Canada Denies Visa for Africa's Top Biosafety Negotiator

Montreal's status as UN's biodiversity headquarters is jeopardized

In a breathtaking display of political interference, the Canadian government has blocked entry of Africa's chief negotiator for the Cartagena (biosafety) Protocol, who was scheduled to attend UN meetings beginning next week (2005) in Montreal. The Protocol is the United Nations treaty that governs the international movement of genetically modified (GM) organisms. 

Dr. Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, the Ethiopian government's chief scientist and its representative to the Montreal-based UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) had his passport returned without the requested Canadian visa yesterday (May 2005), and without explanation.  

The renowned scientist submitted his passport to the Canadian embassy on May 5 and had planned to fly to Oslo, Norway for inter-regional negotiations prior to attending the Montreal meetings that begin Wednesday, May 25.  Because his passport was returned only May 17, Dr. Tewolde was forced to miss the Oslo meeting.

Labeled dangerous? 

Officials at Foreign Affairs and Citizenship and Immigration have been unable to offer an explanation for rejecting the negotiator's visa. Dr. Tewolde has been to Canada often over the past decade, participating in intergovernmental negotiations on biodiversity and biosafety. Since the Rio Earth Summit of 1992, Dr. Tewolde has been one of the most well known leaders among African diplomats addressing environmental issues.  However, his positions have not been popular with the Canadian government.

During the negotiations on a UN treaty on crop genetic resources adopted in Rome last year, Dr. Tewolde spoke on behalf of all developing countries in demanding the right of farmers to save and exchange seeds and in opposing "life patenting" (intellectual property over biological products and processes). In the negotiations that led up to the Cartagena Protocol, the Ethiopian clashed with his Canadian counterparts, demanding higher standards to prevent GM contamination. At UN meetings in Montreal and around the world, Dr. Tewolde has spoken passionately against Terminator technology (genetically-modified seed rendered sterile at harvest time, forcing farmers to buy new seeds each growing season). In February, the Canadian government was prepared to dismantle a de facto moratorium on Terminator at a UN biodiversity meeting in Bangkok. Canada was deeply embarrassed (and highly criticized) when its position became known.

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