Canada denies visa for Africa's top biosafety negotiator

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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Dr. Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, the Ethiopian government's chief scientist and its representative to the Montreal-based UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) had his passport returned without the requested Canadian visa, and without explanation. Dr. Tewolde is Africa's chief negotiator for the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.

Tewolde had announced he would be visiting Montreal the first week of August to lobby for the labeling of genetically modified (GM) seeds and food products and urge companies and governments to accept liability for environmental contamination their seeds could lead to. Canada has yet to ratify the UN biosafety protocol and opposes compulsory genetically modified labeling and liability.

Dr. Tewolde has worked against terminator technology (genetically-modified seed rendered sterile at harvest time, forcing farmers to buy new seeds each growing season). In the past, Dr. Tewolde has disagreed with Canadian scientists on proposed methods to regulate GM products.

"Dr. Tewolde is one of the most respected scientists in his field," said Pat Mooney, representative for the conservationist ETC Group in Ottawa, "If the Canadian government can't make sure Dr. Tewolde has his visa for the opening of the meetings, Canada does not deserve to host the Convention on Biological Diversity."

Dr. Tewolde himself is concerned that Canada's actions signal a pattern, "Now that I have been prevented from coming to Montreal, who knows which ones of you will be prevented next time?" he wrote.

This closely mirrors another more recent incident where 12 Ugandans (mainly youths) were denied visas by the Canadian High Commission in Kenya. After making two applications and having met all the requirements asked by the commission, the Ugandan delegation was still denied visas.

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