Friday, 5 October 2007

The People v The World Bank

Star Trek fans will remember that episode back in 1993 where Q puts Captain Jean-Luc Picard on trial for crimes committed by the human race. Unless the captain can convince the court of humankind’s basic goodness, the entire race – past, present and future - will be wiped out. With his Shakespearean eloquence, of course, the actor Patrick Stewart pleads his defence successfully.

It’s only a story, but the dramatic conceit of this scenario is tremendously powerful. That is, if one honest citizen is prepared to stand up and speak from the heart, he or she can save humanity.

Multiply that by thousands and perhaps the concept is not too far-fetched. What we’ve seen increasingly since the 1960s, especially in the last decade, is the incidence of the people’s tribunal, which, conversely, puts the state or international institutions on trial for crimes against humanity - and where honest citizens are invited to bear witness for the prosecution, again emphasizing the power of personal testimony.

Not surprisingly, argues the Center for Women’s Global Leadership feminist organizers were among the first to see the potential of popular tribunals as a way to claim the “public” space of a tribunal to expose previously “private” violations. The first international tribunal on Crimes against Women was held in Brussels in March 1976. A more recent landmark in 2000 was the international women’s War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s military sexual slavery.

The 2004 Brussels Tribunal against the war on Iraq

One of the people’s favourite criminals in the dock is the World Bank - along with the neo-liberal capitalist ‘democracy’ it represents. In January 2006 during the polycentric World Social Forum, a session of the World Court of Women sat to hear women bear witness on ‘wars of globalisation, wars against women’.

In early 2007 the film Bamako was shown widely in the US and Europe and promoted by Christian Aid as part of its trade justice campaign. In the film, a trial takes place in a typical African courtyard, where the World Bank and IMF are found guilty of crimes against humanity. Some Western film critics suggested the film lacked concrete proposals for change, but it had enormous impact in Africa, being the first time that this testimony had been raised in public by ordinary Africans for a worldwide audience.

In September 2007 a four-day tribunal was held in India,
where a large number of civil society organisations gathered , yes, as in Africa, accusing the World Bank of influencing national policies to the detriment of the poor. The Bank promised to make a deposition but no-one showed up.

Next up in the middle of October is the polycentric International Women’s Tribunal on Poverty, which will be held in Peru, India, Egypt and at the UN in New York. Given that 70% of the world’s poor are women, these tribunals aim to influence governments by collecting testimony to present to officials on the worsening conditions of women.

Can honest citizens really save humanity? Well, as Captain Picard would say, let’s make it so!

Stop Press: WORLD vs BANK

Also check out this Public Hearing on the World Bank to be held on 15th October in The Hague, organised by The World Bank Campaign Europe in cooperation with the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal. It will be streamed live on just five days before the World Bank's 2007 annual meetings in Washington DC.

Witnesses from Peru, Nigeria, Malawi, Mali, Nicaragua and Kazakhstan will bring forward cases relating to the effects of the World Bank's push for privatisation and liberalisation of basic services as well as its involvement in fossil fuel projects in developing countries.

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