PEN Congress in Pune, India approves a resolution on climate change and environmental activism

RESOLUTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISM

Proposed by Norwegian PEN, seconded by PEN Eritrea and Estonian PEN

 Approved by the Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 84th World Congress in Pune, India 25 – 29 September 2018

Climate change poses serious threats to future generations whose voices are not yet heard. They risk inheriting an uninhabitable planet. According to the UN, the last three years have been the hottest on record with increased incidents of extreme weather affecting millions of people, which strongly foreshadows the threatening process of continued global warming.[1] While the 2015 Paris Agreement[2] has been deemed a step forward, it does not do enough to keep global warming between 1,5 and 2 degrees centigrade, which is a prerequisite for preserving livelihoods in the most vulnerable countries.[3]

Species necessary for survival are increasingly threatened by extinction. Meanwhile, climate and environmental activists all over the world, from the Philippines to Brazil, from DR Congo to Peru and the U.S.A. face threats and persecution from state and non-state actors when they peacefully voice their concerns and protest policies and actions that risk a further deterioration of the climate and environment. [4] For instance:

  • In the U.S.A., journalists and film makers who documented the work of the activists who demanded the shut-down of oil sand pipelines in 2016 are facing criminal charges and risk hefty prison sentences, which threatens press and artistic freedom.[5]
  • In Vietnam, independent journalist and blogger Nguyen Van Hoa was sentenced to seven years in prison on 27 November, for his coverage of the 2016 Formosa chemical spill;[6] in April, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (also known under her pen name Mother Mushroom) was sentenced to 10 years in prison for writing about the same environmental disaster, among other things.[7]
  • In India, three members of one family were murdered last May as they tried to prevent the extraction of sand from a riverbank by their village of Jatpura.[8]
  • In Peru, six farmers were killed by a criminal gang who wanted to grab their land for palm oil production.

All over the world, an increasing number of those who raise their voices and act in defence of their habitat, are killed. According to the Guardian, 197 defenders of the environment were killed in 2017[9] and 66 have been killed so far in 2018 (at the time of writing, 30 July 2018). Most killings occur in remote forest areas, particularly in Latin-America. At the current rate, approximately four environmentalists might be killed every week this year.[10]

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International calls on the leaders of all states:

  • to take measures to protect the rights to freedom of expression and of association and other human rights that enable activists to raise their voices and engage with climate/environment issues, and to contribute to an atmosphere in which they can speak and peacefully express their dissent and protest freely, without facing threats, persecution and violence;
  • to respect and protect the rights to freedom of expression and to access to information of journalists and writers engaged with documenting threats against global environment and climate, so that they can pursue their vital role in informing the public debate on these matters, unhampered by violence, threats, undue restrictions and censorship.

[1] Reuters, ‘Last three years hottest on record, severe weather hits 2018: U.N.’, 22 March 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-climatechange-un/last-three-years-hottest-on-record-severe-weather-hits-2018-u-n-idUSKBN1GY01D.

[2] The Paris Agreement, https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement.

[3] The Independent, ‘COP21: Paris deal far too weak to prevent devastating climate change, academics, warn’, 8 January 2016, https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/cop21-paris-deal-far-too-weak-to-prevent-devastating-climate-change-academics-warn-a6803096.html.

[4] Reuters, ‘Trump threat fires up U.S. climate activists, draws in more’, 11 November 2016, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-environmentalists-idUSKBN1362EU.

[5] The Guardian, ‘Anti-pipeline activists and film-makers face prison, raising fears for free press’, 30 January 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/30/anti-pipeline-activists-and-film-makers-face-prison-raising-fears-for-free-press.

[6] Mongabay, ‘Citizen journalist jailed 7 years for reporting environmental disaster in Vietnam’, 1 December 2017, https://news.mongabay.com/2017/12/citizen-journalist-jailed-7-years-for-reporting-environmental-disaster-in-vietnam/.

[7] PEN International, ‘Take action for Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh’, 30 October 2017, http://pen-international.org/news/take-action-for-nguyen-ngoc-nhu-quynh.

[8] The Guardian, ‘Villagers pay tragic price as Indian building boom drives demand for sand’, 30 December 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/dec/30/india-sand-mining-conflict-deaths-building-boom-environmental-damage.

[9] The Guardian, ‘The defenders: Almost four environmental defenders a week killed in 2017’, 2 February 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/feb/02/almost-four-environmental-defenders-a-week-killed-in-2017?CMP=share_btn_tw.

