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.
Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook
Also on HuffPost:
A picture taken on October 9, 2008 shows an ultralight helicopter hovering above a field where Greenpeace activists and Austrian organic farming association BIO AUSTRIA wrote the message 'NO GMO' (Genetically Modified Organism) by planting light green coloured organic buckwheat in a field of organic peas in Breitenfurt, some 60 kms south east from Vienna. (DIETER NAGL/AFP/Getty Images)
Thirty-five tons of corn put by Greenpace activists at Mexico City's Zocalo Square as a protest against the sowing of transgenic corn, form a map of Mexico on February 26, 2009. (Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images)
People walk on a plateform past an advert against genetically modified (GMO) food on February 15, 2011 at a subway station in Paris. (MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)
Greenpeace activists demonstrate against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on November 24, 2008 in front of EU headquarters in Brussels. Greenpeace called on the European Union to suspend the authorization of GMOs until the EU is capable of evaluating the risks they pose. (DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
Greenpeace activists stand a protest in front of Los Pinos presidential residence in Mexico City against the farming of transgenic corn in Mexico, on June 26, 2009. (ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
A Greenpeace activist impersonating Brazil's Chief of Staff Dilma Russeff takes part in a protest against the authorization to grow transgenic rice during a meeting of the National Biosecurity Technical Commission (CYNBIO) at the Science and Technology Ministry in Brasilia October 15, 2009. (JOEDSON ALVES/AFP/Getty Images)
Greenpeace activists distribute samples of transgenic rice as part of a protest against the authorization to grow transgenic rice during a meeting of the National Biosecurity Technical Commission (CYNBIO) at the Science and Technology Ministry in Brasilia October 15, 2009. (JOEDSON ALVES/AFP/Getty Images)
The logo of French 'Les faucheurs volontaires' (Volunteer trimmers of GMO) is seen as demonstrators stand in front of the booth of French union 'la confederation paysanne' (farmers union) during an action against GMO at the International Agricultural Fair on March 6, 2010 in Paris. The European Commission authorised, on March 2, the cultivation of a genetically modified potato, developed by BASF, the first such green light for 12 years. The issue of so-called 'frankenfoods' has long been a matter of fierce debate in Europe and the commission stressed that the Amflora potato in question would be able to be grown only for 'industrial use' including animal feed, rather than for human consumption. (BERTRAND LANGLOIS/AFP/Getty Images)
A couple waves after a parody of union between German chemical giant BASF (L) and the European Food Safety Authority (R) - Autorite europeenne de securite des aliments- (EFSA) during the International Agricultural Fair on March 6, 2010 in Paris. (BERTRAND LANGLOIS/AFP/Getty Images)
A giant banner depicting a farm, is seen as Greenpeace activists hold banners to protest against the genetically modified (GMO) food production in front of the parliament building of Budapest on February 10, 2010. (ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP/Getty Images)
A grey-cow is pictured near Greenpeace activists in traditional Hungarian costume standing in front of a giant banner depicting a farm as others hold a banner reading 'GMO-free Europe' to protest against the genetically modified (GMO) food production in front of the parliament building of Budapest on February 10, 2011 during a demonstration. (ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP/Getty Images)
Greenpeace activists hold a banner to protest against the genetically modified (GMO) food production in front of the parliament building of Budapest on February 10, 2010. (ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP/Getty Images)
A man dressed up as a bee holds a placard during a demonstration organized by French Professional Beekeepers Federation (FFAP) to protest against the use of pesticide on September 14, 2011 along the Saint-Bernard quay in Paris. (JACQUES DEMARTHON/AFP/Getty Images)
Anti-Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) demonstrators protest in front of Colmar courthouse on September 28, 2011, eastern France, during the trial of 60 militants accused of destroying MGO plants. (FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images)
An anti-GMO activist holds a banner reading 'Science without conscience is but the ruin of soul' during an action to call for the ban of the 'MON 810', a variety of genetically modified maize (corn) developed by Monsanto Company on January 23, 2012 at a Monsanto storehouse in Trebes near Carcassonne, southern France. (ERIC CABANIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Prop 37 in California proposes that genetically modified food be labeled "GMO". If you knew your food was genetically modified, would you still eat it?
Follow Rachel Parent on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RachelsNews