NGOs give G8-G20 failing grades

Canadian NGOs have little in the way of positive feedback for Toronto's G8/G20 summits, giving low overall marks when asked to grade the political and fiscal pledges made at the weekend meetings.

"I'd say D-. There was a complete lack of accountability, urgency and shame," said Robert Fox, Executive Director of Oxfam Canada. "There were several critical commitments we were looking to get and we're walking away without them."

"I'd give them a D. The only saving grace is that Canada did put $1.1 billion toward maternal and child health. Any time you can save some lives, you have to give credit for that," said Dennis Howlett on behalf of Make Poverty History and Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP).

Both he and Fox noted that the overall pledge of $5 billion on behalf of the G8 as a whole fell well short of the investment needed to make a substantial improvement in maternal and child health issues in developing countries.

"We knew we needed $10 billion a year and we got $1 billion. One of the reasons we got $1 billion was that the Canadian government froze its aid budget, so it didn't have the moral authority or leverage when it comes to asking other countries to put more on the table," said Fox. He also decried the summits' lack of action on climate change and the Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) supported by France and Germany.

Amnesty International Secretary General Alex Neve also gave the summits a poor grade.

"It's a D. Clearly, the outcomes of both summits failed to give the sustained commitment to human rights that we'd like to see. With respect to substance, for the G20, it's such an opportune time as they're establishing themselves and their working methods to put human rights at the centre and we would hope to see that at the next summit," he said.

Amnesty International has already called on the federal and provincial governments to launch an independent review of the Toronto summit's security measures and Neve cautioned that if policy and security issues and reported rights violations aren't investigated, there would be little hope of more peaceful future meetings.

"If there isn't an independent review, there will be no lessons learned and there is the likelihood and risk that things won't change next time," he said.

Another point of contention was the separation of mainstream media and NGO and civil society groups, with the latter denied access to the International Media Centre and its events and assigned to a smaller working space in another building.

Condemned as "media apartheid" by a group of 12 NGOs that issued a joint press release on the access issue, Neve called the segregation "troubling," while Fox referred to it as a "muzzling of civil society." Howlett said that a greater voice for NGOs was a key improvement that Make Poverty History and GCAP would be looking for the next time the G8 and G20 meet.

"Allow NGOs to be part of the media centre at the next summit. We were sectioned off into another area this time and we couldn't do our jobs properly," he said.

Jennifer Henderson has been covering the G20 Summit for rabble.ca

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