[10] The Guardian, ‘The defenders: 66 environmental defenders have been killed so far in 2018 while protecting their community’s land or natural resources’, 17 July 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/ng-interactive/2018/feb/27/the-defenders-recording-the-deaths-of-environmental-defenders-around-the-world.

The PEN International congress worried about lack of freedom of expression in a number of countries, 19 resolutions published

During PEN Internationals congress in Belgrade from 12th through 18th September, a number of resolutions about the lack of free expression in a number of countries were passed.  The source of most of these text were the Writers in Prison Committee.  Local WiPC write texts, secure support from other centers and convene at the congress in order to agree on the final texts to be passed on to the assembly.

Most of these texts are written in a well known UN-language.  PEN centers often discuss how we – as a literary organizations – can express ourselves more literary and less bureaucratic in these text which are distributed to authorities, embassies and medias all over the world.  The Mexican resolution, telling a long story of increasingly more violent harassements, is an example.

All the text are available on this link.

71st World Congress of Writers Opens in Bled

International PEN Seeks to Bridge Political Divides, Cultural Traditions
Bled, Slovenia, June 14, 2005

Forty years after an International PEN Congress in Bled opened a dialogue between writers separated by the Iron Curtain, the world organization of writers has once again gathered in Bled to reach across cultural and political divisions and defend writers and freedom of expression around the world. More than 250 writers representing 88 PEN centers and every region of the world will be participating in International PEN’s 71st World Congress this week.

At a press conference this morning to mark the opening of the Congress, International PEN President Jiri Grusa declared, «We are living in a time of extraordinary threats to writers and the freedom to write. In the ten years since our colleague Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed in Nigeria, hundreds of writers and journalists around the world have died by violence. Crackdowns on internet writers and anti-terrorism legislation have harmed writers and chilled freedom of expression in a number of countries. This week we will be challenging these threats.»

International Secretary Joanne Leedom-Ackerman spoke of the significance of Bled, and the Slovene PEN Center, for the 84 year-old organization. «Arthur Miller was elected President of International PEN the last time we held a Congress here in Bled, and his presidency, and that Congress, helped PEN become an organization that connects writers who find themselves isolated by international conflicts and political passions. Here in 1965, for the first time, PEN welcomed writers from the Soviet Union as observers at a PEN Congress, beginning a process that culminated in the establishment of the first PEN center in a
Soviet bloc country 20 years later.»

Underscoring the importance of bridge-building for PEN, Ms. Leedom-Ackerman paid special tribute to the efforts of Slovene PEN to bring aid and support to writers in Sarajevo in the early 1990’s, calling that work «one of the clearest embodiments of the PEN spirit in recent memory.» «At the height of the worst conflict in the Balkans, at a time when dozens of writers were literally cut off from the rest of the world, Slovene PEN and the Peace Committee of International PEN, under the leadership of Boris Novak, managed to get them critical, very likely life-saving support, and to keep the lines of communication open. It is wonderful to be here in Bled to acknowledge the leadership of the Slovene PEN Center and remember Arthur Miller, who died this past year.»

The 2005 PEN World Congress comes at a time of unprecedented growth in the international literary organization, which now encompasses 141 centers in 99 countries around the globe. Writers from active networks of PEN centers in Latin America, Africa, and Asia are attending this week’s Congress, and major PEN programs will take place in Ghana, Austria, Kyrgyzstan and Australia later this year. There are also significant new initiatives under way to foster PEN centers in the Arab world and to connect writers in the People’s Republic of China with PEN centers around the world.

«At a time when there is a great deal of talk about the clash of cultures, PEN has become a place where cultures come to meet and debate,» Ms. Leedom-Ackerman said. «Our goal is not to clash, but to communicate.»

International PEN’s 71st World Congress of Writers will feature major round table discussions and readings and literary programs throughout the week. At the same time, the Assembly of Delegates and PEN’s Peace Committee, Writers in Prison Committee, Women’s Committee, Committee on Translation and Linguistic Rights, and Exiles Network will take up a number of issues of pressing concern to writers around the globe.

