top of page

‘Shameful’ UN silencing Indigenous voices, say banned Cop27 activists

Campaigners who interrupted US president’s speech had passes revoked after they put ‘lives in danger’

The four activists gave a war cry and held up a banner during Joe Biden’s speech last Friday. Photograph: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters Four US activists who had their Cop27 accreditation revoked after briefly interrupting the US president, Joe Biden, in Sharm el-Sheikh have described the UN as “shameful” and say it has silenced Indigenous voices.

Big Wind, Jacob Johns, Jamie Wefald, and Angela Zhong missed the second week of the climate conference after being suspended for standing up with a “People vs Fossil Fuels” banner during Biden’s speech last Friday. The Indigenous activists, Wind and Johns, gave a war cry to announce themselves and draw attention to the fossil fuels crisis before security officials confiscated the banner. The group then sat down and Biden continued. The activists appealed against the suspension to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), but the case has not yet been resolved.

“We’ve been locked out, our voices silenced,” said Johns, 39, a Washington state-based community organiser from the Akimel O’otham and Hopi tribe. “The climate collapse is coming, we are literally fighting for our lives. If we’re not allowed to advocate for our future, who will? It’s shameful.”

Wind, 29, an Indigenous conservation associate for Wyoming Outdoor Council and member of the Northern Arapaho tribe, said: “This is a clear example of radical Indigenous people and youth being silenced, we’re muted when we try to express our frustration in these spaces. It shows the UN’s true colours.”

Cop27 has been one of the most repressive – and expensive – UN climate summits on record. The Egyptian regime banned any unsanctioned protests or actions taking place inside or outside the conference centre. A handful of summit delegates have been arrested, deported and harassed, while hundreds of Egyptian civilians were arrested in Cairo amid rumours of brewing political protests. Price gouging has left grassroots activists struggling to raise funds to cover accommodation and food.

International spaces have been historically off limits to indigenous peoples, one of the activists said. [Sean Gallup | Getty Images]

Inside the conference centre, known as the blue zone, plainclothes security officials have monitored the small authorised protests demanding climate justice and an end to fossil fuels. Government stooges interrupted panel events drawing attention to the plight of hunger striker Alaa Abd el-Fattah and Egypt’s 60,000 other political prisoners. Ukrainian activists who earlier this week interrupted a Russian delegation event with shouts of “Russia is guilty of war crimes” were also suspended.

The four US activists, who had secured hotly sought-after tickets for Biden’s speech, said they wanted to call out false market solutions being pushed by the US and other western economies.

“Joe Biden is no climate hero. We wanted to create a moment on behalf of all frontline communities in the global north and south to demand real climate solutions,” said Wefald, a 24-year-old climate activist from Brooklyn.

After the brief interruption, they sat quietly through the remainder of the speech before being escorted out by UN security staff. John said: “The UN security said that our war call had put people’s lives in danger, and we were now deemed a security threat. Our badges were pulled and we had to leave.”

According to an email from the UNFCCC observer relations team, Biden’s speech was a US government event, and they only learned about the suspension from the Guardian’s live blog. The appeal, which was supported by the Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus and several nonprofits, remains unresolved. Wind, who had been closely following negotiations on article 6, in which Indigenous people are fighting to ensure protections are built into carbon markets, said: “We are scared that carbon markets will take our lands away, and I should have been there making our concerns heard to the US delegation. I am worried about future Cops. It’s easy to label us as troublemakers so that our voices are not heard.”

Johns, who raised money through small individual donations to participate in Cop27 and was following loss and damage negotiations, is also part of the international Earthrise Collective of Indigenous wisdom keepers and thought leaders conducting prayers and meditations inside the blue zone.

“The world is falling apart but inside the destruction there is creation and a healthy liveable future, and we try to bring this energy to the chaotic negotiations. International spaces have been historically off limits to indigenous peoples, but different perspectives can hold a lot of power. I’ve been denied that basic right.”

A UNFCCC spokesperson said no advocacy actions were allowed inside plenary and conference rooms and that the four were suspended for breaking the code of conduct. “A final decision on the suspension shall be made after further inquiry of the issue,” they said.

The US delegation have been approached for comment.


© 2022 Guardian News & Media

Featured Review
Tag Cloud
bottom of page