On December 17th 2009, a group of Greenpeace activists grabs headline news around the globe by taking action during the Copenhagen climate summit.
The four "Red CarpetActivists", from the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Switzerland, werearrested following a peaceful protest at the start of a State Banquet hosted byQueen Margrethe II for world leaders attending the Copenhagen climate summit.(1)
Mads Christensen, Executive Director, Greenpeace Nordic, welcomed their release from custody but was scathing of the Danish authorities.He said, "The unnecessary imprisonment of these four peaceful activists has effectively been punishment without trial. It has piled a further 'climateinjustice' on top of world leaders' failure to agree a legally binding treaty to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The alleged 'crime' is that the Four aimed to impress upon world leaders the urgency of acting to prevent catastrophic climate change. The length of their detention without trial is out of all proportion to what was a simple and harmless protest with a legitimate objective."
Following the arrests of the Four, Greenpeace guaranteed - as it does in cases where volunteers are involved in peaceful protests - that, if the activists were released, they would voluntarily return to Copenhagen to stand trial. To further facilitate the police investigation, Greenpeace consistently offered its full co-operation to Danish police and provided them with comprehensive details of the activity. A request from Greenpeace asking the Danish police tospecify what additional information they needed to know in connection with the case was met with two weeks of silence on the part of the police.
Only on Tuesday 5 January, did Danish police finally request the names of other individuals whohad been in the Greenpeace 'motorcade' on 17 December. Today, these individuals volunteered their details, removing the last conceivable reason for detention.
On the evening of 17 December 2009, three of the activists posing as a 'Head of State of the Natural Kingdom', his 'wife' and a security detail were waved through the security cordon around the Heads of State banquet, that was held immediately prior to the crucial final day of the Copenhagen climate summit. The 'Head ofState' and his 'wife' unfurled banners reading, "Politicians Talk, Leaders Act". A fourth activist was later arrested.
The protest wasfar from a sophisticated operation. It relied entirely on simple, readily available materials and had elements of farce. For instance, Greenpeace logos displayed on the windscreens of vehicles hired by Greenpeace to arrive at the banquet were in one case wedged in place by a pair of socks. One of the car number plates included "007" - a reference to James Bond. Blue 'police' lights on top of another vehicle were purchased for DKK 50 (Euro 6.70)via the internet.
Leaders failed to heed Greenpeace'scall. The Copenhagen climate summit ended in failure by agreeing only to note the 'Copenhagen Accord', an empty document containing no legally binding commitments for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Despite the summit being seenas the moment for decisive action, world leaders failed to set legally binding targets to prevent the Earth from warming more than 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. Beyond this crucial threshold, global warming's impacts are expected to severely affect the survival and wellbeing of millions ofpeople and countless species.
British human rights lawyer Richard Harvey questioned whether such detention is in line with European and international norms.(2) Harvey said, "The Danish authoritiesmust regard legitimate protest as an essential element of democratic discourseand freedom of expression. Such prolonged pre-trial detention appears to be a flagrant violation of key articles of international human rights agreements requiring those awaiting trial to be released when they guarantee to appear incourt and for them to be entitled to trial within a reasonable time."
The Danish situation is in stark contrast to that in the United States where, on Monday 4 January 2010, 11 Greenpeace activists were sentenced for a climate protest staged in July 2009 at the Mount Rushmore national monument.
Their banner, placed alongside theimage of President Lincoln, carried the face of President Obama and the text "America Honors Leaders, Not Politicians. Stop Global Warming".(3)
The court in South Dakota allowed the activists to return home pending trial.This also included an activist resident in the Netherlands. In sentencing theactivists, the judge in South Dakota noted the care exercised by the activists,their motivations and the tradition of peaceful protest in the United States.The sentences ranged from 50-100 hours of community service to a maximum of twodays in jail.
VVPR info: Mads Christensen, Executive Director, Greenpeace Nordic. +45 28 10 90 22Sune Scheller, Press Officer, Greenpeace Nordic. +45 27 14 42 57 Greenpeace International Press Desk: +31 20 718 2470,