Immediately following the Congress in Bled, the PEN Women’s Committee will convene a historic meeting of women writers in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Writers for Peace congress 2003

Minutes from the yearly General Meeting of International PEN’s Writers for Peace Committee in Bled, Slovenia 21st-22nd May 2003

Centres present (in alphabetical order):

Belgian Dutch-speaking
Bosnian-Hercegovinian*
French
German
Israeli
Japanese
Kurdish
Macedonian
Montenegrine
Norwegian
Portuguese*
Romanian
Russian
Slovene
Swedish
Swiss Italian
Vietnamese Writers Abroad
*) Centres being voted in as Committee Members on the morning of the second day (see below)

Also present:

Mr Terry Carlbom, International Secretary of International PEN
Ms Jane Spender, Administrative Director of International PEN (first day)

The meeting was chaired by the Chair of the WfPC, Mr Veno Taufer.

The Chair proposed the following agenda, which was adopted unanimously and without discussion:
1) Report of the Chair
2) Changes to the Standing Orders of the WfPC
3) Recommendations and Resolutions
4) Elections
5) Any other business.

NB: Because of the time schedule, parts of items 3, 4 and 5 on the agenda were postponed to the meeting’s improvised second day (the original program only provided for one session during the meeting). For clarity’s sake, these minutes nevertheless follow the adopted agenda, since the time schedule does not influence on the decisions taken as they are referred to in the minutes.

1) REPORT OF THE CHAIR:

Since the last General Meeting, there have been two meetings of the WfPC, both during International PEN’s international congress in Ohrid, Macedonia in September 2002. Those two meetings were quite vivid. 7 resolutions were proposed, and the WfPC worked very hard on some of them. One resolution about Iraq proposed by the German centre, one resolution on the Middle East conflict proposed by the Israeli and the Norwegian centres and one resolution on the occupation of the Palestinian land proposed by the Bangladesh and the Palestinian centres all referred to the Declaration of Peace and Freedom which was formulated by the WfPC and adopted by International PEN at its international Congress in Lugano, Switzerland in 1987. There was much discussion about these resolutions.

On February 18th, 2003, WfPC sent a letter of moral support to UN’s Secretary General, Mr Kofi Annan, and to UN’s Security Council. This letter was distributed to all centres. It supported all efforts to avoid a war in Iraq. There was much discussion about an eventual protest against the war. WfPC decided that it would be much more positive to support the efforts to stop the war. Protests were already made through other channels and organizations, also by several individual PEN centres.

According to the Chair’s opinion, WfPC should return to the roots of our work. One of these roots is the Declaration of Peace and Freedom from the Lugano congress in 1987.

2) CHANGES TO THE STANDING ORDERS OF THE WfPC:

According to the Chair’s opinion, we should give the WfPC some sort of frame. In the future, it will be more and more important that we claim what we are against and what we are for. Paragraphs 4 and 5 from this declaration were proposed by the Chair as a preamble for the WfPC’s Standing Orders, but in such a way that the preamble opens with paragraph 5, which is more general, and continues with paragraph 4. This proposal was adopted unanimously, after some discussion. The new preamble to the Standing Orders thus reads:

There can be no freedom without peace and no peace without freedom; the free development of the individual and of society is a condition for long-lasting peace. Only free men and women can live in peace with other people, nations, classes, races and religions.
Terrorism is to be condemned whether it includes state terrorism, individual terrorism or terrorism that justifies itself as part of a struggle for liberation. Movements using terrorist methods annul the missions to which they are dedicated and lose all claims to legitimacy.

The other proposed changes in the Standing Orders were unanimously adopted without discussion. These proposals have been distributed to all centres.

3) RECOMMENDATIONS AND RESOLUTIONS:

a) Proposed recommendation on the situation in Iraq, made by the Norwegian centre.
The proposal was adopted unanimously after thorough discussion, and with some additions to the proposed text. It then was decided to send the adopted text to the office of UN’s Secretary General, asking him to distribute it to the UN delegations of all member states of UN’s Security Council.

The adopted text reads as follows:

The Writers for Peace Committee of International PEN, assembled at its annual conference in Bled, Slovenia in May 2003,

Recalling Article 2 of the PEN Charter, that our cultural heritage should be spared in times of conflict;

States that it is profoundly shocked and saddened by the damage inflicted on Iraq by the recent war and its aftermath, especially the damage to some of humanity’s oldest cultural artefacts, which to a large extent seem to have been lost, looted or destroyed;

Is of the opinion that the existence of a free, democratic and diversified civil society under United Nations responsibility is essential to rebuild the dignity of Iraq according to the wishes of its peoples;

Believes that this reconstruction must encompass both the restoration of Iraq’s cultural heritage and the development of present-day NGOs and institutions to safeguard and promote this heritage, and must include local, regional and national media, libraries and other cultural institutions, as well as modern educational establishments;

