• Tobacco growers seek inclusion in WHO convention

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    The International Tobacco Growers’ Association (ITGA), which has 24 member countries including the Philippines, on Wednesday described as “undemocratic” and “exclusionary” the ban imposed by the World Health Organization on participation by the appointed and elected officials in the Conference of Parties to be held in Delhi, India in November.

    The Conference of the Parties is the governing body of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which keeps under regular review the implementation of the Convention and takes the decisions necessary to promote its effective implementation, and may also adopt protocols, annexes and amendments to the Convention.

    In a strongly worded open letter, the ITGA called on United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to intervene in their behalf and exercise his authority to look into this breach of international law and ensure that the UN-Framework Convention on Tobacco Control conforms with its obligations under its Charter.

    “The ITGA hereby kindly and respectfully requests that you exercise your authority, as Secretary General of the United Nations and guardian of the UN Charter, to ensure that the FCTC fulfils its obligations under the Charter and operates in an inclusive and transparent manner, “ITGA President Francois van der Merwe and CEO Antonio Abrunhosa wrote in a letter dated September 21, 2016.

    They cited the group’s “deep concern” over the WHO-FCTC plan to ban dozens of “appointed and elected officials” from the executive, legislative and judicial branches of tobacco-growing countries from participating in the next CoP7 of the WHO-FCTC in November.

    They believe this is in direct contravention of Article 2 of the UN Charter, which states that “[t]he Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.”

    The ITGA reiterated that under the UN Charter, sovereign countries have a right to choose their own representatives to the UN without facing the threat of exclusion or intimidation from a UN agency.

    The 24 member countries of ITGA, which was organized in 1984, are South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Colombia, Croatia, Korea, USA, Philippines, India, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Malawi, Mexico, Pakistan, Kenya, Dominican Republic, Thailand, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

    In addition, Van der Merwe stated that the FCTC also breached Article 8 of the UN Charter, which states that it “shall place no restrictions on the eligibility of men and women to participate in any capacity and under conditions of equality in its principal and subsidiary organs”.

    They also stressed that Article 43 of the Vienna Convention on the Representation of States in their Relations with International Organizations expressly stated that in respect of international organs and meetings, “the sending state may freely appoint the members of the delegation”.

    The ITGA said the FCTC has already banned tobacco farmers, tobacco manufacturers, respected international law enforcement agencies such as Interpol, the media and the general public from previous CoP meetings and is now applying this undemocratic approach to sovereign nation states as well.

    ITGA President Francois van der Merwe said that FCTC’s decision to exclude various organizations and country delegates involved in the tobacco industry, impinges on the right of the affected parties for democratic consultation and undermines the state and livelihood of more than 30 million tobacco farmers and their dependents who will be directly affected by decisions made in CoP7.

    “Decisions taken at CoP7 will directly affect the livelihood of more than 30 million tobacco farmers, as well as rural workers and their families in Africa and around the world. They make an important contribution to their countries’ economies. It is clear that this proposed ban is a flagrant breach of the democratic principle of consultation with affected parties, “ the two ITGA officials said.

    They asked, “how can it be right that negotiations are being conducted by public health officials, who have little or no real knowledge of tobacco growing, the tobacco sector, social and economic importance in sovereign countries,?”

    The ITGA is also referring the matter to the Governance Department of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to investigate this clear breach of international law.

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