The Monsanto Tribunal is an international civil society initiative to hold Monsanto accountable for the human rights violations, crimes against humanity, and the ecocide they have been guilty of. Eminent judges will hear testimonies from victims, and deliver an advisory opinion following procedures of the International Court of Justice.
The Tribunal is taking place from October 14-16 2016 in The Hague, Netherlands.
International judges will take evidence from 30 witnesses and “victims” of US agri-business Monsanto in an attempt by hundreds of grassroots groups to hold the company accountable for what they allege are human rights violations, crimes against humanity, and “ecocide”, or widespread environmental damage.
- The Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) is an international opinion tribunal founded in 1979, in Italy based on a “Universal Declaration of the Rights of Peoples”.
- It looks into complaints of human rights abuses submitted by the communities facing the abuses.
- It uses the rigorous conventional court format.
- It issues indictment, names relevant laws and document findings.
- While its verdicts are not legally binding, these can set precedent for future legal actions.
High-profile witnesses, including former UN special rapporteur on the right to food Olivier De Schutter, will give evidence alongside Argentine doctors, Mexican beekeepers and toxicologists and scientists from 15 countries. The five judges will deliver what is expected to be a lengthy advisory legal opinion arguing that its activities have harmed human health and environment.
Monsanto will not attend a hearing from the PPT, dismissing it as a stunt.
Impact of Past PPT Hearings
The international trial is no stunt and has brought dangerous corporate practices to light through past trials, garnering attention from governing bodies.
“Other similar tribunals have found both for and against corporations,” said Damien Short, director of the Human Rights Consortium at London University. “This is a test of international law. It has moral force and the tribunal’s decision will be evidence-based. Peoples’ tribunals are testing the law.”
Five years ago, the PPT convened in Bangalore, India, organized by Pesticide Action Network (PAN) International. The PPT found the world’s then six largest agrochemical transnational corporations (TNCs); Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow Chemical, DuPont and BASF, responsible for violations of indigenous peoples’ human rights, and further found that “their systematic acts of corporate governance have caused avoidable catastrophic risks, increasing the prospects of extinction of biodiversity, including species whose continued existence is necessary for reproduction of human life.”
This resulted in a significant development in the push from the UN for a binding international treaty on TNCs and other business enterprises with respect to human rights. An intergovernmental working group has already been set up to elaborate on the said proposed international legally binding instrument that would regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of TNCs and other business enterprises.
“It is important to revisit the historic PPT verdict as we prepare for the Monsanto Tribunal. The evidence presented against Monsanto and other agrochem TNCs remain valid today,” PANAP executive director Ms. Sarojeni V. Rengam said. (See the 2011 indictment and PPT verdict here.)
One of the tragic cases heard by the PPT in 2011 was the death of eleven-year old Paraguayan Silvino Talavera, who died on January 2003 because of exposure to glyphosate (Round-up Ready) being applied to Monsanto’s genetically engineered RR soybeans. “We have proof that there was poison in his blood. We are trying to hold Monsanto accountable for the death of my son from pesticide poisoning,” his mother, Petrona Villasboa, then said during the PPT hearings.
“The poisoning of people and the environment is still going on as highly hazardous pesticides such as glyphosate are being produced and marketed by corporations like Monsanto. This is even in the face of the classification of the International Agency for Research on Cancer of glyphosate as a probable carcinogen,” added Ms. Rengam.
Ms. Rengam said that until today, glyphosate is being used and children continue to be exposed and vulnerable to glyphosate poisoning.
“The PPT on agrochemical TNCs and now the Monsanto Tribunal are marks of an escalated international people’s movement against agrochemical TNCs and to stop these corporations from violating the human rights of people, particularly children and marginalized communities,” said Ms. Rengam.
Hearing is “a test of international law”
At the 2016 PPT, accusers in The Hague will hold Monsanto and other major chemical companies primarily responsible for developing an unsustainable system of farming.
“Monsanto promotes an agro-industrial model that contributes at least one-third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions; it is also largely responsible for the depletion of soil and water resources, species extinction and declining biodiversity, and the displacement of millions of small farmers worldwide. This is a model that threatens peoples’ food sovereignty by patenting seeds and privatising life”, said the spokeswoman.
“The tribunal will give a legal opinion on the environmental and health damage alleged to have been caused by the multinational. It will also give people all over the world a well-documented legal file to be used in future lawsuits against Monsanto and similar chemical companies.”
“It aims to assess the allegations of harm made against Monsanto as well as the human health and environmental damages caused by the company throughout its history,” said a spokeswoman in London.