Notes the necessity and importance of both institutional and individual exchanges between Iraq and all countries to assist in this reconstruction, and thus

Strongly recommends all PEN Centres, within their own communities, to encourage their own national cultural institutions to initiate and participate in such exchanges;

Urges all PEN Centres to encourage any individual contacts which ultimately may lead to the creation of a PEN Centre in Iraq,

Requests the Board and the International Secretary to bring this Recommendation to the attention of the NGO-UNESCO Liaison Committee, to focus the attention both of the other NGOs in relations with UNESCO and of Unesco itself.

b) Proposed Resolution on the situation in Chechnya and Russia, made by the Norwegian centre and amended in consultation with the Russian centre.
The proposal was adopted unanimously after some discussion, but without further changes. It was decided to send the text as an open letter to the President and the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, and to the Lord Mayor of St. Petersburg, and to distribute it as widely as possible through press agencies and other international media. It also was decided that the text should be distributes by the individual participants to as many political instances as possible. The French PEN Centre will ensure that it reaches the French Minister of Foreign Affairs as soon as possible, in view of the G8 meeting in Evian in June 2003.

The adopted text reads as follows:

The Writers for Peace Committee of International PEN, assembled at its annual conference in Bled, Slovenia in May, 2003,

Considering the alarming effects which the still ongoing, brutal conflict in Chechnya has both on the right to freedom of expression and on the human rights situation in general, not only in Chechnya and the Caucasus, but also in Russia itself, where journalists, writers and those working in other media reporting on the conflict still face serious difficulties amounting to harassment from the Russian police and government;

Also considering the vast international media attention which, during the tercentennial celebrations in St. Petersburg, will be given to Russia, a country in armed conflict,

Calls upon the world’s media when making their reports from St. Petersburg, not to forget the several newspapers and broadcasting companies reporting from the Caucasus which face threats to their existence or the desperate and life-threatening situation faced by their journalist colleagues in the war-torn region;

Likewise calls upon international human rights organizations to continue their support for Russian civil society, asking them not to give up their essential work in Chechnya and the Caucasus;

Also calls upon the government of the Russian Federation to ensure that all Russian media fully enjoy their right to freedom of expression, including when covering the conflict in Chechnya;

Further calls upon the parties in the conflict in Chechnya to cease all violence immediately and to work to solve the conflict by peaceful means through negotiations undertaken by those representatives of both parties elected in internationally recognized elections, in the presence of international observers.

4) ELECTIONS:

a) Election of chair for the WfPC:
Mr Veno Taufer had been nominated for reelection by a large number of the member centres, and his biographical details and declaration of intent had been distributed to all member centres as foreseen in the Standing Orders. There was no other proposal. Mr Taufer was reelected by applause.

b) Election of vice-chair for the WfPC:
It was proposed to elect two vice-chairs for the WfPC, in order to assure adequate representation of some of the world’s most important conflict zones. The International Secretary reminded the Committee that in such a case, the Standing Orders would have to be changed, meaning that an actual election of a second vice-chair could only take place at the Committee’s next meeting. The proposal was rejected, and Kjell Olaf Jensen then was unanimously elected as vice-chair.

5) ANY OTHER BUSINESS:

– The Bosnian-Hercegovinian PEN Centre and the Portuguese PEN Centre, which had applied for membership in the WfPC, were adopted as new member centres by applause. As this happened on the morning of the second day, these two centres took part in the discussion and voting for the resolution on Chechnya and Russia and in the election of vice-chair.

It was suggested that one Committee meeting at the Congress might be dedicated to the session of the UN Commission for Human Rights in Geneva the following spring, where International PEN has a representative (Ms Fawzia Assaad, PEN Suisse Romande) with the right to speak during the session. No decision was taken.

It was suggested that the WfPC, during the next Congress,  might discuss the possibility for a regional meeting in Diyarbakir. This meeting would discuss questions concerning peace and freedom of expression. Such a conference has already been discussed, and it is decided that International PEN’s Committee on Translations and Linguistic Rights shall organize this regional conference. The following decision was taken unanimously:
The Writers for Peace Committee endorses and applauds this conference and strongly supports the action taken by the Committee for Translations and Linguistic Rights.

The Belgian Dutch-speaking PEN Centre informed that it has organized a writer’s flat – if a writer needs such an opportunity, please contact the Centre, whether the problems concern freedom of expression or other matters. The only demand is that the actual writer shall make two lectures during her/his stay.

