CADI News and Features
August 28, 2002 


Police violence shattered the prospects for a successful outcome at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) being held at Johannesburg, South Africa. Without provocation, South African police troopers threw concussion bombs and teargas at activists who were peacefully marching to protest what they perceive to be the corporate control of the WSSD. Three protestors were injured and dozens of others were hauled off to jail.

The WSSD is the largest and most important meeting of the United Nations at the beginning of the 21st century. The WSSD aims to continue the work on sustainable development started at the UN Conference on Environment and Development, known as the Earth Summit of 1992. The Earth Summit produced Agenda 21, its blueprint for sustainable development in the 21st century. Thousands of government, business, and civil society leaders have started arriving to attend the summit in pursuit of concrete steps to advance sustainable development. In a few days, the UN expects over 100 heads of states and governments to attend the summit.

"The police violence at the WSSD marks the beginning of the end of the sustainable development agenda of governments. It will also mark a watershed in the way civil society will view future summits by the UN and its member governments", warned Nicanor Perlas, a veteran of the Earth Summit and active in the promotion of Philippine Agenda 21. Perlas is also President of the Center for Alternative Development Initiative, a civil society organization based in Metro Manila, Philippines.

"Despite some uneven progress, governments have basically failed to live up to the various commitments they made in many high profile summits, including the Earth Summit. Yesterday's brutal tactics simply underscore the lack of vision and political will by governments to address the fundamental issues facing the WSSD", continued Perlas. "From this point on, global civil society will develop strategies to delegitimize expensive global summits like the WSSD which simply provide a convenient greenwash for governments to hide policies leading to unsustainable development" he said.

Perlas was referring to the failure of governments to close the gap between their pursuit of sustainable development under the Earth Summit which is voluntary versus their almost trancelike adoption of WTO agreements, which are obligatory and often adversely impact sustainable development. Instead, at the WSSD, governments have sought to collapse its sustainable development agenda and make it subservient to the WTO agenda, signaling the demise of the sustainable development agenda, at least in the government sector.

As further tension developed in Johannesburg, Perlas called on all civil society activists, especially those who are part of their official government delegations, to withdraw their participation from the official part of the summit and join the protest against government repression and police brutality.

"Civil society activists who continue to participate in the official summit are merely pawns in the power games played by those governments and corporations who do not have a commitment to sustainable development at heart. They should already see by now that the language of the official WSSD documents does not address the structural problems that accelerate unsustainable practices all over the world. The repressive police presence at the WSSD should act as a wakeup call to shatter any illusions that there will be long term benefits that the WSSD will gain for the world", concluded Perlas.



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