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LONDON (3rd Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Nigerian lawyer Obioma Adesewa Okonkwo has been selected to speak at the digital rights conference “RightsCon” in Costa Rica, and in case she needs an entry visa a few months in advance. (Visa) I have submitted the application documents.

On July 3, Nigerian-born lawyer Obioma Adesewa Okonkwo was scheduled to speak at the digital rights conference “RightsCon” to be held in Costa Rica. The photo shows the immigration signboard. FILE PHOTO: Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, France, April 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

However, even as the date of the event approached, there was no sign of issuing travel documents. Okonkwo contacted event organizers at the digital rights advocacy group Access Now to cancel his tours and switch to online participation.

Access Now said in a statement that more than 300 attendees were unable to attend the conference in person due to visa issues.

Many black and brown participants were detained by Costa Rican immigration officials for up to three hours, said Kenyan-born Nanjara Nyavola, the group’s executive director. Several people have since been deported, Nyavola said in a Twitter post.

International conferences are held with the aim of solving various issues ranging from climate change to economic systems and conflicts, but the participation of people from emerging and developing countries in the “Global South”, mainly in the southern hemisphere, limited to the host. Acquiring a visa is often an obstacle. Outrage over this treatment has reignited debates over visa inequality and border controls.

“If we are going to hold a global summit, we need to be mindful of people coming from countries that would normally be refused visas.”

Okonkwo is legal counsel for the Nigerian organization Media Rights Agenda (MRA), which defends freedom of expression.

“I would have loved to have learned about digital rights from lawyers from other continents. I was shut out of that discussion.”

Okonkwo’s visa application was ultimately denied.

According to Access Now, an international organization based in New York, the Costa Rican government had agreed to grant visas to conference attendees upon arrival, but immigration authorities failed to do so.

Access Now apologized to all those affected and promised to learn from the incident and make improvements.

“We have a responsibility at the conference to ensure that the participants are visible and that their voices matter,” Nikki Gladstone, President of Lightscon, said in an email sent to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“It is our responsibility to anticipate and help mitigate any obstacles that participants may face.”

Gladstone that the event is held in a different country every year, striving to make it more accessible. He said he chose Costa Rica as the location for this year’s conference because he had never held a conference in Central America before.

The Costa Rican government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Critics say rules that make it harder for citizens of poorer countries to get visas prevent people from developing countries from attending major international conferences.

Ugandan climate activist Hamira Kobusinge says a letter of recommendation is often required for visa applications to attend international conferences. Many travelers from the “Global North” say the process is unnecessary.

Kobusinge said that despite his efforts, he was not granted a visa to attend the Bonn Climate Change Conference in June in Germany and the United Nations Water Conference 2023 in New York in March. It was revealed. He was told that the application documents did not meet the criteria for issuing a visa.

“Visas for fellows across the African continent have been refused.” Mr Kobusinge added that the campaigners were too busy fighting for a “fair visa” to concentrate on their main work.

A State Department spokesman said, “As the country that hosts the headquarters of the United Nations, we take our responsibilities very seriously.”

“In all cases, when an individual applies for a US visa, a consular officer conducts a fact check to determine whether the applicant is eligible for a visa under US law,” the spokesperson said. in a field email.

Neither the German Foreign Ministry nor the German embassy in Uganda responded to requests for comment.

Kobsinge said limiting the access of grassroots activists could lead to big decisions being made without enough input from those most affected.

Africa is disproportionately affected by climate change. In addition, international efforts to guarantee adaptation and reconstruction funds for severely damaged developing countries are inadequate.

“Global North seems to be trying to find solutions to the climate crisis without the people most affected,” said Kobsinge.

“There are fewer people to oppose and we can push what they want to do.”

The lack of diversity was criticized at the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) in 2021, following the “Black Lives Matter” movement which has triggered discussions about inclusion in many countries. The hashtag “# cop26sowhite” (COP26 is too white) was trending on Twitter, a short text posting site.

The secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which organizes the Bonn conference and the COP, did not respond to a request for comment.

Ahmed Ogwell Oma, acting director of the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), was told last year that immigration authorities intended for him to stay illegally when he tried to enter Germany to attend the World Health Summit (WHS ). that he is a suspect. Oma posted on Twitter:

“It is now uncertain whether I will be able to attend the WHS. I feel happier and safer in my home country in Africa. If I am invited, I will be treated unfairly.”

Mr. was cleared. Oma in the end to go to the country. Germany’s health minister said in a Twitter post that authorities are investigating what caused the error at the airport.

Activists and policy analysts say organizers should also keep visa policies in mind when deciding where to host an international conference.

Okonkwo says it should be held in a country where visas are relatively easy to obtain and where people from poorer countries are not discriminated against.

In an open letter published jointly with charities and civil society organisations, AccessNow urged governments to adopt “flexible and generous” visa policies for human rights defenders, activists and journalists.

Catherine Nwajak Dawu, Head of the Policy and Governance Program at UK think tank ODI, said that allowing participants from the Global South to physically attend high-level consultations could be a decision. She says it is essential to ensure that he speaks for as many people as possible.

“The real ‘politics’ happens in the halls. Corridors and informal conversations are where strong relationships are built. I say that”

Nigerian lawyer, Obioma Adesewa Okonkwo, has been selected to speak at the digital rights conference, “RightsCon,” in Costa Rica. However, despite submitting her visa application documents months in advance, she did not receive her travel documents. Okonkwo had to cancel her plans to attend in person and instead participate online. Access Now, the digital rights […]

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