace and a general framework of enhanced security. These are the measures that will come into effect next week in Geneva in view of the 12th World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference to be held from November 30 to December 3. MC12 will bring together at least one hundred ministers and their delegations, 260 non-governmental organizations and 230 journalists; in total, more than 2,000 people are expected for the occasion.

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Three other events will take place at the same time. From November 29 to December 3, a special session of the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization, will focus in particular on the establishment of a treaty on pandemics. Heads of state and ministers are expected. Then, from December 2-8, the third session of the group of government experts on lethal autonomous weapon systems will take place. Finally, sustainable finance will be in the spotlight with the second edition of the Building Bridges conference at the Maison de la Paix from November 29 to December 2.

Switzerland, host state

The WTO statutes provide for a ministerial meeting every two years. The MC12 was to take place last year in Noursultan, the capital of Kazakhstan. However, it was postponed due to a pandemic and the confederation agreed to host it this year to facilitate its organization. The conference will therefore not be chaired by the host country, as tradition dictates, but by Kazakh Trade Minister Bakhyt Sultanov. Confederation President Guy Parmelin, who will lead the Swiss delegation, will still deliver the opening speech.

“Switzerland guarantees logistics as part of the services it provides as a host country: security outside the buildings dedicated to the conference, supply of the Geneva Conference Center (CICG), assistance in obtaining visas for delegates, support for the health security system implementation, security and VIP reception,” a Confederation spokesman said.

And also: Call for an international treaty to better prepare for future pandemics

Ultimately, the Geneva Cantonal Police will be responsible for security. “Details of the device are confidential,” his spokesman said. We are used to it and have no particular fear of the MC12.”

Strict sanitation

This will be decentralized. Part of the deliberations will take place in the WTO headquarters, in rue de Lausanne, and the other part in the CICG, a stone’s throw from the Place des Nations. The strict sanitation facilities defined by the Confederation will be in place for the four days, a WTO spokesman said. No more than six delegates are admitted to plenary sessions. Face masks are mandatory at all times, except during meals or while speaking. On arrival, the temperature of each participant is measured. Indeed, according to a diplomat, this is the first time in two years that Geneva has hosted an event of such magnitude and at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic appears to be on the rise again.

Even: On access to vaccines, the WTO is spinning in circles

Civil society is organized to mark its presence on MC12. More specifically, it has mobilized on one theme, which is access to vaccines and treatments against Covid-19. Deborah James, host of the Our World Is Not For Sale network, which brings together dozens of organizations from around the world, would have preferred to see the conference postponed. “The Covid-19 does not allow you to work in the best conditions, she complains. The WTO is using this as a pretext to limit the presence of civil society.”

Because unlike previous conferences, there will be no NGO Centre, a meeting place dedicated to civil society. Deborah James also points out that a large proportion of the 260 NGOs accredited to the MC12 are in fact employer organizations such as Business Europe, the Egg Farmers of Canada or the International Chamber of Commerce.

Demonstration on November 30 in Geneva

Activists from Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Amnesty International, Consumers International and those from Swiss organizations such as Public Eye and Bread for All will be present in the morning on November 30 at Place des Nations. They plan to install between 200 and 300 empty seats there to symbolize the death toll from the pandemic. In the afternoon, a candlelit procession will leave the Place Lise-Girardin to go to the Place des Nations.

In addition, throughout the duration of the conference, the activists will be holding placards for the CICG in groups of five. Organizers hope to do the same for WTO headquarters. “We want to keep the negotiators under pressure so that they accept the lifting of intellectual property rights on vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tools related to covid, challenges Geneva’s Stéfanie Prezioso, national councilor Together on the left. Every day the pandemic causes 10,000 deaths.”

Collaboration: Stephane Bussard

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