The entrance of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is seen in The Hague, Netherlands, March 3, 2011. (Photo: REUTERS/Jerry Lampen/File Photo)
I recently had the opportunity to attend the The Monsanto Tribunal in The Hague, the Netherlands. After receiving an invitation from Dr. Vandana Shiva a couple months beforehand, I can say that it was easily the most excited I've ever been. While some people might not get too excited by the thought of attending a tribunal to expose crimes against humanity and the environment, I was absolutely ecstatic.
It was a chance to hear from some of the many victims of Monsanto and how that company has affected every level of our lives: from the food we put into our bodies and the issues associated with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup, to the adverse impacts its corporate greed has on poverty and food security.
The purpose of the tribunal was to hold Monsanto accountable in a setting that mirrored the procedures of an international court of justice. The charges were to include human rights violations, crimes against humanity and ecocide. Over 750 people from more than 30 nations participated in the event, which included the associated People's Assembly, where I was honoured to have the opportunity to address those present.
Monsanto has developed a number of highly toxic products that have permanently damaged the environment and have caused illness or death for thousands.
Eminent judges from Argentina, Mexico, Senegal, Belgium and Canada heard about Monsanto's abuses from various witnesses, experts and victims. There were 20 plaintiffs in total, from both North and South America as well as Europe, Asia and Africa. Monsanto was invited to make submissions as a defendant and to challenge the claims of the victims, but it refused to attend, implying (unsurprisingly) that the whole thing was a publicity stunt. The tribunal complied with the general principles of law and civil procedure, including lawyers preparing and submitting their findings and pleading their cases before the judges.
Since the beginning of the20th century, Monsanto has developed a number of highly toxic products that have permanently damaged the environment and have caused illness or death for thousands. These products include PCBs, dioxins, DDT and Roundup, the most widely used herbicide in the world. The company dominates the North American food chain with its genetically modified seeds and pesticides and has become well known for its ruthless legal battles against small farmers and its decades-long history of toxic contamination. Monsanto has become symbolic of industrial agriculture and all that's wrong with it: a system that contaminates our food supply with GMOs and agrochemicals, pollutes the environment, destroys biodiversity and is a major contributor to climate change.
Monsanto has an appalling track record of cover-ups and has ignored the human and environmental damage caused by its products. It has managed to do so by employing similar tactics as big tobacco once did to confuse and misinform both officials and the public with coordinated PR efforts, lobbyists and co-opted scientists (see this presentation by Claire Robinson too).
Monsanto's logo is displayed on a screen. (Photo: REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo)
Over a two-day period in The Hague, the tribunal judges heard evidence presented by the plaintiffs that Monsanto, due to the damage it has caused, should be charged with crimes against humanity, including the crime of ecocide. For many who attended, it was the first time they had shared stories of their suffering. Testimonies were translated into six different languages, allowing everyone to hear victims' stories and to appreciate just what the tribunal meant to them.
It was very moving listening to people like France's Sabine Grataloup and Argentina's Maria Liz Robledo, both glyphosate-induced cancer victims, telling of the hardships they faced. And then there was testimony from Timothy Litzenburg, a U.S. lawyer representing thousands of glyphosate-induced non-Hodgkin's lymphoma victims, who discussed in detail the impact of glyphosate on human health.
We also heard from some true heroes, such as Dr. Damián Verzeñassi of the Faculty of Medical Sciences at the National University of Rosario in Argentina, one of 30 experts who testified about the health impacts of glyphosate. Unfortunately, since the tribunal, Dr. Verzeñassi has been persecuted for denouncing GMOs and agrochemicals: on returning to his office, he found it had been chained shut and his fellow researchers removed.
And then there was Diego Fernandez, an Argentinean farmer, who gave a courageous speech about his shift from industrial to organic agriculture, the battles he faced and why he did it, not least to benefit soil, health and the environment.
It is hoped the legal opinion will be used in future court cases against multinational corporations, calling them to account for the damage they cause in pursuit of profit.
As mentioned earlier, I had the opportunity to speak at the People's Assembly, which ran parallel to the tribunal and brought together movements from across the world to exchange ideas about countering the problems caused by industrial agriculture. The assembly was attended by experts, scientists, representatives from civil society and farmers, who proposed various ways of moving forward with healthy and sustainable models for food and agriculture.
Dr. Vandana Shiva, the world renowned physicist and activist, encapsulated the overall feeling of the event by saying, "We have worked to put Monsanto on trial for its crimes against the Earth, its crimes against our children, its crime of trying to own and patent life and spread poisons. We know we can farm better without their poison."
Although not legally binding, the tribunal judges will give a legal opinion on whether Monsanto is guilty of the violation of basic human rights and ecocide. It is hoped the legal opinion will be used in future court cases against multinational corporations, calling them to account for the damage they cause in pursuit of profit. The judges' legal opinion will hopefully be delivered before December 10, the International Day of human Rights and will be addressed to Monsanto and the United Nations.
I had the opportunity of witnessing first-hand many genuine stories about the atrocities affecting people from all around the world caused by Monsanto. I returned home ignited by the passion shown by all the brave participants and now hope that many more people will come forward to speak up about how their lives are being affected by Monsanto.
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