US and UN target Greenpeace
Greenpeace under attack by UN and US
(2003-11-19 11:10) (OneWorld.net)
One of the world's most prominent and effective non-governmental organizations, Greenpeace, is coming under attack at both the United Nations and by the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, D.C.
The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is moving to lift Greenpeace's "consultative status," which permits the environmental group to submit briefs to and address the UN agency--responsible for ensuring "safer ships" and "cleaner seas"--on the grounds that the group practices unsafe seamanship.
The action comes as U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft is pressing a criminal case against Greenpeace for allegedly violating an obscure 1872 law against individuals who lured sailors to their establishments with offers of liquor or prostitutes, and encouraging local authorities to deny Greenpeace docking rights at its ports.
Both actions come amid efforts by groups close to the Bush administration to more closely monitor progressive international NGOs, such as Greenpeace, that they accuse of pursuing a "globalist agenda" that threatens U.S. interests abroad.
"There is this falsehood that they are somehow from the grassroots," said Danielle Pletka, vice president of the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) at the annual meeting of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies here last weekend. "That is an untruth."
AEI and the Federalist Society launched a new website, www.ngowatch.org, last June that publishes information about the agendas and financing of more than 100 international NGOs, including Greenpeace.
The major complaints of both the IMO and the Justice Department appear to be aimed at Greenpeace's efforts to publicize environmental abuses at sea, sometimes through direct action against ships that may be violating environmental regulations or laws.
Greenpeace has had consultative status with the IMO since 1991, and has worked for stricter regulations against dozens of environmentally unsound practices, from the transport of high-level radioactive waste at sea to a ban on single-hulled oil tankers.
The IMO initiated action to expel Greenpeace in June 2002, when several states formally charged that the group practice unsafe seamanship. A number of the complaining countries are "Flag of Convenience" states, which have been targets of Greenpeace protests for operating unsafe oil tankers or carrying unsafe cargoes in the past.
Without a vote, the IMO chair decided to uphold the complaints and expel Greenpeace, an action that must now be taken up by the IMO Assembly, its governing body, when it meets in London from November 24 to December 5. No other observer has ever been expelled, nor has Greenpeace been expelled from any other international body.
Greenpeace argues that the only grounds on which an observer can be expelled under IMO rules is for certain procedural reasons, such as failing to attend meetings.
The group says the IMO decision is particularly ironic given that consultative status has never been withdrawn from any other observer, including corporate lobby groups such as Intertanko, the industry association of supertanker owners, despite the "unsafe seamanship" of its members that resulted in catastrophic oil spills such as the 1989 Exxon Valdez in Alaska and the Prestige spill off Spain one year ago, whose costs were estimated last week in a new study by the World Wildlife Fund at well over US$5 billion.
Instead, the IMO is claiming that some Greenpeace activities contravene the 1972 collision regulations, called "ColRegs," laws aimed at ensuring safety at sea. It argues that recent protests by Greenpeace against the shipment of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), substandard tankers, and nuclear shipments, that have involved boarding or close monitoring of the vessels in question, have violated the ColRegs.
Greenpeace, however, says that safety both for crewmembers of all vessels and the marine environment in which they operate has always been paramount in its operations and that its activists are thoroughly trained. "Unlike the oil industry, we don't put other people's lives or the environment at risk with our actions," the group insists. Moreover, when Greenpeace was first granted consultative status, it made a formal commitment to observe the rules of good seamanship, including the ColRegs.
"The reality is that our activities have upset some members of the shipping industry--those which are involved in environmentally damaging activities," the group says, noting that it is currently canvassing governments for support at the Assembly, and is meeting with the U.S. delegation in Washington Tuesday.
In Washington, the Justice Department has charged Greenpeace with "sailor-mongering," a crime that it says was committed by Greenpeace when it shadowed and then boarded a vessel, the APL Jade, as it approached the port of Miami in April, 1992. At the time, Greenpeace was leading a campaign to stop the illegal import of mahogany into the U.S., and it believed that the APL Jade was engaged in the trade.
U.S. President Bush had publicly committed Washington to help developing countries prevent illegal logging of mahogany at the time, and the two activists who boarded the ship carried a banner that read, "President Bush, Stop Illegal Logging." The two were arrested when they came into port and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.
Fifteen months later, however, the Justice Department filed an indictment in Miami against Greenpeace under the 1872 law, which, according to George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, has been used only twice before.
If convicted, Greenpeace could lose its tax-exempt status, an action that would likely close it down permanently. "This prosecution is unprecedented in American history," Greenpeace USA director John Passacantando told Inter Press Service recently. "Never before has our government criminally prosecuted an entire organization for the free speech activities of its supporters."
Citing the prosecution, the director of the Port of Miami, Charles Towley, denied Greenpeace docking space for its ship, MV Esperanza on the grounds that its presence posed a security risk and that its presence could result in "delays and operational costs" for the port.
When the Esperanza subsequently approached Miami's port October 29, it was boarded by Coast Guard officials who detained the crew for three hours and did not permit it to proceed to port. It has since sailed on to Greece.