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Asian People’s Tribunal on Poverty and Debt finds IMF and WB guilty in Singapore

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International and local activists gathered in Batam, Indonesia, for the International Peoples' Forum (IPF) vs. International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB), a three-day conference held on 15-17 September 2006, against a backdrop of harassment, detention and deportation by the Singapore government.The International People’s Forum (IPF) concluded with the Asia People’s Tribunal on Poverty and Debt finding the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB) guilty of “intensification of poverty and deprivation, violation of basic human rights, curtailment of basic political and civil liberties, undermining of sovereign and democratic governance and subversion of the right to development attendant to and resulting from the debt problem”.

The tribunal called upon governments to “restore and uphold the rights of citizens and communities to control and access natural resources and basic services; stop corporatisation and privatisation of basic services, and natural resources; ensure that trade agreements are consistent with International Human Rights Commitments; not to enter into such trade and investment agreements that grant local and foreign investors ‘rights’ without matching obligations and ensure peoples' right to information”.

It was part of a 3 day conference held in Batam, from 15-17 September 2006, themed the IPF vs IMF and WB. Organised parallel to the IMF and WB meetings held in Singapore from 19-20 September, the forum provided the space for civil society to articulate critiques and assert alternatives to the role, policies and operations of international financial institutions (IFIs).

It was held in Batam, an Indonesian port located 45 minutes by ferry from Singapore, following Singapore government’s refusal to permit outdoor protests by civil society during the IMF and WB meetings. Plans for the IPF were almost thwarted due to Indonesia’s fears of protest and threats to security coupled with the restrictions and pressure imposed by the Singaporean government on its Indonesian neighbour.

However, despite the security concerns and presence of Indonesian police and anti-terror unit at the forum, the event occurred without any aggression between police and activists.

Aside from a short 20 minute demonstration held by a number of pro-business Indonesian NGOs protesting the IPF at the beginning of the event, most of the forum participants focused on expressing their critiques of IFIs policies, discussing alternatives to the IMF and World Bank and connecting with local and international activists.

Approximately 700 activists, NGOs and other civil society members were present from Latin America, North America, Europe, Australia, Africa and Asia but the largest number of activists and participants were from Indonesian NGOs and movements.

However, the event was held against the backdrop of ongoing detention, harassment and deportation of civil society activists in Singapore. The government eventually acknowledged a list of at least 27 activists banned from entering Singapore, some of whom had been formally accredited by IMF and WB to attend the meetings. In addition to the confirmed list of banned activists, at least 48 others from 16 countries were detained, harassed or deported, even those only transiting through Singapore in order to attend the IPF in Batam.

In response, 163 NGOs and most of the 500 civil society representatives accredited to attend the IPF and WB Annual Meetings boycotted all IMF and WB meetings in protest of Singapore’s ban and deportation of civil society representatives.

Although the Singaporean government eventually allowed the entry of 22 of the 27 banned activists, 17 denied the Singaporean government’s offer, stating “there has been no action regarding the numerous persons who are not on the official blacklist, but who were nonetheless detained, subjected to custodial interrogation and refused entry into Singapore…nor have they provided an acceptable explanation for the violation of civil liberties resulting from their paranoia”.

Meanwhile, a significant portion of the sessions and dialogues on the first day of the forum focused on the impacts of IFIs policies on Indonesia, particularly in the wake of the Yogyakarta earthquake in May 2006. These discussions provided a valuable point for international linkages and solidarity. A common refrain heard in various sessions was that the impacts of IFIs policies such as human rights violations, displacement and poverty in Indonesia were mirrored in many other countries.

The first day of the forum focused on issues such as poverty, trafficking, development, impacts on women and natural resources within the Indonesian context. While the second and third day continued to provide discussions on these and related themes such as climate change, a substantial portion of the second and third days focused on illegitimate debt, discussing alternatives to the IMF and World Bank, economic reforms, peoples’ resistance and strategies for global mobilisation. As mentioned earlier, the third day concluded with the findings of the tribunal.

In another session on economic reforms and people’s resistance, Dr. Walden Bello from Focus on the Global South called on participants to recognize the opportunity of the IMF’s and WB’s current “crisis of legitimacy”.

He affirmed the success of anti-globalisation movements and peoples’ movements in delegitimising neo-liberal ideologies and the policies of IFIs and reminded participants that the IMF’s and WB’s current “crisis of legitimacy”, budget crisis and role crisis afforded peoples’ movements a crucial opportunity to press for tangible and long-term change in international finance and trade processes.