The agro-chemical company, which is currently being taken over by German pharmaceutical giant, Bayer, has declined to take part, or to defend its history at the tribunal.
The company, which manufactured hundreds of thousands of tonnes of Agent Orange for use as a chemical weapon in the Vietnam war, is the world’s biggest genetically modified seed corporation. Monsanto developed toxic polychlorinated biphenyls and also makes glyphosate, the primary ingredient in Roundup, a widely used but controversial herbicide.
In an open letter, signed by three Monsanto directors, the company said it would not attend the tribunal because it was “staged and supported by” organic food organisations.
“We welcome a genuine, constructive conversation with diverse ideas and perspectives about food and agriculture production. [But] this is not a real dialogue. It is a staged event, a mock trial where anti-agriculture technology and anti-Monsanto critics play organisers, judge and jury, and where the outcome is pre-determined,” wrote Martha Burmaster, Monsanto’s director of human rights.
“As this is a stunt staged and supported by the International Foundation of Organic Agriculture Movements – an umbrella organisation of organic agriculture organisations, and their associates such as Navdanya and others who are fundamentally opposed to modern agriculture – we will not participate.”
The Monsanto statement added: “We help farmers mitigate and adapt to climate change. Our products and services help farmers to use data science to grow food in a more sustainable and carbon-neutral way. We have made commitments and taken actions to enhance honey-bee health; create a healthier ecosystem for monarch butterflies; and help rural communities preserve their forest-farm ecosystem, prevent illegal deforestation and protect local species.
“We believe in the coexistence of all types of farming practices, and in farmers’ individual freedom to choose the production method that makes most sense for their goals – be that growing crops using conventional methods, or with genetically-modified seeds and other modern techniques, or by following organic practices”.
In a very cheeky way, Monsanto – which has always denied human rights abuses and claimed to be a force for environmental good – invited its critics to pose questions, online.
“We know we can always do more,” said the firm. “We understand that people have different points of view on these topics, and it’s important that they are able to express and share them. For our part, we remain committed to our human rights policy and practices, transparency, dialogue and collaboration, and welcome anyone who wants to learn more about Monsanto to ask us a question at discover.monsanto.com.”
Tribunal is Not be Taken Lightly
Organizers insisted the tribunal was not a kangaroo court or a stunt and said it was by no means certain the case against the corporation would be proved. The questioning of their practices has to begin though, and the PPT is ready to take on the task.
Lucy Rees, speaking on behalf of End Ecocide on Earth offers “Under existing [international] law, it is impossible to bring criminal charges against a company like Monsanto or its management, for possible crimes against human health and the integrity of the environment.”
The Indian author Vandana Shiva, a tribunal organizer who has clashed with Monsanto many times, said the company is seen as one of the most dangerous on the planet. “It has earned this reputation through a history of producing products toxic to humans and the environment. Life, society and democracy are under threat. We refuse to allow this future to unfold.”
The tribunal, expected to cost $550,000, has so far raised over $400,000 through crowdfunding. It is supported by more than 500 groups and individuals, including La Via Campesina and Friends of the Earth Europe.
Belgian law professor De Schutter, who will give evidence, said:
“The tribunal will provide a forum for the victims of Monsanto. Secondly, it shall help develop international law. Thirdly, we are now in a stage in which very important choices should be made as to how agricultural production should develop. Shall we move to larger monocultures that rely on fossil energy, pesticides and genetically modified food, or shall we move towards diversified farming systems that respect the ecosystems and can be highly productive as they work with nature rather than against nature?”
Other critics, including British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, former German minister of agriculture Renate Künast, Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser and French researcher Gilles-Éric Séralini, will give evidence at a parallel “people’s assembly” of international social groups.
“We will also be talking about their lobbying tactics, the political strategies, how they influence the political decisions, and how that links them to the other agrochemical giants: Bayer, BASF, DowDuPont, Syngenta,” said Nina Holland, Corporate Europe Observatory director and a speaker in the peoples’ assembly.
Follow the Tribunal While in Process!
The Monsanto Tribunal will be livestreamed online, so that people everywhere in the world can watch and listen to the Judges, the lawyers and the witnesses from Saturday Oct 15, 8:30 am GMT+2. Follow this link for the video feed and updates from the Monsanto Tribunal and the parallel People’s Assembly starting Friday Oct 14th to Sunday Oct 16th
- For the latest highlights join them on Twitter and Facebook!
- Watch the videos from the People’s Assembly and the Tribunal on their video channel.
- Read a recap of each day in the Latest News section.
Thank you for contributing to the success of the Tribunal by spreading the word! The PPT is fighting hard to protect the citizens of this world and making sure crimes against humanity do not go ignored, please show them your support.