Embarrassing silence from IFLA

19 okt 2023 • 2 min

The board of the International Federation of Libraries IFLA have indulgence with Dubai's violation of several human rights — and refuses to answer questions about it. Many expect more from an organization with freedom of information as one of its core values, writes Biblioteksbladet's editor-in-chief Thord Eriksson.

Reactions were strong when it became known that next year’s Wlic Congress would be held in Dubai and that IFLA had agreed to the host country’s demand that LGBTQ-related issues be kept out of the program. Instead, they would be taken up at another time in another place.

LGBTQI rights are not the only thing being violated by Dubai.

”If we look at other rights that should interest an association that brings together libraries, such as freedom of information and the press, the country is one of the worst in the world”, says Amnesty International’s expert Devin Kenny in Martin Schibbye’s report that Biblioteksbladet published yesterday.

All these violated rights are obviously not something that worries IFLA. The organization has never wavered from its decision to let the oil emirate host next year’s WLIC.

There are of course questions to be asked about it, which Biblioteksbladet has done several times. But instead of answering them, IFLA has refereed Biblioteksbladet to rather substanceless written statements.

I thought this dismissive attitude was related to the leadership of former board chair Barbara Lison. Despite many articles and questions about being allowed to do interviews, she has only on one occasion been prepared to meet us – it was not about Dubai, but to answer criticism about the recruitment of a new general secretary.

”My offer is based on the condition that I receive your questions at least two days in advance, you will send me the draft of the script in so it can be checked and amended where applicable – and that you will publish this interview in the version for which I gave the imprematur.”

During my professional life as a journalist, I have seldom faced similar demands and these conditions were of course not possible to accept, so there was no interview that time either.

After yesterday’s publication, it was happened again: Biblioteksbladet’s reporter Carin Crona Fock sent some questions to Barbara Lison’s successor in the post of chairman, Vicki McDonald, and general secretary Sharon Memis:

How do you see the debate about putting Wlic in a country that violates the rights of LGBTQI people?

In retrospect: could you have acted differently?

Do you see any problem with the decision to stick with Dubai hosting next year’s Wlic?

Completely reasonable questions that I think many IFLA members would like to hear the answers to.

Neither McDonald nor Memis have responded, but from the information department in The Hague there was a customary reference to a written statement on Ifla’s website.

There is, of course, no obligation to answer journalists’ questions, but many probably expect a different course of action from an organization that emphasizes freedom of information as one of its core values. The silence has long since started to become embarrassing, but the explanation is probably not malice but a lack of communicative ability.

That the indulgence of Dubai’s human rights abuses has already tarnished Ifla’s reputation is another matter. But if the organization’s management can’t manage to talk about their controversial decisions, perhaps they should make wiser choices instead?

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