We strongly protest the refusal of the Belgian Ministry of Interior to allow Dr. Walden Bello entry into Belgium on May 4th. Dr Bello is a co-founder and Board Member of Focus on the Global South, a member of the House of Representatives of the Philippines, and an internationally respected academic and activist for social, economic and environmental justice. His shabby treatment has shocked and raised the indignation of civil society, academics and policy makers in numerous countries.
After several hours and multiple requests from the Philippine Embassy in Belgium, the Protocol Office of the Belgian Ministry of External Affairs and officers of the Belgian Border Police to grant Mr. Bello entry on legitimate grounds, he was denied a border visa and sent on a plane back to the US, to a different city than the one he flew from. This treatment of an elected Parliamentarian, with a busy international schedule of work commitments , is utterly disrespectful. Mr. Bello holds a diplomatic passport and it has been his understanding that all countries belonging to the Schengen system allow entry to holders of diplomatic passports from the Philippines without their having a Schengen visa. He had used the same diplomatic passport to enter other countries belonging to the Schengen border control system without a prior visa and without any problems. Even the officers of the Border Police admitted that the rule exempting Belgium from automatically granting entry to diplomatic passport holders from the Philippines had proven “confusing” to many people. Mr. Bello had a legitimate purpose in going to Belgium: as panelist in the two-day International Conference on the European Economic Crisis organized by Transnational Institute and Corporate Europe Observatory. The Flemish coalition of development organizations (11.11.11) also made interventions on his behalf.
This incident highlights the reality that governments can make unilateral decisions to disallow individuals entry in to their countries by using capricious and unclear criteria—often motivated by politics— that disrespects a person’s citizenship and dignity. The appalling incident in Belgium was not the first experience of its kind for Focus on the Global South; a more recent case before this had been the denial of entry of a Focus staff member in South Korea to attend civil society events parallel to the G-20 Summit in 2010. In South Korea, the government denied entry to a staff member with legitimate papers and reasons for being there, merely saying that all those that had been denied entry were “blacklisted”, without any further explanation. As can be seen in the experience of Dr. Bello, who is a party leader, an advocate of deglobalisation as well as vocal critic of mainstream international development institutions, it has often been the case that States hide behind technicalities to mask political acts of discrimination and harassment. While wealthy countries in the North, such as Belgium, preach multilateralism, pluralism, and borderless flow of capital and goods, they fail to apply these concepts to those who challenge and critique them, especially from the South. If a person holding a diplomatic passport from a country with friendly bilateral relations can be discriminated against and harassed as Dr. Bello was, we should all be concerned about the implications for ordinary citizens from the South to engage in open debate in the North.