On the regional conference started in Sanaa:Some pride, some disappointment [Archives:2004/702/Viewpoint]

January 12 2004

It certainly was a spectacular event and the first of its kind in Yemen. The “Sanaa Regional Conference on Human Rights and the Role of the International Criminal Court” that started on Sunday took off smoothly and promised a shift in understanding of Arab governments of the role of civil society organizations. But it is important to note that some negative phenomena did occur in the event.
Among those disappointments was the unease of some -not all- Yemeni officials at the conference, along with a number of delegates from developing countries with the civil society organizations present at the conference. There seemed to be some underestimation by the officials of the importance of the having such organizations participate in such occasions. In a time developed countries valued and appreciated the role of NGOs and media, we, in the developing world are struggling to get officials to realize that such organizations should have some role to play.
The presence of NGOs in the conference was minimal and they received much lower priority in terms of speeches and comments, especially during the inaugural session. Adding insult to injury, the members of the media, which are one of the main pillars of civil society, were prevented from attending the inaugural ceremony and journalists were deprived from taking photographs.
This mentality needs to change.
As representatives of the media, we feel marginalized and put aside by many officials who think that our role is simply to report and take photos. They tend to believe that the media needs to stay away from decision-making authorities and be avoided as much as possible.
I have initially felt that Yemen was trying to fix this false perception of the media in particular and the civil society organizations in general. But after I realized that no media representative was invited in participating by giving comments or speeches in any of the many sessions of the conference, I felt disappointed.
The idea of having a minister and a representative of an active NGO is a source of pride and a reason to feel optimistic about the future, not because it happened in an activity organized by the Yemeni government only, but because it served as an example for other neighboring countries to follow. Nevertheless, this achievement was overshadowed by the marginalization of the media.
I remember hearing from the local organizations of the event that they are trying to break the old rules suggesting that the civil society doesn't have a say in politics or other fields. This is why they have decided to let prominent officials join NGO representatives to talk, discuss problems, and exchange ideas of how to proceed in helping the economies and political reforms of the different countries.
But that is not enough. Talk is simply not enough!
One needs to show that NGOs have a say and a major say in forming resolutions and decisions for such an event.
Overall, the event proved that governments and civil society have much more in common than otherwise thought. Hence, one needs to thank the organizers for their courageous efforts in making this happen for the first time in the Middle East.
This is why I am hopeful in that the future is brighter than the past.
And despite all the negativities of the event, I still believe we are on the right track.