A question was raised concerning the situation of the large number of persecuted Cuban poets. International PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee is already working on the problems of these writers.

The Vietnamese Writers Abroad Centre informed that the Centre has elected a new board of directors two months ago.

Kjell Olaf Jensen

Writers for Peace congress 2002

Rapport fra konferanse i International PENs Writers for Peace Committee, Bled, Slovenia

Deltagere: 101 personer fra 36 PEN-sentre pluss International PEN, London.

Fra Norsk PEN:
Kjell Olaf JENSEN, leder
Carl Morten IVERSEN, sekretariatsleder.

Fullstendig deltagerliste kan fåes ved henvendelse til Norsk PEN.

Konferansene i International PENs Writers for Peace Committee har vært gjennomført hvert år de siste 35 årene i Bled, Slovenia. Av praktiske hensyn har Slovensk PEN ansvaret for ledelsen av komiteen – den nåværende komitéformannen er Slovensk PENs leder Veno TAUFER.

Årets konferanse var, tematisk sett, delt i tre: 1) Diskusjonsmøte om praktiske anliggender i komiteen, 2) fremføring og diskusjon av foredrag om oppgitte temaer og 3) sosiale arrangementer.

1) Diskusjonsmøte om praktiske anliggender i komiteen:
En del administrative spørsmål ble diskutert, men det meste av tiden gikk med til diskusjon av situasjonen i Israel og Palestina og hva International PEN og organisasjonens Writers for Peace Committee kan foreta seg for å gjøre et forsøk på å bygge bro over den avgrunnen som er oppstått mellom palestinere og israelere. Det ble også vurdert å utarbeide en resolusjonstekst som kunne legges frem for International PENs årlige verdenskongress som i år holdes i Ohrid, Makedonia i september, men komiteen kom frem til at man i stedet skulle slutte seg til følgende uttalelse fra årsmøtet i Tysk PEN i april:

We appeal to our Israeli and Palestinian writer colleagues to continue, however terrible the circumstances, a dialogue which sets a language of understanding and peace against the increasing rhetoric of war.

Lenger var det ikke mulig å komme på det offisielle møtet, hvor Israelsk PENs representant var til stede. (Palestinsk PENs representanter skulle også ha vært der, men ble halvannet døgn forsinket på grunn av plutselige visumproblemer og sedvanlige vanskeligheter med å komme til Ben Gurion-flyplassen.)

Privat ble det ført en mer interessant diskusjon mellom representanter for Norsk PEN, Palestinsk PEN og International PEN, som munnet ut i at man skal gjøre et forsøk på å få frem en tekst som kan legges frem av Israelsk PEN og Palestinsk PEN i fellesskap. Viljen til å gå med på et slikt forsøk satt langt inne, og en slik tekst vil antagelig måtte bli temmelig tannløs, men det viktigste vil være selve signalet som sendes ut ved at de to PEN-sentrene står sammen bak en felles oppfordring. Den teksten som forsøksvis vil danne kjernen i en slik oppfordring, er følgende avsnitt fra den «Erklæring om fred og frihet» som ble forfattet og vedtatt av International PENs 50. kongress i Lugano i 1987:

Terrorism is to be condemned whether it includes state terrorism, individual terrorism or terrorism that justifies itself as part of a struggle for liberation. Movements using terrorist methods annul the missions to which they are dedicated and lose all claims to legitimacy.

2) Fremføring og diskusjon av foredrag om oppgitte temaer:

Det var på forhånd fastsatt tre slike temaer:

– Hva har vi igjen av det 20. århundre?
– Konferansene i Bled gjennom 35 år.
– Forfatterens ansvar.

Temaene vakte stor oppslutning og medførte en del debatt. Foredragene er trykt i tre hefter som kan utleveres på forespørsel til Norsk PEN.

3) Sosiale arrangementer:
Vi ble mottatt av byen Bleds borgermester Boris Malej på slottet i Bled, av den slovenske hovedstaden Ljubljanas borgermester Vika Potocnik på slottet i Ljubljana, av borgermester Vojka Stular i den gamle slovenske havnebyen Piran hvor de ti første Bled-konferansene fant sted, og ikke minst av Slovenias meget populære president siden uavhengigheten, Milan Kucan, i Villa Bled – den kultur- og litteraturinteresserte president Kucan har vært en av Slovensk PENs og Bled-konferansenes mest trofaste og interesserte støtter siden Slovenias uavhengighet.