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November 18, 2010

Anti-NATO Summit Demonstrations Planned For Saturday

by Lisa Bryant

As NATO leaders gather outside Lisbon, critics of the Atlantic alliance are staging protests and a counter-summit.

Organized by dozens of peace groups, the NATO counter summit is taking place at a dilapidated high school. It is one of several anti-NATO events going on in Lisbon.  Portuguese security are out in force to ensure protesters don't get out of hand - and there are reports that dozens of anti-NATO demonstrators have been denied entry into the country. The main anti-NATO demonstration is expected to take place on Saturday in downtown Lisbon.

Arielle Denis is co-president of the French peace movement and one of the counter-summit organizers. She believes NATO leaders are wrong to search for military responses to security threats as they draft a 21st century roadmap for the alliance. "There is no military solution to the problems of the world, (and) this NATO summit is a military summit. And NATO is about militarism. Although it wants to put more civilian perspectives in the new missions. Why do we use the armies to do that," she said.

Counter-summit participant Shams Aria is particularly critical when it comes to NATO's strategy in his native Afghanistan -- a key topic during the official summit.  A refugee now living in the Netherlands, Aria believes NATO's military presence in Afghanistan is a mistake.  "The way forward it to leave Afghanistan and to stop interfering in Afghanistan...and let Afghans themselves decide the future," said Aria.

The anti-NATO protests are taking different forms, including so-called "flash mobs" or sudden assemblies of people. There have been reports of flash mobs at Lisbon's Rossio train station. But the scene late Friday afternoon was of tired commuters heading home - and Lisbon native Rui Vega handing out promotional flyers for a gym.

"Toward Afghanistan, it's been sort of a confusion from the beginning. And NATO's presence.  I don't know how to put it,but you know when you have the feeling that we're stepping in where we actually don't belong? That's what I've felt like," said Vega.

While NATO leaders argue the alliance's military role in Afghanistan is vital for securing peace, many Europeans are strongly against a troop presence there.

But Amnesty International Afghan expert Sam Zarifi believes NATO has a role in Afghanistan. "What we hear from the Afghan people even after 10 years (of NATO presence) is that they really need international assistance and they want international assistance. They want that international assistance to be conducted properly but they understand that without international assistance the human rights situation in the country could get significantly worse," he said.

Amnesty is calling on NATO leaders at the summit to do more to protect the human rights of ordinary Afghans as they consider the alliance's future in that country.