How a Peaceful Protest was Aggressively Shut Down by UN Security
On Tuesday night, the Demand Climate Justice platform made an announcement at the Cumbre Social por el Clima that there will be an unannounced cacerolazo the following day at the negotiations. A cacerolazo is a form of protest which originated in South America where demonstrators bang on pots, pans, and other utensils to disrupt and grab attention. A group of people from the Cumbre Social without accreditation to enter the official negotiations were to gather at 1:45 pm the next day and make their way to the outside of the conference centre where they would meet up with protestors who would join them from the inside at 3 pm.
Having been at the conference centre a few hours earlier, we made our way to the adjoining hall where the demonstration was to take place just outside of the main plenary room. As walked around the side of the room, we were stopped by security guards who were not letting anyone through to the main area. Together with a growing group of party members, observers, and members of the press, we were held in a tight space right around the corner from where the action was meant to be taking place. All of the entrances to the main hall were being blocked off by security with the intention to avoid more people witnessing (or even participating) in the cacerolazo. We were eventually let through but anyone with press badges was forced to “wait a bit longer”.
By the time we got through, the demonstrators had been forced out of the main hall and into an outside courtyard which was being blocked off by a group of security guards standing on either side of the door. Passive observers and press filmed the relatively large group of protestors from inside the hall. The guards only let us out next to the protestors after warning us that if we chose to go out we would not be allowed back in. A large group of people huddled around the courtyard as the speakers criticised the COP for its inaction on the climate crisis once again, many of these voices representing the Global South and indigenous communities demanding justice. Halfway through an intervention, the large metal doors of the conference centre started to close as people booed and shouted “Shame on you” while some of the security guards standing on the outside of the doors stood their ground.
The activists quickly and efficiently organised themselves and started to make their way around the centre with the plan to join the protestors from the Cumbre at the front. A small group of organisers were a few steps ahead of the crowd negotiating terms with the police. As we walked, we learnt of how the security guards reacted to the cacerolazo inside the halls with force and even violence. People’s badges were ripped off their necks, members of the press were pushed away, and some of the demonstrators were pushed, dragged and even kicked. We were told that many of the people targeted by the guards were smaller women.
A crowd of around 300 demonstrators walked around the large venue, chanting, holding flags, and raised fists while flanked by numerous Spanish police officers holding machine guns and driving armoured vehicles. Many of the protestors walked in light shirts or T-shirts in 8-degree weather having had most of their belongings locked inside the centre. We were never able to join the other crowd as the police halted the walk once we approached the front of the venue and proceeded to split us up into smaller groups until the demonstrations and chanting fizzled out, and people walked down into the Metro station baffled at everything that had just unfolded.
That afternoon, some of the organisers met with high-level members of the UNFCCC Secretariat and heads of the security team. The activists condemned the heavy-handed reactions of the security and the secretariat condemned the activists for not following the code of conduct which prohibits “using the UNFCCC venues for unauthorized demonstrations”.
A reaction from the COP organisers to an unauthorised demonstration was inevitable but the intensity and scale of that reaction were both surprising and unacceptable. The following day, the UNFCCC released a “joint” statement with some of the observer organisations. The statement is clearly another show of force by the UNFCCC secretariat. Civil society’s only input into the supposed joint statement reads:
Representatives from the concerned non-governmental observer organizations expressed their willingness to abide by the Guidelines as well as the Code of Conduct. They committed to request prior authorization for any future actions at the COP in accordance with established procedure.
At the end of the day, it is clear that the UN body’s only concern is keeping up with appearances and reinstating control under the guise of ensuring “the safety of COP participants and to allow for the continuation of the conference proceedings”. What the UNFCCC is failing to address is the fact that this group of activists took matters into their own hands following continued frustration at the COP process which has not brought the world anywhere in relation to the climate crisis. Millions are spent every year on the negotiations as governments and big corporations largely responsible for the crisis use the COP as a sort of trade fair to greenwash their business-as-usual activities through their pavilions, their marketing, and their keynote speeches.
Photos: JD Farrugia